The perfect match?

Handing over advertising duties to an external agency is fairly commonplace, but it pays to invest time in picking the ideal partner

The perfect match?

There is no doubt that the world of advertising has undergone something of a seismic shift of late. Long gone are the days when the only option available to a business owner was placing a classified in their local rag and hoping for the best. Indeed, technology and consumer behaviours have now evolved to the extent that some of the more established enterprises are struggling to keep up.

One could argue that contemporary start-ups are in a very fortunate position in this regard – far from having to adapt to the reality of the digital age, they have been born into it. And the opportunities they are presented with are endless. Nevertheless, that is by no means to say they have the ability to exploit all that is at their fingertips. When it comes to advertising, they may still lack the creative spark and expertise that is essential if consumers are going to buy into their brand.

However, the volume of external agencies that can successfully showcase your brand can be overwhelming. As a result, selecting the right partner may often prove a lengthy process, because one’s brand – not to mention a sizeable financial commitment – is at stake.

“I think the owner of a small or growing business needs to know that they are going to invest their hard-earned money with the right agency that is going to generate the right results,” says Dan Maudhub, managing director of creative agency Wonderful. “It is not just a case of placing advertising, it is being able to place advertising intelligently, so they need to work with an agency that understands their brand, understands their target audience, and understands how to connect the two together.”

In this sense, relying solely on an agency’s reputation isn’t as safe a bet as it may seem. “It has to be a kind of philosophical fit,” suggests Robin Jaffray, chief strategy officer of creative agency Inferno. “You are looking for a sense of shared ambition, you are looking for an agency that can help the business grow and thereby grow itself at the same time. So it might not be a massive agency in the first instance, but instead one that really understands how you feel and what you want to achieve.”

Simple as that, one may surmise. Yet, before committing to a decision, there are a number of other key questions a small business owner may be inclined to ask. “I think as a small agency, you really need to buy into the people,” says Laura Kennedy, strategy account director at media agency Mindshare. “Making sure you ask to meet the team that will work on your business is really important because you need to feel you can place an element of your business model in somebody else’s hands.” 

Furthermore, a small business owner may want to know where they would expect to sit in an agency’s list of priorities, especially if it has some more established clients on its books. “The question I would ask is ‘if this is the value of my business to you as an agency, where does it fit in terms of your other clients?’” says Jaffray. “‘Am I going to be a small fish in a big pond or the opposite?’ I think that is quite important because as a client, you want to know that you are going to get attention, you are going to get the service, you are going to get the senior people in an agency paying attention to your business and involved where necessary.”

Moreover, it pays to get a flavour of an agency’s overall attitude towards start-ups, if only to ensure you are both on the same page. “A business owner will need to understand the agency’s motivation for talking to a small or start-up business,” Jaffray continues. “On the other hand, an agency needs to feel comfortable that it is the right sort of client to be working with, because it may present a risk, particularly for a bigger agency.”

And even if it has been established that an agency is fully committed to early-stage enterprises, analysing the types of small businesses they have worked with can also prove fruitful. “I think having a look at new business wins is important,” explains Kennedy. “Has that agency won much new business this year? If they have, what are the sorts of businesses that they have gone after? If your small business is digital-based, are there other clients that are solely based online, or do they go after big bricks and mortar clients? That is quite an interesting way of deducing whether you fit nicely.”

Of course, aside from just asking the right questions, the onus is on a business owner to demonstrate that their enterprise has all the attributes an agency is looking for. “What we don’t want are clients who aren’t willing to be challenged and just want us to be transactional,” explains Kennedy. “We would want smaller business clients to allow us to help them consider areas that they might not have before, and then achieve that together.”

That ‘togetherness’ factor certainly shouldn’t be understated – in fact, it is the very basis of the relationship between client and agency once a deal has been struck. “What the client has got to do is work in partnership with the agency to make sure they are giving them the right information, the right analysis, the right data,” says Maudhub.

There is a caveat, though. When all is said and done, a small business owner mustn’t lose sight of the reasons it took on an agency’s services in the first place. “I think the client still needs to be part of the process but they also need to respect that the ad agency are experts in what they do,” he says. A failure to accept this reality could mean your brand never receives the treatment it deserves. 

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod

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