Once upon a time, there was a VP of Marketing. He went on a walk the woods in search of an advertising agency to help drive more traffic to his bakery to buy grandma’s special recipes. At the same time, in another part of the forest, three ad agencies left their cottage and went on a walk to let their bowls of profit cool before dinner. The VP came upon the cottage and smelled the cooling bowls of profit.
The VP walked into the cottage, worn out from his search. He saw three steaming bowls of profit, one huge, one medium and one small. “Wow, look at those bowls of profit,” he exclaimed. “That biggest bowl of profit must mean the clients make huge profits too,” he reasoned. He saw three client lounges: One ornate with TWO ping pong tables, and SIX Xboxes; one more modest with a pool table and craft beer on tap; and one with a couple of comfortable chairs and good wifi. Usually, at this point in the story, there would be three beds… but our VP never got that far because he was too busy in the client lounge playing Halo and wishing he had gone to the agency side telling the creatives that he could have been a copywriter.
Defining Your Sucess With An Agency
In 20-plus years in marketing, I’ve had occasion to work for, interview, hire and sometimes fire agencies ranging from three employees to hundreds. Regardless of the size of the agency, the work was done by flesh and blood people. Nobody worked for free and the client lounge really didn’t make that much difference in the results.
The biggest determiners of the success or failure were:
- The clarity of my organization’s goal and the organization’s collective resolve in reaching that goal.
- The fit between the selected agency and the objective.
- Agency team consistency throughout the relationship.
Every once in a while, someone in the organization (usually the CEO) gets tired of the marketing. Or they go to a conference. Or they binge-watch Mad Men. Suddenly, you’re looking for a new agency for no other reason than organizational restlessness. There is no clarity, just discontent. This is a recipe for disaster and, likely, your rebound agency relationship will be a short one. Your organization has no clarity, no real goal. Any agency can give you something different, but without a clearly defined goal, there is no way that it will hit the target. Many agencies, especially smart ones, will run from this situation because they won’t see a path to success. That leaves you with the not-so-smart ones that are glad to get the account regardless. It may sound obvious, but a long, hard discussion about the problem(s) you hope to solve by bringing in the agency will answer the question, “Is this trip really necessary?” It will also put you much further down the road toward finding the right fit.
Why Boutique Can Oftentimes Be Better
It’s not a metric that is easy to measure, but you do you’ll be much closer to meeting your goal. The right fit comes when you have clear objectives that everyone in the organization supports and your agency of choice has the tools to meet these objectives. This is where a boutique agency is worth throwing in the review. Maybe you’re actually looking for two boutique agencies that can work together instead of one behemoth agency. It all depends on your goal, and your willingness to think outside the big agency box. Because of their size, a boutique agency is forced to think just as hard about taking you as a client as you are thinking about hiring them. The boutique agency has restricted bandwidth and will protect it to serve existing accounts. Of course, if your organization is huge, you might need a big name with lots of capacity on tap and the overhead that comes with it. However, success or failure still, in my experience, depends on one more factor.
However, success or failure still, in my experience, depends on one more factor.
The consistency of the agency team between the pitch and the day to day account work is critical to success. No matter the size of the agency, some do an amazing job introducing you to the team that will be working on your account and others don’t. The odds are, though, that the smaller the agency the more likely it is that the principles and more seasoned account personnel will actually be working on your business. Some of this can be handled as a requirement of the proposal, but that doesn’t fix the turnover that can change your account team from hero to zero with the loss of a key person. If you’re working with the leadership that is directly financially impacted by whether or not you remain a client, the work will be more thoughtful. If your account team is made up of junior players and the account director dropped off the status calls after the third week, you’re probably going to have difficulty meeting your objectives and you’ll never win at Halo in the client lounge.
Every situation is different and yours may require a multinational, holding company, advertising agency. But ask yourself if it truly gets your organization closer to its business goals before going that direction. Because a couple of comfortable chairs, good wifi and a small group of dedicated individuals that will work on your business like their business depends on it is a powerful thing. Remember, the bowl of profit may be smaller because there is more in the clients’ bowls.
About The Writer
Marc Swank marketing career spans more than 2 decades and includes agency and in-house work for retail, healthcare, banking and agricultural clients. Currently, he is the Vice President of Marketing for Renew Sleep Solutions, a startup, bringing consumers convenient and effective testing, diagnosis and treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
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