Maybe you’re been thinking about it for months. Maybe you’ve looked at the numbers and realized that it’s time to take the next step for your business. Maybe you’ve been doing it yourself for years and want someone else to manage it.
Whatever your reasoning — you’re ready to hire an advertising agency.
We might be biased, but we think that is a great decision. While we could go on and on about the reasons you should hire an advertising agency (we might even suggest one really, really great advertising firm in Richmond, VA), we want to help you ensure that you are making the best decision for your business.
Hiring an advertising agency can be a daunting task. There are a lot of competitors in this industry and they all offer many different solutions for what you need — or sometimes don’t need. To help you find the best ad agency for your needs, we’ve compiled our list of the most important questions you should ask yourself — AND your prospective ad agency — before you pick your agency of record.
Five Questions You Should Ask Yourself During Your Search for an Advertising Agency:
1. Is our brand / company ready to hire an advertising agency?
Look into the near future: Let’s say you hire an amazing advertising firm. They’ve got some great new campaigns ready to launch with an awesome omnichannel placement strategy that is destined to work, and you’re about to give your final approval on this brilliant plan.
Once the floodgates are open, and the customers start rolling in, are you actually prepared on the backend of your business to properly handle a rush of new business? Is your phone system fully functioning and up to date? Do you have enough customer service personnel on hand to handle the influx? Is your website/server robust enough to handle the new traffic? Is your supply chain sturdy enough to successfully handle a surge of new orders?
If you aren’t prepared, all of those little logistical issues that you’ve been triaging during the slower months will become critical issues — and you could potentially turn a gaggle of new, first-time customers into last-time customers before your campaign is over.
2. Can we handle the truth about ourselves?
Not to get all “A Few Good Men” on you, but many advertising agencies start a client relationship with a discovery process. This is a research project that takes a deep dive into your company and its previous advertising and marketing initiatives. In order for your new agency to improve your future, it needs to study your past. Sometimes, the information that is unearthed during the discovery process can be very hard to hear and accept.
However, it’s our job as advertising professionals to give you a genuine, honest, unbiased look at your business, which includes your customer service model, your current brand (including your name and logo), and your processes.
While this process can either sting a bit or cause awe-inspiring moments, we promise it is an important part of your progress — and your strategy to be more successful in the future.
3. What advertising problem are we truly trying to solve?
A lot of potential clients seek out advertising agencies because they are in a sales slump or they’ve seen less foot traffic through the door. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to crank the advertising machine up to 11 — or switch agencies. Are your primary business issues solely related to a lack of awareness — or is there something bigger behind the scenes in your business model that’s keeping you down? Any advertising agency worth their salt will help you get to the root of your existing issues, and then create strategies to get you heading back in the right direction.
4. Are we really ready for advertising ideas that are different — or disruptive?
One of the biggest reasons business owners hire new advertising agencies is because they want fresh new advertising ideas. However, when presented with these bold, new marketing ideas and campaigns, some business owners recoil at the idea of “different.” Sometimes, it’s due to a feeling of nostalgia for their company’s roots and past campaigns. Sometimes, it’s natural risk aversion (i.e. change is bad).
This happens a lot — and it’s OK. Change can be tough to swallow. However, this is typically the point where your account manager will remind you of the reasons you hired a new advertising firm in the first place (i.e. what you’ve been doing for years just isn’t working anymore, etc.) Then, they’ll remind you of the strategy and all of the research and collective knowledge and expertise that has been invested into these different, disruptive advertising concepts.
Friction creates expansion. Expansion does not happen without friction. An advertising agency should be asking questions to push you to realize your brand’s potential. If your advertising agency were to simply do as they are told, you will inevitably continue managing the advertising, branding, marketing, and PR efforts — so why hire an agency if you have to handle all the pieces still? A good place to start is understanding that you are ready to take your brand to the next level by hiring a partner that can assist you in reaching, or preferably exceeding your goals and expectations with new strategies and ideas.
In advertising, change and disruption can be very good directions — especially when you have great strategy, proven research, and a team of experienced creative professionals on your side who eat, drink, and breathe advertising, marketing, and branding on a daily basis.
5. Do we want a project or a long term strategic partnership?
Let’s say you want a billboard, a new website, and some flyers. Great, but are you sure that’s what you really need?
While some agencies specialize in project work and will gladly take care of your immediate needs, you might be doing yourself a disservice by focusing on the “now” instead of working together with an agency to focus on sustainable advertising and marketing solutions to address your long term goals.
Every agency is different and we all have certain processes we like to follow when starting a partnership with a new client. At Madison+Main, we like to start our new client partnerships with a Discovery process so we can learn everything we can about your company and brand before we dig into campaign work. While we can, and will, offer solutions for your “now” issues, we believe knowing the provenance of your company is critical to developing functional, creative strategies that solve your needs both today AND tomorrow.
Five Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Advertising Agency:
1. How much does it cost to hire an advertising agency?
You don’t have to share your budget at your first meeting with a potential advertising agency, but having a general idea of how much you’ve spent on advertising and marketing efforts in the past — and how much you plan to spend in the future — will help you narrow down what type of ad firm you can afford to hire. Some agencies will only work with clients that have a minimum budget of $X. Others focus on small to mid-sized businesses, such as ourselves. Madison+Main was founded on the principle of bringing Madison Avenue ideas to Main Street clients. Small businesses still have to compete with big brands with big budgets, so finding a firm that will take an efficient, tactical approach to maximize your budget and its effectiveness is key to your ongoing success.
2. Can we call your references?
Their answer should be, “Absolutely!” And they’ll probably give you a short list of their biggest clients that have the best relationships. Then it’s up to you to do some due diligence. Close the circle — call around and talk to the folks on that list. But you also might want to call some of the clients who aren’t on that list. Take a look at the prospective firm’s website and see what other clients they are bragging about. It might be a good idea to call some of them, too — just to be safe. Remember — you are making an investment in your company’s future when you hire an advertising agency. Do your homework and make sure it’s a sound investment.
3. What is your longest term relationship with a client?
This is an interesting question and the answers are often very telling. However, don’t look too deep into the numbers. It depends on who you ask (and the opinions vary wildly), but the average lifespan for a client/agency relationship is 5-7 years. If an agency has an average client lifespan of 2-4 years, that might be a red flag. If their longest relationship is 10+ years, you are probably in good hands. Similar to the question above, just do your homework and ask around — just don’t listen to Roger Sterling.
4. Who are your current pro bono clients?
We think dedicated community service says a lot about any business. By our nature, advertising, marketing, and branding agencies are in the “call to action” business. Every day, we strategically guide people to connect to ideas, services, goods, and products every day. If an agency doesn’t dedicate a portion of its efforts and creativity to the betterment of the communities they serve, that might be a sign that they aren’t as connected to the pulse of the masses as they should be.
5. How often can I expect reporting of my campaign efforts and what’s included in the reports?
Depending on the campaign, an advertising agency should provide you monthly, quarterly and/or yearly reports. Campaigns might be amazing, funny, creative, or straight to the point depending on the overall goal of the concept, but is the campaign creating the outcome you need? Whether it’s increased sales, awareness, phone calls, contact form submissions, downloads, etc., your agency should have your overall goal in mind and create a report to showcase the status of the results.
BONUS QUESTION: Is your advertising agency fun to work with?
We’re not accountants — no offense, CPAs. Advertising is and should be fun. We think this is exciting stuff and we want you to feel that excitement too. This is a fun industry filled with passionate, creative, eccentric people with great, outside-the-lines ideas. If your prospective agency seems dull, don’t expect fireworks on presentation day.
Looking for bold answers to your advertising questions? Get in touch with Madison+Main today to get the creative marketing solutions your business has been seeking by calling us at (877) 623-6246! #BoldBrandsWin