Jampole Communications celebrated its 20th anniversary a few months back and it got me thinking about the ways that agencies and clients interact. Being a “communications guy,” I turned it into a set of tips for organizations on how to work with marketing communications agencies. Here they are:
1. Judge agencies by their quality of thought.
A marketing campaign is a response to a business problem. When an agency is showing you its portfolio, make sure you find out why it made the creative decisions it did. If an agency cannot articulate the thought process that led it to create an ad, you probably don’t want to work with it.
2. Make certain the agency knows your industry and business.
Actual experience is less important than a basic knowledge of your industry and market. In interviewing agencies, probe to make sure the firm understands how you make your product, to whom you sell, how your industry is doing, what the key industry issues are and who your main competitors are.
3. Define communications problems in business terms.
Make sure that you and the agency are always tying whatever you do back to the achievement of quantifiable business objectives.
4. Know what you want to spend.
Many creative decisions hinge on budgetary factors. All marketing communications programs require a critical mass of repetition; if the money isn’t there to achieve the necessary frequency, then less expensive alternatives must be considered. No agency can begin to develop a plan without knowing how much you are willing to spend.
5. Don’t have the agency do what you should be doing.
Depending on the size of the company and type of business, there are tasks best done with internal resources and other tasks best done by the agency. Some examples from our past: For a large utility company that had a wonderful communications department, we handled special technologies, which tended to come and go, so the staff could focus on the continuing business. In responding to crises, we have frequently served as the spokesperson for a number of industrial and retail companies, but rarely for health care institutions, which have established and articulate spokespersons in the community; for health care, we would typically work behind the scenes.
6. Expect service from your agency.
A good agency knows how to juggle its assignments for and contact with various clients so that all feel that they are the most important client. Expect your agency to provide appropriate and timely service, no matter how small your account is.
7. Understand what an agency charges.
Agencies are compensated in two ways: Professional service fees and commissions on certain outside costs. In addition, they are reimbursed for out-of-pocket costs, such as printing, photography, website applications software and advertising media placements. Many agencies (for example, Jampole Communications) will reduce commissions on advertising and drop them altogether for other outside purchases.