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Beyond the Basic Checklist: Uncommon Advice for Selecting an Ad Agency


  •   7 min reads
Beyond the Basic Checklist: Uncommon Advice for Selecting an Ad Agency
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay
By Vincent R. Pozon

An advertising agency is very like a basketball team

Unlike in many industries, the assets of an advertising agency are of the mobile kind: they actually go down the elevator and out of the building at the end of the day. There aren't any boilers or plants, and the walls look ordinary, no matter how hallowed the reputation. There isn't anything about their conference rooms that might describe or distinguish them from those of others. So a paradigm shift is proffered: An advertising agency is very like a basketball team. It is the eventual coalescing of individual talents that will define the overall quality of the team and its ability to provide service, and give name and reputation to the ball club.

What we normally attribute to the advertising agency, be it strategic thinking, marketing wisdom or creativity, or experience with a particular category, are really properties borne by people. This is why most firms are named after their prime movers and founders. When an agency presents their credentials presentations, take an inordinate amount of time to acquaint yourself with the current coalition of people.

Today, a normal agency is a gathering of several types. First, the good and the best with many years and agencies behind them. They are the more senior people, and they bring to the table exhaustive experience in innumerable categories. (Second to the banking industry, ad people tend to be mobile, moving between agencies until they find "home", a place they consider comfortable enough to want to invest the rest of their productive lives in).

Second, people with experience in allied industries, like television production, IT, public relations, and events management. Third, the fresh graduates. While they have yet to acquire expertise, they are hired for attitude and promise. 

Together – coalesced well for a client or on a project – they can be awesome.

When deciding between agencies, I suggest the following as criteria:

Strategic Thinking

The most important part of developing an advertising plan is the strategy. It serves as the blueprint; it guides every facet of marketing, dictating every nuance of crafting a campaign - from the choice of words, talents, to the precise execution of shots. Here is something to watch out for: does the agency respect strategies, or, like some agencies, subscribe to the notion that "if the execution is good but off-strat, change the strat"?

Depth and range of analysis: Did the agency understand the complexity of the marketing situation? Or did it oversimplify? Did they unquestioningly adopt the proposition in the brief? Did they present an alternative approach for consideration?

Do they "get it" – what you want to do? Do they understand that you are not just promoting a product, that you have bigger goals, say, wooing a generation, or cultivating a specific market segment, or fortifying loyalty so customers will forgive a slight increase in price, or establishing unassailable dominance so you can enjoy momentum of the marketplace?

Are they lovers of research? Did they treat research findings with respect?

Discipline in Creativity

Fidelity to Strategy: Did the agency get lost in the executions? Does the campaign have elements not essential to the strategy? Globally aligned agencies are required by their head offices to win awards, and so they design accordingly. This results in work that can win commendations from the industry but cannot tickle products off the supermarket shelves on which they are moored. 

Does the proposed campaign stand out as an outstanding solution to a marketing dilemma? Is it aberrant advertising? Aberrant advertising is powerful work that is ‘in-your-face’, exploiting every single second it is allowed use of. It cannot be unseen, unheard. 

Does it have the potential to disrupt? Go viral? Now strong ideas may evoke a sense of unease, so when not a single eyebrow arches in surprise, if it is embraced or approved easily by everyone, it may go unnoticed, lack impact, and prove ineffective—a futile expenditure of time and resources. Is the agency brave enough to push boundaries, present unorthodox ideas?

Is Your Big Idea Big Enough?
“The powerful idea is rare because few survive the process of creation.”

Campaignability of Concept: Can you envision the campaign enduring over a decade? Does the campaign idea possess a Big Picture and Caption that can be leveraged through diverse iterations over the years? Or is it merely a "one-off," leaving you wondering what you will be doing next year?

Starkness and Efficiency: Were you waylaid by the executions? Are there attention vampires – shiny objects dangling, distracting you from the real message?

If there is humor, does it help in making the point, or was it included only for appeal? If there are celebrities involved, do they play relevant roles? Or do they hog the spotlight, leaving the product an afterthought? While attributing sales directly to a single factor like an endorsement is difficult, it's evident, for instance, that Michael Jordan's association with Gatorade was a better fit and more enduring than his previous endorsement of regular, 150-calorie Coca-Cola.

Clarity and Precision: Are the executions sharply defined and focused? Could someone unacquainted with the campaign detect the intent of the whole campaign? 

The Value of the Outsider
When an advertising material cannot make the hair on your arm stand on end, cannot make you smile or tear up, who do you call? “The Outsider.”

IMC

Did they present an integrated communications campaign, or just ads? Are they capable of organizing or overseeing events, for instance, in wet markets all over the country? While messages should soar on multiple platforms, there's science in the selection of platforms. 

It's simple to suggest billboards, in-store radio, Tiktok, handbills, ads in Viber groups, and so forth and what not, but it's not a smorgasbord. Every marketing scenario necessitates a tailored approach, factoring in the target audience, product lifecycle, market share, clutter, creative aberrancy, product differentiation, geographical nuances, and overall campaign objectives.


A CHART to help in determining thrusts and channels for marketing, from consumer definition up to desired result.

Agency Set-up

What is the organizational setup of the agency? Are you dealing with an agency or a small unit inside it? How are strategies finalized? Are the more experienced people involved in approval or consultation? Do they get to see the work before it is presented?

Partner Potential

Are the people the kind with whom you would like to work? Are they in there with you, concerned with fulfilling your goals? Are they incessantly asking about your sales? Or are they merely a vendor producing ads?

Speed

Despite the heavy romancing as an art, advertising is commerce, and timeliness is crucial. The agency's ability to get back to you quickly provides time for rectifying, allowing room to pivot or make adjustments in the marketing plan, and for the necessary fixes to take place. Globally aligned agencies have clients falling into their laps, so speed is the competitive advantage of the independent agencies.

Vision

An agency is really its people, and its vision reflects that of its prime movers. Inquire about the personalities of the owners or top management, how their core values shape their operations. Beyond their commercial endeavors, explore their contributions to the country, their pro-bono initiatives, the causes close to their hearts. Understanding their altruistic commitments provides a deeper insight into the ethos of the company.

More than a maker of ads

When allowed, an advertising agency surpasses the role of being a marketing adjunct. When marketing people leave, the ad agency remains the constant, acting as a living archive of your brand's journey. It serves as the repository of institutional knowledge, and they can brief your new people. They know what sells, they know the insides of the hearts of your customers well, having knocked on their doors repeatedly. When choosing an ad agency, opt for more than a fling; seek a committed partner who can champion your vision, a relationship that extends beyond mere transactions.


Vincent R. Pozon

After a year of college, Koyang entered advertising, and there he stayed for more than half a century, in various agencies, multinational and local. He is known for aberrant strategic successes (e.g., Clusivol’s ‘Bawal Magkasakit’, Promil’s ‘The Gifted Child’, RiteMED’s ‘May RiteMED ba nito?', VP Binay's 'Ganito Kami sa Makati', JV Ejercito's 'The Good One'). He is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists, causes and candidates. He is co-founder and counselor for advertising, public relations, and crisis management of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through vpozon@me.com.


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