In a previous post, I identified five potentially problematic issues with small, local or mid-size agencies. It would be silly to only focus on the potential pitfalls, without also addressing some of the key benefits of why many small and medium sized businesses should or already use an agency or marketing consultant.
These are listed in no order, and this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of every possible benefit covering every type of agency structure or business need. So, here we go.
1: AN OBJECTIVE PERSPECTIVE
If you manage or run a small business, the most valuable service you may get from an agency is objectivity. The truth is most of us have difficulties being objective about ourselves and therefore about our business, organization or company. One of the primary benefits of an advertising agency or marketing consultant is that they will provide an external perspective. This perspective would ideally be an objective view of your organization or brand based on how many customers also see you.
Having an objective partnership with a consultant or agency opens potential opportunities for you that could be a game-changer. They may find new markets or advantages that you didn’t see or may have taken for granted. Certainly, they are going to have a more professional approach to developing your ads and will focus on ensuring that your key messages are clear, consistent, memorable and generally assured of being more effective than creative messages you can create on your own.
There’s a flip side to this as well. Are you the type of business owner or leader that is open to hearing ‘bad news’? Criticism? If an agency tells you that you are not the right person to be on a TV ad, you should listen to them: They may be the only one saying this because they (unlike your family or employees) are seeing something that might not be working. If you are the sort of client intolerant of perceived criticism you may be consigning yourself to relationships with sycophants. So, it’s ‘on you’ to do your part and listen openly to objective feedback. You are not, of course, obligated to accept their feedback! Your agency will be wrong sometimes – you have to judge how often you can afford that.
2: STRATEGIC AND TACTICAL MARKETING MANAGEMENT.
I include this important function of an agency under a general category that I will refer to loosely as being a function of ‘account management’. This broad term includes a range of services and functions that include project management, day-to-day marketing operations, brand stewardship, budget management, data/research collection, and creation of strategic priorities and ongoing management of marketing to ensure that the agreed upon direction is being followed by all participants.
Included within this function is overall communication and coordination of all aspects of the marketing placed with the agency with their client contacts.
These functions provide the most ‘relief’ for the business owner or marketing leaders as they allow you to delegate all short term and many of the longer term decisions or questions to a person or team who understands your goals and limites and is taking care of it for you.
Obviously, this allows you more time to focus on employees, new markets and products, and general business leadership which is usually where most business owners can be more effective.
Most business owners are usually not particularly strong at design, copywriting, or the multitude of visual, emotional, auditory skills required to create and manage effective advertising or marketing messages.
And so it’s not surprising that most businesses or organizations see an agency’s creative services as the main reason to work with an agency or consultant. Within the creative realm, you’ll be able to tap into professional copy-writers (with the expectation of not only ensuring that your copy and message is clear, memorable, interesting and relevant, but is also grammatically correct), graphic designers, and increasingly web, video, and production related areas.
4: MEDIA PLANNING
If most small or medium-sized business were asked about their priorities for selecting an agency, I suspect that media planning, buying, and management would be towards the bottom of their list.
I believe it’s often because many local businesses – particularly retail – are frequently called on by local media salespeople (i.e. television, radio, print, etc…) – who often provide the business owner with credible and seemingly valuable explanations for what the business would receive from placing an advertising buy with their network/station or publication.
This can work well for some smaller businesses, particularly if the budget is only large enough to allow for just one media channel (speaking of traditional media specifically). What is often overlooked is that the selection of media is not merely about choosing which proposal has the best promise, promotional elements or format. In fact, it’s a bit of a science to it. And the opportunity cost of choosing media based on your own preferred format or relationship with a sales representative can be very counterproductive without understanding the deeper science behind advertising and media.
The science of media evaluation, selection and management is where an agency can really earn their value for you. A good media planner will have a laser-sharp understanding of your target audience(s), and where to reach these specific audiences with the most impact. They will be able to bring strategies relating to how your ads get scheduled (referred to as a ‘flight’) and how to maximize reach or frequency depending on the duration of the campaign, its message, the audience and your budget. A good media strategy can ‘feel’ to its intended target audience like they see your ads all the time – which can drive changes in ad recall, store visits, etc…
A side note on the ‘media thing’ at agencies: Some agency’s will often say, but can never prove, is the oft-repeated claim that they can ‘buy at the best rates’. This is a myth that many agencies use to win a pitch or close or sale, but in the past few decades is no longer true (if it ever really was). With modern inventory management and yield optimization, most TV, radio and print publications no longer provide the sort of perceived discount for larger media buyers they once did.
The combined backgrounds of the agency team should leverage their experience working with other clients, perhaps in the same category as your own business or organization. This should provide some confidence in the agency’s recommendations and reassure you that your investment in the agency is going to pay off.
Sadly, my experience is that many local or small business owners don’t ask serious questions about the qualifications, background or experiences of the agency team they will be working with. They may take it for granted, but often it seems they are putting far too much emphasis on other elements (personalities, creative concepts, etc….) and very little on that agency’s demonstration of working with a company like yours.
I would want to know how many years the key account, creative, or media team members have on the agency side; what sort of companies they have worked with and (to the best you can determine) what were the outcomes or experiences in those categories that would be useful for you and your company?
6: INSIGHTS AND DATA
One of my personal beliefs about the role of an agency – particularly smaller agencies – is that it’s not enough to have experience, other clients, good chemistry or even good creative: The agency should also be constantly reviewing data and trends and presenting these trends to you in either formal or informal ways. The agency needs to understand the broader demographic, media usage, shopping preferences, etc… but should be closely watching what is happening in your industry as well. This data should be accompanied by insights, perspective or though-starters which support, challenge, or provide some perspective to existing strategies and ads.
Your agency should be a professional organization. And while their opinions may be valuable, they are being paid to provide more than just opinions.
If you’re thinking that the six reasons above are compelling or necessary reasons to work with an agency…good! But read this post about five things to be concerned about agencies!
A tradeoff to keep in mind is that a smaller, more locally-focused agency is going to be more limited with the scope of things they can do above.
They will also be a lot more affordable (or should be). A larger agency will have more employees with more specialized skills and experiences. But, yes, will cost you a lot more.
Other than what you’ve already been doing, what are your alternatives? You can address some of the above through the increasing number of freelancers through platforms such as Upwork or Fivrr. You won’t save time, of course, but you may save some money.
Depending on your budget and your desire to grow, talk to some agencies and marketing consultants and ask them how they might work with a company like yours.