Advertising agencies can do a lot more than create and place ads. The long list of projects they can handle includes brochures and other types of marketing literature, promotional and sales materials, technical documentation, newsletters, videos, PowerPoint presentations, websites, interactive CD-ROMs, and packaging.
Because agencies today will take on almost anything that falls under the broad heading of communications, they often call themselves communications companies. Yours may be called a creative boutique, graphic design studio, promotional agency, marketing and communications firm, or multimedia house. For the purposes of this article, advertising agency will be used to describe them all.
Dealing with agencies isn't difficult if you keep the following pointers in mind:
Choose your agency wisely. When looking for an agency, distinguish between expertise in the type of work you want to do and experience in your field. The former is key, the latter is mostly irrelevant. Suppose you're in the aerospace business and want to advertise in a trade magazine. Your potential customers are specifiers and engineers. Look for an agency with expertise in business-to-business, and trade marketing. You don't care what type of products they've worked on or whether they've handled aerospace accounts before. Rather you need proof of their expertise in crafting materials aimed at business or technical buyers.
Talk directly to the creative team. Account executives (or account directors, project managers and account co-ordinators) handle the non-creative aspects of the project: the research, the budget, the scheduling, the billing, and the who-said-what-to-whom contact reporting that becomes part of the project record. Some go further and get involved in the creative process – the generating of ideas that is the domain of the copywriters and graphic artists. Participating in creative briefings isn't necessarily a bad thing. The problem starts when they take over the client-briefing process and set themselves up as authoritative interpreters of the client's wishes, preventing all contact between you, the client, and the writers and artists who are actually creating your materials. The rule is this: if you aren't talking directly to the horse's mouth, you are playing broken telephone and compromising the quality of your work. Dealing with writers or graphic artists through filtered information – a "briefing document" prepared by an account executive – neither saves time nor focuses the effort. Insist on direct, face-to-face (or at least telephone) contact with the creative team.
Let the agency do its thing. No one knows more about your company and your marketing and promotional objectives than you do. The agency's creative people will expect you to provide them with as complete a picture as you can of your product or service, the target market, the competition – the works. But after you've done that, and answered any questions the agency may have, let them do their thing. Don't tell the writer how to write or the designer how to design. The tendency to do so is strong because, in this age of computer-assisted everything, writing copy and generating layouts (including everyone's favourite pastime, picking typefaces) seems like child's play. It's not. In fact, it's much more difficult than it looks, all the more so if you're trying to be involved. Your role is to provide the information necessary to get the project going, and to evaluate what the agency comes up with. Nothing less and nothing more.
Simplify the approval process. A multi-layered approval process wherein 12 people at your company are responsible for signing off on the project will distort the final product or possibly even ruin it entirely. Aim to have two (or at most three) people dealing with the agency and signing off on the project.
Be generous with compliments. Creative people are sensitive. Treat them respectfully and they'll do better work for you. This means telling the agency what you like as well as what you don't like. A sincere compliment goes a long way toward making agency people feel appreciated.
Be prepared to pay a fair price. If you want top quality work, expect to pay for it. An agency will (legitimately) charge you for, among other items, creative development (copywriting and graphic design), photography, translation, production, project management, and printing. Don't be shocked when what appears to be little things – like logos and slogans – show up on your invoice with hefty price tags. The logo may be only a few lines and the slogan only a few words but the people who came up with them dedicated years to learning how to do it properly. You're paying for quality, not quantity.
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