Developing a win-win situation

Good advertising agency relationships are hard to forge. But if you put your mind to it, you’ll find that if you commit yourself to the process, you’ll get better results.

Here are five steps to help you build a friendly and productive relationship with your ad agency.

Define your agency needs

Determine what kind of advertising you’re buying and pick an agency that does that kind best. It is usually one of the following:

* Institutional (promotes the company)

* Product or service (sells what you make)

* Market or segment (addresses narrow customer needs)

As you learn what methods and tools are best suited for your company, pick or change your agency to one that fits your needs. Those may include direct mail, broadcast, sales support or Internet marketing and advertising.

Link goals to your agency’s objectives

Agreement is imperative to success. Any agency effort should be tied to quantifiable goals in terms of finding, keeping and winning back customers or growing your customer base.

Understand your reasons for hiring an agency

Agencies can do all of the following, but often at a high cost. However, there are some things that are so routine and/or costly they should be done in-house.

* Creative development. The development of concepts, copy and design is best purchased from the experts, the advertising agency.

* Execution. When ideas are turned into production-ready storyboards and schedules, proofs and mailings are needed, an in-house person can share the burden and reduce the cost.

* Production of advertising campaigns. If you foresee a recurring need to place ads, print materials and develop Web sites, bringing this function in-house will save you time and money. Good project and outside vendor management is a commodity and you should require that this be performed in-house.

Choose your agency after defining your needs

Too often, owners choose agencies with their hearts instead of their heads. To make a good decision, ask to evaluate the agency instead of having it pitch you. It should get paid to pitch after you’ve chosen the firm that best meets your business objectives.

Then, ask the agency’s other clients how well it defined their advertising objectives and how these objectives were met in terms of price quality and timeliness.

Manage your agency, projects and objectives

Understand the old adage that in advertising you can only get two of these three: low price, high quality, fast turnaround. Decide what you need and make sure the agency knows it. Be a good client and respond immediately to the agency’s need for input, feedback and approvals. It is only trying to help you. Demand regular meetings where your objectives are tied to actual results.

If you don’t manage your agency, it will manage you. It has too much at risk to let critical business decisions impacting advertising go unmade. So manage your agency’s objectives and performance just as you would any in-house function.

And if advertising is a key success factor to your business, then manage it in-house and only go outside for the creative ideas.

Regardless of how you split the work, if you stay on top of your job, you just might end up raving about your agency. Andy Birol ([email protected]) is president of PACER Associates Inc., a Solon-based firm that provides expert advice to owners and leaders who need to grow their businesses. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or at