Saturday, August 22, 2009

Selecting the Right Agency Partner

Selecting an advertising agency or freelance resource means finding not only the best product for your money but a resource that listens to your specific situation and applies solutions specific to your business. When you set out to find that creative match, there are many things to consider.

Results >
Peruse the client list. Examine their work samples. Ask about the results generated by the work and if you feel it's necessary ask for proof. Make sure you understand their billing and rate structure. It's your money on the table – and any reputable resource will gladly provide this information.

Accountability >
As a career Creative Director, I pride myself in NOT specializing. Working with and experiencing clients from many industries helps me stay fresh and constantly re-examine the specific methods I use to identify the right solutions. My client experience spans a broad range, from large accounts to comparatively small ones, including sole proprietorships.

If your project requires a full-scale, nationwide, multi-media advertising campaign, you’ll need a realistic budget and an ad agency that possesses the experience and resources to manage an account on that scale. On the other hand, not all projects require the use of a full-fledged agency. If we meet and I feel that your needs are beyond my capabilities or you require a service that I'm unable to readily provide - I'll be the first to let you know. I have a wide range of outsourcing relationships that help me to service all but the largest clients, but I realize there are times when a prospect would be best served elsewhere. This realistic look at my capabilities and bandwidth keeps me from getting in over my head and keeps my clients and prospects on the road that will best serve them. I also give all of my clients the flexibility to manage their own process at the level they prefer. What does that mean? If you, as a client prefer to use your own printer or coordinate in order to allow you to produce portions of your campaign in-house, I'll work with you. Too many agency's take an all-or-nothing approach to their work which tends to limit the clients input and flexibility throughout the process.

Quality Creative >
Over time, agencies often begin to develop a certain "look" or "tone" in their work, reflecting the aesthetics and subjective preferences of in-house creative folks. When reviewing a portfolio, you should feel enthusiastic about the work you see, and at least a portion of the creative work should be in a style appropriate to your needs, expectations and personal taste. Also, keep in mind that creative work is successful only in so far as it produces results for your business.

I strongly believe that, while creative delivery plays a role in every marketing effort, it should always take a back seat to strategic thinking. The development of a company's collateral or their advertising should not be approached like an artist's canvas. There is almost never room for creativity-for-creativity's-sake. Every typeface, every image, every headline should speak to the target and be a part of the overall delivery and goal of the specific project.

Though I pride myself in the skill-set I've developed over my career, I'm not too proud to seek quality outside resources when necessary. Depending on the needs of the project, I may draw on the expertise of a wide range of outside talent. I work cooperatively with many gifted art directors, copywriters, designers, photographers, web designers, printers, illustrators, and PR writers.

Testimonials & References >
If you're on the fence about who you want to work with, ask for a few client references. Barring any sort of non-compete agreements, an agency should provide you with at least a couple of folks you can contact as references. Call them and ask some pointed questions: Is the client satisfied with the work produced? Does the client think the work was a good value and investment? Were there any particular problems encountered when working with the agency? The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you will be to make the right choice.

Personality Counts >
Determine who your contact will be and if you’ll be working directly with other members of the staff. Meet these people to get a sense for whether your personalities mesh, if your contacts communicate effectively and if you will be able to reach them in a timely manner.

I hope this short tutorial helps to give you a better perspective on selecting the best agency or creative resource for your needs.

Happy Marketing - j

Friday, August 21, 2009

"I can't afford to advertise during a recession!"

So-called business guru Peter Drucker once said, "Only two things make business money - marketing and innovation. Everything else is an expense."

Having a great and innovative product or service and not marketing it is like owning a sports car and never putting gas in it. You need to fill the tank on a regular basic or you won't get very far.

During down times, marketing is often the first budget slashed. This can actually cause more harm than the recession alone. If your marketing efforts were bringing in a certain level of sales, and those numbers began to drop as the economy slowed, killing your advertising will certainly take them unnecessarily lower. The customers are still out there - and unless you have a truly boutique product, they are still buying – just at a reduced rate.

My advice to clients during a slump is that we sit down and evaluate what we're doing and what we've done in the past. We identify the initiatives that produced the most bang for the buck, and adjust the budget and strategy to focus on repeating those results. If targeted direct mail was a great, inexpensive way of reaching a specific target segment – we repeat it. If banner ads or print placement in a specific publication did the job, then we shift in that direction.

Studies show that companies that don't succumb to the knee-jerk slashing of their advertising budgets during these times actually tend to see growth – which only makes sense to me. Think about it. If the norm is to reduce or eliminate advertising expenses during a recession, the playing field is empty. There are fewer voices competing for the customer's eyes and ears, and new customers can likely be had without having to work quite so hard to beat out your competition.

Don't get me wrong, the problems inherent with a financial slow down can't be ignored, and I'm not suggesting that you proceed, business-as-usual through these tough times. I'm simply saying that with a bit of thought, and some focused planning and execution, your marketing could turn a bust into a boom.

Happy marketing - j