Victoria Communications: Choosing an Advertising Agency

By George Roberts,
president of Roberts & Co

First, accept the fact that agencies can only excel at one of two approaches to advertising: they're either very good at creative or they're very good at strategy. For whatever reason, the two strengths never seem to go equally, hand in hand.

So pop the question: is your agency best at creative or at strategy? Then choose the one with the approach you prefer. Or the one you think you need most.

There are retail agencies, corporate (business to business) agencies and there are issues management agencies. Retail agencies help stores (dealers, shops, banks, salons etc.) sell things to consumers.

Corporate (business to business) agencies help companies sell their services and/or products to other businesses.

Issues Management agencies use advertising to make ideas or causes or issues meaningful.

So. Are you selling something to consumers or to companies? Or are you championing a cause? Choose accordingly. And don't believe the ones that say they can do everything. Unless it's a national firm with specialty departments with proven track records.

NOTE: Some firms seem better at promoting tangibles and some thrive on intangibles. Others argue there's no difference. Who's right? You are. Go with your instincts.

All agencies - even the small ones - offer layout and design services. All can make your ads, brochures and logo look better than you can. Most agencies (but not all) have copywriters on staff (or on contract) who can make your message work more effectively.

Not all agencies have a media department; this service can be contracted through a media company.

Most agencies have production departments to get printed materials produced; though some do contract this service out.

Radio and TV commercials - and video/multi-media productions - are usually contracted out to an outside production company - with creative and/or strategic control retained by the agency.

More and more agencies are offering Internet assistance and advice.

Most agencies understand the proper use of research. Outside firms are usually hired to conduct surveys - though agencies may conduct their own focus groups.

Agencies may charge commissions but most are into fee-based billings. Fee for service arrangements can be confusing so many clients ask for project billings. It's your money so make sure you're comfortable with the arrangement.

Agency client relationships are precisely that: a relationship. Some people suggest you ignore all of the above and find an agency that you're comfortable with.

George Roberts is president of Roberts & Robertson, a Calgary-based agency (403) 228-6611.

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