Hiring an ad agency can be a difficult decision if you don't have an idea of what that agency should do for you. There are certainly differences in how your agency will partner with you based on your industry, company scale and personal business needs. However, every decision maker can count on a few overarching tenants that apply to the general business community.
Without further ado, the 7 Cs of ad agencies.
Is your company message clear to your customers and to your employees? If you don't have the buy in from top to bottom in house, it will be difficult to present a unified front to the world. The first people that your ad agency should convince of any marketing move are the ground level employees who will be responsible for spreading that message physically through customer care, lead nurturing and other forms of outreach.
Your message must also remain clear regardless of the channel it is being presented on. This sounds easier than it looks. It can be difficult to format the same message for banner ads, Twitter, billboards, TV spots, et al. However, clarity between channels is essential to building a loyal audience. In today's world of instant, mobile connectivity, you never know where your content will be accessed. The branding must be clear and constant throughout all channels to build a trust within the mind of the consumer.
Your agency partner should have the ability to translate ad talk into layman's terms that anyone in your company can understand. Good communication also means being proactive. If there are problems within a campaign, your agency partner should let you know upfront (or as soon as humanly possible).
Agency partnerships are long term commitments, or at least they should be. It can be difficult to formulate a clear, consistent message if you have a different agency every six months giving you perspective. No matter how talented your agency team may be, if you are losing ideas in translation, they will not come out effectively on the other side. In contrast, good communication between your business and your agency partner can multiply results more quickly than you can imagine.
Agencies should have connections that you can use. It is one thing to have a talented team of creatives; it is quite another to have access to execute ideas through insider tracks. Expanding your community is an essential part of growing a business. Your agency is not marketing you only to consumers. Your outreach is going to potential partners, vendors and other marketers who may have access that no one else has.
Your agency should also be a vital part of expanding your consumer community. Lead generation is a great start, but lead nurturing and loyalty planning are what really generate the ROI that you are looking for.
You might think that creativity is the most important aspect of any ad agency. Perhaps in the days of Bernays, but today, most companies have a general idea of how they want to be presented to the public. The job of the ad agency is usually to translate that vision into an actionable and consistent campaign that works within a particular time frame and budget.
With this in mind, having a creative ad agency by your side is certainly important. The volume and frequency of good marketing ideas and actionable strategies should increase immediately upon hiring an ad agency. Allow for a few misses as well. Even professionals get it wrong at first, but this is usually where the greatest ideas come from!
When your message is clear and consistent over time, you gain a powerful tool that optimizes your chances of success in outreach. You can actually have many clear messages across many channels that do not coincide with each other. That outreach also needs to be consistent so that your target audience will know that they are looking at the same brand on Facebook or on a live billboard.
Consistency in your outreach also speaks to your potential performance. Think of your own buying habits: Would you buy from a company that does not even know how to market itself? Outreach is the first impression that you give off, and if it is not a consistent one, then it will probably be the last one your audience sees.
The "customer" C actually has two meanings. First, your agency should be able to properly segment and direct outreach at the target audience that is most likely to buy from you. Second, the agency should take a results-focused attitude when it comes to the customer. Creativity must be judged by revenues as well as awards, and revenues are a direct result of the ways that the agency interacts with the customer.
The company itself may be responsible for customer care (problem resolution may or may not be a part of an agency agreement), but the agency is ultimately responsible for creating the impression that a company could provide good customer care from start to finish.
In all aspects of the agency partnership, the agency should take care of the company. In the current generation of business, most companies understand the basics of marketing, advertising and outreach. The savviest companies may only hire an agency to save on time and manpower so in-house staff can specialize. However, the agency should take the lead on all of its initiatives and provide better service than the company could provide for itself.
Care also means being proactive. The agency must become a part of the company, taking a legitimate interest in its value system and processing before it has the leverage to suggest changes. You will know this kind of company from its initial conversations with you. Does the agency ask questions to find out who you are, or do they try to pigeonhole you into a generic outreach strategy that may or may not fit you?
Do prospects recognize your company as an entity on its own? When people think of your brand, do they get a feeling about it, or is your brand just a place to buy a product? Advertising your company culture properly is one of the highest ROI activities that you can invest in — branding adds more to the sale price of Nike shoes than product development ever will.
Showcasing your company culture builds consumer loyalty and is also a powerful way to attract new talent. Millennials, the generation that will have more money to spend than any before it, are demanding social consciousness from their companies before buying. They are also demanding a positive company culture before they will lend their skills as employees. Your agency should be an essential component of attracting the tech-savvy creatives who will drive your company forward.
The 7 Cs are a great way to measure during the vetting process how well an agency will fit with you. After all the data is generated, however, tiebreakers go to the gut. Always remember that the final decision of your agency partnership is your decision. Take the time to get the right partner on your side, and you should reap tangible and creative benefits for your business well into the future.