How to … Select an advertising agency

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An effective advertising campaign can pay off big-time, but an ineffective one will have you paying out big money with little to show in return. Your choice of advertising agency can make all the difference.
Before you search for an agency, think about what you want to accomplish. Are you looking to increase sales? Promote a new product? Brand your company? Determine your advertising budget and your target market. Also consider whether you’re in the market for a long-term relationship with an agency or just a one-time campaign.
Once you’ve answered these questions, put together a list of advertising agencies that might fit the bill. Scour advertising and marketing trade magazines. Ask friends at other businesses or colleagues at your trade association for recommendations. Consult local business directories. You might want to ask the advertising departments at local newspapers or other media for their recommendations. They work with advertising agencies on a regular basis and know which ones consistently do good work and conduct themselves in a professional manner. If you’re impressed with another company’s advertising campaign, find out who created it.
Once you have a list of advertising agencies, visit their Web sites for more information about their experience, philosophy and the types of media in which they have expertise. There are full-service agencies as well as ones that specialize in a few services or certain media. If an Internet advertising campaign is part of your plans, be sure to choose an agency with digital experience. If you want to run a concurrent public relations campaign, find out whether the firm has expertise in this area.
Ask to see samples of campaigns the agency has conducted for other clients. Whether you’re planning a business-to-business or a business-to-consumer campaign, make sure the agency has the know-how to help you. Who are the agency’s current clients? While it’s helpful for the agency to have experience in your industry, keep in mind that if it works with one of your competitors, there might be a conflict of interest.
Consider the size of the agency. It’s generally not a good idea to be an agency’s smallest or largest account. Get a detailed summary about what and how the agency will charge you for its services. Ask the agency to walk you through the steps it takes to measure and report a campaign’s effectiveness.
While many of your dealings with the agency can be done by phone and computer, you will want to meet face-to-face for campaign presentations and brainstorming sessions. Before committing to an agency, you should visit its offices to get a feel for what it’s all about. For these reasons, the agency’s proximity to your offices is an issue. If you come across a great agency in Fort Collins and you’re in Pueblo, consider that a two-hour meeting can eat up a whole day.
Once you have narrowed your list, ask three finalists to make a formal presentation about what they can do for you. You will want to go with an agency that has a clear understanding of your business and its goals, and one with the ability to think outside the box while helping you meet your objectives.
Often, an agency’s best and brightest will put their heads together to come up with pitches to land new business. But, once they’ve landed your account, the players may change. Be sure to ask up front who will handle your account, meet with those individuals and pick their brains. Include those members of your staff who will be working closely with the agency in the selection process.
To get the most out of the relationship, choose a team of advertising professionals that you like and with whom you will feel comfortable exchanging ideas.

The Checklist

Are you looking to increase sales? Promote a new product? Brand your company? Determine your advertising budget and your target market.
It’s generally not a good idea to be an agency’s smallest or largest account.
Once you’ve narrowed your list, ask three finalists to make a formal presentation about what they can do for you.
Ask upfront who will handle your business, meet with those individuals and pick their brains.