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August 25, 2012

Choosing an ad agency

by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

Size counts:
Size does count, as my wife reminds me from time to time. This is particularly true with regards to choosing the right advertising agency for your business. It is critical that you match the prospective size of your advertising account with the size of advertising agency to get an ideal match for your business. Select an agency which is too large for your account and from my experience, (irrespective of the assurances of the MD and Creative Director during your courtship), your account simply won’t receive the attention you think it deserves. Choose an agency that is too small and they won’t have the resources to fulfill your marketing needs, especially when up against tight deadlines.

How big then, is ‘big’?
Unless you are managing director of a large teleco, financial institution or Unilever, accept that your account just isn’t that big. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a number of ad agencies out there that would be very happy to have your account. And as I tell Mrs F size isn’t everything. Some adverting accounts are more attractive than others. Nando’s, because its management is brave with regards to advertising, and because the brand is based on irreverence, is a much sort-after account. It is the sort of account which wins agencies awards and which punches above its weight on impact. This is why you will find even larger agencies take on (and carefully look after) smaller, even pro bono accounts.

Full-service or specialist?
Larger agencies are more inclined to be “full service”. (I will skip the all to obvious innuendo here.) This means they have teams or associate companies throughout the spectrum of marketing needs. Most agencies such as this have for instance, activation, public relations and digital teams within the group – which can be bought on board as required. The obvious advantage is the simplicity of working with a single client service team and consistency of execution. The difficulty is that it is difficult for even the most prestigious agency to be best of breed across all the sub disciplines that make up adverting in it broadest sense. This is especially true in new, dynamic specialisations such as digital marketing, where ridiculously young gurus start up small but impressive agencies all the time.

Howard Fox and Ronnie Apteker

Ronnie Apteker – Founder of Internet Solutions and film entrepreneur, shares a card trick with Howard on the occasion of Howard hosting the Distinguished Speaker Series at GIBS.

If, because of your marketing strategy needs or the sad reality of the size of your budget you intend focusing on a single form of marketing execution, you are probably best off with such a specialised agency.

Er, so what exactly do adverting agencies do?
Less than you may think. Let’s start with what they don’t do. They don’t do marketing research. If there are fundamental questions regarding the market,
you will need the services of a separate research agency. They don’t decide where to place your ads. This is done by a media agency – although ad agencies would normally have a relationship with a media agency if you don’t have one. Ad agencies don’t own TV ad production facilities or recording studios. If your agency creates a radio ad they will buy in the services of an outside recording facility. The same holds true for TV ads – having developed the concept and detailed storyboard of each scene, the agency will then find a specialised director and suitable production company to create the final ad material. What they do do, is create a communications strategy from your marketing strategy, create campaign concepts and specifics of each subsequent ad, such as copy writing. Most print advertising production is done in-house by the agency, except for bespoke photography or specialised illustrations. And when it’s all approved by you, the client, the agency distributes the digital files to the respective radio, television or print media. What they shouldn’t be doing is dictating your marketing strategy – that’s your or your marketing director’s job.

I found an agency I like but they won’t take my money!
Like any relationship, both parties have to agree to the union. Advertising agencies, for traditional as well as obvious confidentiality and ethical reasons, don’t take competing companies as clients. For a number of, especially large, agencies they may well have a similar client to your company (unless you are The Association of Left Handed Basket Weavers, who have no competitors).  Unless it is in their interest to fire their current client (yes it does happen), they are likely to polity eschew your advances.



Association of Communication and Advertising – representing South Africa’s advertising and communication professionals:

For a listing of ad agencies in South Africa:

Marketing Association of South Africa (Chartered Marketers):

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