Friday, June 1, 2007

What Makes a Good Advertising Client

In an earlier post, I talked about the huge numbers of CMOs firing their agencies and wondered aloud if it were really the agencies to blame or the clients in many of those cases. Over the last couple of years, I've been invited to guest lecture at UNC-Chapel Hill in Bob Lauterborn's advanced advertising class. He's doing an amazing thing in that class: He's teaching students how to be good clients because, as he points out, nobody else is.

Since I've been on the client side and the agency side, each for several years, I shared with the class this Top 10 ways to be a good client.

  1. Choose the right agency for you in the first place. There's so much to say about that alone, I'm going to do a later post on that. Look for the link HERE when it's done, but it's so important to get the right fit in the first place.
  2. Understand how agencies work. It's our job as account people to act like we have no other clients, but we do. And what we sell is our time and the fact that at least some of us really know how to do our jobs. If you trust that, and utilize that, it can pay huge dividends.
  3. Agree on what you're trying to accomplish. Sound simple, but you need to have clear goals. You should share your overall business plan, not just the marketing tactics you want the agency to do today. You should set a strategy as a team for achieving your marketing objectives and finally, you need to agree how you’re going to measure it. Then measure it that way. Curiously, few companies do all these things.
  4. Trust each other. Share your budget completely. Let the agency help you prioritize; otherwise how can they say you should do A before B because A will make you more money? I did this with my agency, and it worked well. Bring me any idea you want, just tell me which item(s) it replaces and why. Similarly, trust your creative team, or get a new one. If you were that talented in design or copywriting, you'd have a different job. I think it may have been David Ogilvy who said, and I loosely paraphrase: "Once you buy a dog, stop barking."
  5. Know your limitations. You should know your product best (see rule #7), and that’s the problem. You're no longer normal and you can't look at the product like a "normal" person does. Agencies are translators--that’s what the good ones do, they translate what you want to say into what the prospect wants to hear. Your changes and input should be based on reflecting strategy and getting the facts right.
  6. Understand advertising. Don’t feature puke. You can't write a user's manual in an ad. You need to have reasonable expectations for what “ads” can do for you and you need to understand how much you can communicate well in an ad. If you don't, that's ok. That shows me you understand rule #5. Simply refer back to rule #4 for the way out of it.
  7. Understand your product. This is your key job in the relationship. Know who you are, who you’re not, and how you compare to your competitors. Know what your prospects care about. This is really hard. It's a full time job if you're doing it right.
  8. Respect time. The deadlines we're working off of are to help you meet your goals. Respond quickly. Make all your changes at once if you possible're the one paying for the time, remember. And if it’s not worth your time to read our contact reports, why are you paying us to do the work?
  9. Understand the money. First of all, pay your bills. Most agencies are small businesses and not the place to stretch your cash flow. You also need to understand what costs what (A $400 photo is cheap; A proof will cost $750 or so; The average TV spot in the U.S. costs over $340,000. Expect yours to cost between $50,000 and $250,000 if you have enough budget to be on TV.) Don’t try to do what you can’t afford to do.
  10. If you treat your agency like clerks, you'll get the shelves restocked--and not much else. The big trend is beating down agency fees. Is it a coincidence that CMOs are now complaining that they don't get big ideas? My agency years ago was hired by Kmart to do a consulting project. We suggested they hire a relative unknown named Martha Stewart. How much was that idea worth? You can't measure it in hourly rates. Find a compensation structure that's reasonable on both ends and maybe "lack of strategy" complaints will go away.
I know this sounds like I'm an apologist for the "do no wrong" agencies. Not at all. When I was on the client side I saw the smarmy account guy, the disappear for two weeks account service and more. That's the subject of a future post...

What do you think?

~Jim Tobin