I sat down to write an article on 'Ten things to look for when choosing an advertising agency' but quite quickly realised there is a more fundamental question to be asked first - 'Do I need an advertising agency, at all?'
After all thanks to new technology and the Internet you can do so much advertising and marketing work yourself, or in-house these days, especially as organisations like Google go to great lengths to provide you with the tools you might need, free of charge.
So why do organisations use advertising agencies?
Probably the main reason people will quote for using an agency, it is also the main reason people change agencies. Of course there is no reason you can't employ your own creative in-house, but in my experience the very best Creative's want to work in an agency environment where they can spark ideas of each other, work on many diverse accounts and on cutting edge campaigns.
Agencies also have a critical mass when it comes to Creative's, between them they have a mix of skills that might be needed, everything from designing and building a Social Media campaign through to a simple new logo design or business card. In general they are also less bogged down with the day-to-day constraints of working in a corporate environment, they are allowed creative freedom. Farmed salmon tastes fine until you experience its wild cousin.
Experience & Insight
No business or organisation works in a vacuum, an ad agency is uniquely placed to use their experience in your industry or market and to recycle and reuse effective campaigns from different sectors. They can bring their knowledge of best practice, what your competitors are up to, even their failures provide valuable lessons.
Speed & Flexibility
Most businesses are cyclical, throughout the trading year, and products and services have a natural life-cycle. As a result the demands placed on the marketing resource will vary over time. Using an agency will enable an organisation to respond quickly to those changing demands without carrying excess overheads during lean times. Not so long ago the attitude of agencies was very much 'we're in charge - we do everything' today successful agencies are fluid and adaptable, seeking out and plugging gaps even where the client is unaware that they have them.
With our flash suits and expensive cars (I wish) it comes as something of a revelation to find out that a good ad agency will save you money, or more accurately they'll get you more bang for your buck. How? Firstly by helping you avoid costly mistakes - there is nothing new in advertising, the media may have changed but chances are it has been done before. And when you been around as long as we have, we probably did it.
When times are good and cash is plentiful organisations grow their marketing functions, bring services in-house to save money and improve control but when times are hard and businesses are struggling one of the first thing they do is dump anything that is non-core and they 'stick to the knitting' in other words, they revert to what they do best. We've seen this happen with a number of our oldest clients, their marketing department has a life-cycle of its own, growing and contracting with the economy. My advice, after 30 years in the business, small is beautiful and cheaper.
An established agency will have a trusted network of suppliers so clients shouldn't have to worry about quality and timescales on projects. They may also have access to considerable savings through bulk buying and media discounts only available to 'recognised agencies'.
I've saved the best until last. One of the most important roles for an agency is innovation. Not just technical innovation such as new media, but new ways of doing things. Many organisations are risk averse, the bigger and more established the more averse they tend to be. Advertising agencies have a crucial role with this kind of client to get them to think outside the box, to do something new and different, to innovate. Some of the most successful campaigns we've worked on have started with shocked face and a spluttered '... we've never done anything like that' or '... the board would NEVER agree to that'. Agencies can afford to be a bit cheeky, to say the unspeakable and push the boundaries. What's the worst you can say, no?
If you have never used an advertising agency or you had a bad experience I hope this has given you food for thought. Of course in putting this list together I've already begun to address the content of my original quest, ie 'Ten things to look for when choosing an agency', but more of that anon.