Agency super powers

Getting the most of your ad agency

What do you really want when you choose an advertising agency? Fast turn-around times? Cutting edge ideas? Or perhaps someone just at your beck and call to execute your campaigns. Whichever may be the case, how do you get the most out of them? There are a plethora of good articles out there about how to choose your right agency, but this one is for the folks who are frustrated about their current agency or who just want to focus on how you get the most out of the one they picked. While you may think you need super powers to handle your agency, the truth is a little research will help you make the best choices while working with an agency. Here’s what to look for.

Size does matter. Or does it?

For most things in life, size is what you have to put up with based on the cards life doled out to you.  When it comes to choosing an agency, hopefully not. While I’ll assume by this stage you have already picked the agency (or maybe someone else did that for you) that gets to handle your work, there is no reason for you not to engage another temporarily if the need arises. Now yes I know this is likely a lot of paperwork. The size of the agency does have an impact on the relationship that you have with them and the job at hand.  In fact choosing the right sized ad agency is like choosing the right size screw driver for the task at hand.  Or for another analogy, do you need the small boutiques to be eager beavers for a quick , ‘Famous five’ish’ advertising adventure or knock on the doors of bigger agencies that promise to walk right into Mordor with you with an army at your side for that long drawn campaign. Here’s how to pick.

When you need to call on the David’s

Let’s say you have a rush job. A one page microsite that must go up before the clock strikes 12, or perhaps an internal corporate video that needs to be churned out before the weekend because you just heard your company’s CEO is coming to town just after the holiday season. While you do your business with that fancy international networked agency on a day to day basis, they aren’t flexible enough to meet your deadline. Why? This is probably due to internal constraints and procedures that are in place, which means that they just don’t have access to the necessary resources in their packed pipelines.

It’s time to knock on the door of a boutique, who can do most of the legwork and production work, while you can have your regular agency provide brand guidelines and ensure the final output has the correct tone.  A smaller agency is more flexible in its operations in adapting to an influx of additional work and offers a more competitive price. What is critical to understand when picking a boutique is their technical prowess and size of team. This ensures that you know they aren’t over promising and ensure they can churn and burn what you need over the next few days. They will be only too happy to do so if they believe adding your brand to their client roster will make a significant difference.

How to get the best out of them.

Need fast and agile? Find your David. You are going to need to hand-hold them a little bit more in the beginning, so get your networked agency to help with the necessary assets and guidance for a small fee. Outline what you want clearly from the go. It’s highly likely you don’t have much leeway when it comes to the rush jobs.

Getting into bed with Goliath

When it comes to rolling out a pan regional campaign or if you are executing an integrated campaign that has a lot of deliverables across various channels, then a larger agency network is the ideal choice. It is also possible in rare cases that a networked agency may leverage its global resources to come to bear while creating a creative. So have an international designer work on your specialised illustration for example. Most of the time this doesn’t happen since there are more people who need to get a slice of the pie within the agency network.

What makes a large agency a good choice is the fact that they would have the necessary know-how in house, while the actual production will get farmed out. You can leave it to your agency to ask the right technical questions and do the necessary quality checks (hopefully). You can also ensure that the essence of the campaign doesn’t get diluted when it is rolled out across markets. The drawback is that when push comes to shove and you need to twist arms, you are also saddled with the eventual Chinese whispers effect. You may spend more time in iterations.

Also it is good to remember that when it comes to media buys, in theory a larger agency network will have more clout in getting you the better rate. In my experience this can be quite a deciding factor as a major chunk of your budget is spent on the media and not on the creative.

How to get the best out of them.

Know what work the agency network has done and don’t be shy to ask for resources from the agency’s branches at your disposal if you like a particular style of artwork. Get to know the processes and workflows that the agency has established in place so that you can identify any possible road blocks or show stoppers early on. Are they for example able to quickly turn around iterations? Do they have any standard SLA’s in place? Can these be trimmed down in case of emergencies.

Resources to the rescue. How resourceful are they really?

Now that you know which kind of agency to turn to and when, let’s look at the brass tacks of getting the best out of them. There is a myth in Ad land about dedicated resources. As a client who is paying good money you always want your work done as soon as possible. Having the agency at your beck and call means paying for a dedicated resource who you own 100% of the time. While this is all well and good on paper (if you could afford it), in reality the truth is greyer.

First off, your initial interactions with the agency is probably with A team that wins the account paints a rosy picture. You may have had your own high of rubbing shoulders with Ad Land’s head honchos during the pitch, but the day to day operations, these are not resources that are available to you. When it comes to highly technical resources that are needed on your work (and sometimes even creative ones) it isn’t uncommon for these ‘dedicated resources’ to be pulled into other projects. The agency only has so many of a certain specialised skillset at the end of the day. Makes you wonder what you are paying for really.

How to get the best out of them:

The best way to ensure that you get your bang for your buck, especially if you have a major launch or activity in the pipeline is to go and sit with the agency team that handles your account. Don’t let yourself be whisked away to a fancy boardroom while doing so. Sit right in the middle of or in line of sight of the team and get to know the people behind your business. This also goes beyond just asking about their resumes beforehand, though that’s a great start. I once saw a client being walked through the agency and the account team vaguely waved their hands in the direction of an entire bay of people saying that this was the entire digital team, whose resources were brought to bear. Not sure if the client bought it.  In reality, it was a mix of multiple discipline teams, most of whom would never work on that client.  Understanding the internal processes, techniques and technology that goes into the work will help you know when you need to give your agency some leeway and when you should have them buckle down.

Who calls the shots?

If you are the hands-on person on your marketing team, managing your marketing collateral and agency relationship. When you interact with an agency on a day to day basis your key touchpoint is usually the person who is nearest to the bottom of the ladder. This is likely a Sr Account Executive or Manager. In most cases the bottom rung is the Account Executive who does most of the groundwork on the account. I think it was Sir John Hegarty who once commented that in advertising that power in an agency was an inverted pyramid, making the account executive and the junior creative team the most powerful people on your account. They are the 20% who churn out the 80% of your work. More often than not the fate of your brand lies in these people’s hands. You might also be a bit horrified by the fact that interns also play a fair share of doing critical work on your account. If you think about this in another way. A bulk of the work is done by the least experienced yet most enthusiastic bunch of people.

This makes it critical that the senior team of directors (creative and account) are responsible for ensuring that the young guns keep their eye on the prize at all times and coach and guide them to do so. At the end of the day collaboration is critical to get a fair idea of what is happening on your account. Sometimes it’s in your best interest to get everyone on the same page.

How to get the best out of them:

Always ensure that the junior most people in the account understand your business, what motivates you and keep them in the loop even when you need to discuss more strategic issues. This is quite critical and you shouldn’t chance that something is lost in translation. At the same time, have regular fortnightly or monthly meetings with senior management to not only track strategic progress but also ensure that there are enough resources on the account. Ensure that the senior resources at your disposal are always in line with the long term strategy. It would also pay to ensure that you have a online knowledge resource available to your agency. Something like a protected Wiki where they can learn about the key aspects of your business.

Having an understanding of the mechanics that come into play based on the size of the agency, the people who handle your account and the resources that are really at your disposal is like knowing which chess piece goes where on the chess board, and critically how many you have in play to win. This is the start to getting the best out of your agency relationship.