Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How to choose an ad agency

The advertising pitch process has always been a bit of a farce.

Clients are never willing to divulge all the information agencies need to deliver effective work.

Agencies throw their all-stars at the business regardless of whether they'll end up working on it should they win.

The creative brief is generally written without direct client input and approval.

Timelines are tight. Research is limited. The creative work presented is rarely the work that ends up on the air after the account is awarded.

While each agency may have their own proprietary process for branding, planning or whichever part of the business they feel is most important, the only real difference between the competitors is the team in the room.

And now clients are turning to electronic auctions to determine the ultimate winner based on how little they're willing to charge for their services. According to Ad Age, the practice of pitting pitch finalists against each other to see how low they will go is a growing trend. 

I'm not surprised.

Agencies have only four ways to differentiate themselves: experience, talent, service and point of view. It's hard to determine the relative value of any of those in a traditional pitch.

So what's the best way to choose an agency?

Work together.

Start with three agencies that you know can do the work based on their credentials, experience and any other criteria you feel is important for your business.

Assign each a similar project (don't make them compete for the same one), work with them as if they are agency of record, and pay them for their work. 

Use your normal process. Hold all the meetings you typically hold. Do the research you always do. Treat each as if they're your partner because for the length of their project, they are. Make sure the projects are complete and equal in terms of services used and deliverables required. Take the projects all the way through production.

Will this process take longer than a typical six-week pitch? Probably. But because the agencies are completing projects you would have had to execute anyway, it should cost your company no more than a typical pitch.

And in the end you'll know how each agency really thinks, how they work, how well they deliver on their promises, and how much it costs to work with them. You'll also have work you can run to see how it impacts the marketplace.

Is it a perfect process? No. Is it better than choosing the low bidder? No doubt.

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