Know the Advertising Agency Relationship You Want to Have Before You Have It

I’ve been going to the same hair stylist for over 20 years. And until now, I’ve never realized we’ve had a very strategic relationship.

She asks me what I want and I respond with my goal in the form of a wisecrack, “Let’s try creatively professional,” or “Disruptively debonair, please.” I like having that kind of relationship with her because, in her world, I know very little. She’s the expert. All I know is what I want to look like at the end of the day. If I tried to prescribe how much she should take off and from where, the results would be disastrous.

Similarly, there’s two ways to work with advertising agencies: tactically or strategically. For all organizations, especially start-ups, knowing which role you need an agency to play before engaging them is critical for optimizing and growing sales. Each creates a unique relationship that directly impacts the creative work and the sales. But how do you know which role is right?

By working tactically, an agency serves as a creative order taker. An organization has made a list of the tactics they want, such as a website and a video. They then need an agency to turn those creative executions out. In these cases, an organization typically has a team of MBA-toting strategists. These teams would hammer out the strategy and plan, then hand over the “what’s needed” list to the agency.

In a strategic relationship, an organization shares its goals with the agency. “We need to grow sales by 20% this year. How can we do that?” The agency then uses its strategists to help develop the plan to meet those goals by figuring out what the organization’s brand strategy should be, how that strategy translates into a message and the tactics that message should be carried across before doing the creative executions for those tactics.

I recently had coffee with an agency veteran who’s now with the American Association of Advertising Agencies. We discussed our experiences with both of these relationships and how one of them is becoming the primary choice in today’s new media world. My coffee companion is seeing fewer tactical relationships. Instead, she sees more organizations looking for and utilizing strategic agencies for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1:

Since the downturn, fewer clients have the banks of MBA-toting strategists on their payroll. Instead, they are looking to outsource this capability to outside providers, such as their advertising firm.

Reason 2:

Advertising is not what it used to be. Today’s new media has created a bold new space where organizations can no longer just monologue out to audiences. It’s now a conversation between organizations and buyers, as well as between buyers and buyers. Whether B2B or B2C, target markets are talking to each other and amongst themselves. Communication is fluid and advertising agencies who understand this new dynamic are the best suited to navigate organizations through. Therefore, more organizations are wanting agencies to be their strategic partners in crafting and managing their advertising initiatives.

We have noticed the same thing, and we would add one more reason of why this is happening to the pile:

Reason 3:

Part of navigating new media requires understanding the invisible connection between an organization and its customers, developing a brand strategy, then translating that strategy into all of the creative executions, such as websites, social posts or direct mail pieces. During this process, the weakest link can be the translation of the strategy into creative executions. The link between strategists and creative teams needs to be short and strong. Instead of having in-house strategists work with out-sourced creative teams, some organizations are preferring to have strategists and creatives from the same agency.

While these reasons are causing more organizations to seek strategic relationships, neither relationship is right or wrong. Organizations just need to know which relationship they are looking for and why before they engage an agency. Do you have your strategy laid out? Has you strategy been crafted with today’s new media world in mind? Are you confident that the strategy will be translated accurately in the creative elements? Knowing these answers will go a long way in optimizing each element of their advertising plan for reach, engagement and conversion. From there, its identifying that type of agency that fits in best with what they need. Next month we’ll talk more about how to best work with a strategic agency. In the meantime, comment below on what kind of relationships have you had with agencies and why. ❒

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