Is it time for a new advertising agency?
By: Scott Burkhead
A familiar scenario: There is anxiety about direction, not just in the marketing group, but with the management team. The only agency people you’ve seen lately are mid-level and juniors. A brand manager mentioned that the creative is losing focus. The woman who runs sales thinks the creative seems more dependent on pyrotechnics than on solid ideas.
Sometimes both agency and client are smart, focused and willing but simply no longer mesh. Sometimes the problems are not of the agency’s making. There are toxic client organizations just as there are bad agencies. Smart clients take a hard look at the environment they’re providing for their agencies before making a change. If you’re satisfied that the problem is not in your marketing group, fixing the problem requires a serious discussion with your existing agency; or maybe it’s time for a change.
Make a new plan, Stan
In either case, maybe this is a good time to shake things up a bit with an agency review. But shaking it up doesn’t have to mean firing and hiring. One of the most time-consuming and expensive activities for senior marketing officers is changing agencies. Here are some problems to look out for when making a switch:
1) Expense: Even if you manage the review internally without the help of a consultant, there are both soft and hard costs involved. Soft costs are the hours you and your team spend conducting the research, interviews, and attending presentations. Your current agency will hear about the review (hopefully you’ve told them) and their quality of work may suffer. Hard costs include travel and loss of opportunity with marketing less focused on revenue generation.
2) Distraction: Reviews are time-sucking events. Not just the presentations, but the time required for you and your team to decide what you want from the new agency and to brief each of the contenders. And when the new agency is selected, extensive time will be spent on briefings. All this detracts from a marketing department’s primary focus.
3) UnLoyalists: Expect one or more of your team to exit within the next few months, a victim of clash of new personalities. Sometimes agencies make the mistake of assuming all the team members are in support of management’s decision to hire them and don’t take the time to get to know each of the client staff. Other times a team member may have had a special working relationship with staffers from the former agency. People react to change in different ways, and a new job is a way to say ‘I’ll do my own changing, I don’t need yours’.
These are decision considerations, not a pitch in favor of the status quo. Regardless of the expense involved in changing agency’s, the greater cost is in holding onto a relationship that no longer works.
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Most managers I’ve worked with first start with a serious discussion with the existing agency principal. If the alliance has any juice left, the agency will take this discussion seriously and take steps to correct the problems. Sometimes, this moves the alliance into a stronger, more rewarding phase. Whether you change agencies or move forward with your current one, this is an opportunity for a bit of client soul searching that helps focus your thinking when defining what you expect from an agency.
A good place to start is by defining the skills you think are needed to achieve the results you’re looking for. Defining your needs will also help clarify which additional support agencies that you need, perhaps for PR, digital, research, or collateral.
Another consideration is whether the agency needs to be a peer strategic resource. If you already have a strong strategic brand team to provide direction perhaps you want the new agency to focus on developing great creative?
Hop on the bus, Gus
What do you really need – heads or hands? Most organizations need both, but not necessarily from the same agency. The biggest question is still the first question: do I shake up my current group and give them a chance to make a fresh start, or do I jump into a mating dance with other agencies?
Here are the most cited five reasons Sr. VP’s responsible for agencies said convinced them to review, rather than counsel their current group.
- Creative is off-strategy.
- No fresh ideas in weeks.
- Really don’t know what we thought we knew about our customer. The agency should be on top of that.
- We have trouble explaining what distinguishes us from our competitors. We need insights into why customers pick our brand. Customer profiles aren’t enough.
- We’re rolling out new products and we don’t think our agency understands strategic positioning and branding..
The current agency can probably fix some of these, but not #3, #4 or #5. These are so fundamental to any firm’s reason for being that if that knowledge isn’t there, then, as we say in the South, that dog won’t hunt.
Once upon a time agencies did most things well. Not so much anymore. Even an AOR relationship probably means you need additional expertise. Decide if you want to keep the tactical support agencies reporting directly to you, or hire an AOR capable of managing them.
Just drop off the key, Lee
Life is too short and the work you do for all the company’s stakeholders too important to have a partner that doesn’t contribute at a high level. So, whether you give your agency another chance, or decide to make a change it will be helpful to remember this: a critical strategic decision is deciding if you need an agency good at making things, or one good at making things happen. Making the right choice is not an easy task.
Interested in what an agency like BBG can do for your brand? Contact us today and we’ll set up a call. firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call 919 539 6401.
Note: Some of the subheads are borrowed from “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” written and first performed by Paul Simon.