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 Get the Most Out of Your Ad Agency

by | May 2, 2021

By Ron Owens

When I was advertising director at Pitney Bowes, a Fortune 500 company, and wanted to get the best out of my agency…

1. The first thing I did was to tell the agency’s president: “You are our agency. We have confidence in you and your people. We know you will make some mistakes, as we do. If we are ever seriously dissatisfied, and I don’t expect to be, I will let you know long before we begin thinking of moving to another agency and give you at least six months to address and correct the situation before we contemplate a change. If, at the end of that time, things do not improve, we sever ties. For now, go to work, and work hard for us, but without the fear or concern of being ‘blind-sided’.”

2. I told my agency precisely what I expected of it and not force my agency to indulge in guess work. Many clients do not want their agencies writing marketing plans and tell them so. Others I have known sit back, telling the agency nothing and rendering judgment on the basis of the agency’s guess work of what the client expects of his or her agency. Tell the agency what you want and what you don’t want. I believe marketing to be a collaborative process and I treated my agency as my marketing partner.

3. I evaluated my agency on the basis of measurable results. In concert with my account supervisor, I established annual objectives that I expected the agency to accomplish. Objectives to which he or she would commit. Objectives which were specific, reasonable, and achievable. Accountability was my ultimate objective and I think and believe that it’s a reasonable expectation.

4. If I didn’t respect, personally or professionally, the account person assigned my business, I would inform the agency president and demand a replacement. But if I didn’t like the creative team or the creative director because of his or her personality or anything else, and if the work was good, I’d keep my mouth shut about whom I didn’t like, and I’d flatter them outrageously about the creative product.

5. I recognized the agency business as a low-margin enterprise with inhuman demands on its working capital and I paid my agency invoices “on time” for honest labor and never used the agency to finance my business. I checked my agency’s financial well-being periodically and I worked sincerely to assure “smooth and orderly cash flow” and that they made a profit on my business.

6. I would always go through the discipline of identifying for my agency the exact reason{s} why I approved or disapproved creative or an entire campaign which they had either presented or submitted to me.

7. I would always remember that my agency had other clients it works for, and that I could not expect the best from my agency when I gave them 24 hours to do a job. I would also remember that it’s good for me, as a client, that my agency had other clients – and adding new ones – because it was this very diversity of experience and evident vitality that made my agency a valued source of advertising and marketing service.

8. As a client, I would get to know the key people in my agency on a personal basis. Nothing ensures agency people’s involvement and production for an advertiser more than an admiration and respect for clients as individuals.

9. If I were president of a client organization, I would fire or reassign a bad advertising manager rather than fire a good agency. This is easier said than done because a president or marketing director generally feels that he or she must “back his or her people,” if there is a difference between the advertising department and the agency. I submit to you that a ruthless examination of such differences may sometimes reveal that the advertising manager, for a variety of reasons, is the culprit. And if you are looking to an entire agency for counsel and service – and if you believe, on balance, it’s a good agency – it is more prudent to salvage that resource than to keep an incompetent advertising manager who will, in all probability, have difficulty with the next agency. As a client, I was very demanding of my agency in being “buttoned up” at all times, which covered a multitude of activities. I insisted that, with my help, they really understood my business, that they learned and used comfortably the lingo of my trade; that they met deadlines, that their call or meeting reports were always timely, clear, concise and complete; that they were interested in my business; that they were concerned with details as much as the big picture.

10. Lastly, I would expect agency principals to be honest with me – honest about my company, my staff and associates and my advertising. And I would be honest with them about my company, my staff and associates and my advertising.

Bottom line: if an advertiser were to follow the suggestions as outlined, he or she, would always get the best out of his or her agency. And that, I feel, is really what every client and agency want.

Ron Owens is President, Ron Owens & Associates, a consultancy specializing in marketing development and Diversity & Inclusion. Owens is Past President, Ad Club of Metro Washington DC; Governor, 4A’s; Vice Chair, AAF; VP, ANA; VP, Bozell Worldwide; VP, TMP Worldwide and Co-Founder / Principal, LMO Advertising. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Capitol Communicator and sponsors host various guest postings on relevant topics of interest to the advertising, marketing, public relations and media professional community that Capitol Communicator serves.


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