12/24/09

Ad agency lies: who listens and why

Lie2In the advertising agency business, one of the most difficult things to do is acquire new clients without lying. This is because when two or more agencies are presenting to the same client, it is often the one that makes the biggest promises that wins the business.
Most ad agencies stay within the ethical boundaries of truth, even if it’s embellished in a “dog and pony show” presentation. Some, however, willingly cross the line.
The question then becomes, why does a smart, successful business person buy into false promises and what can he or she do to avoid it? Here are four reasons why blatent exaggerations are believed and what you can do to keep from falling for them.
THE FORTUNE TELLER SYNDROME
The advertising category is the only consulting service a business uses that deals with the future. Everyone else: the attorney, accountant, even the insurance agent, is a historian. The entire premise of using an ad agency is built around shaping a better tomorrow. Therefore, the client is already in a state of mind to accept predictions before a single word has been uttered.
What to do
Go into your agency review knowing that these people are mere mortals. A good agency will be able to explain the fundamentals of good marketing and why it works. But, combine an unkown future with the variables of human behavior and no one can actually predict an outcome. There are industry expectations for response to marketing. Ask what the avearage response rate is and resist the temptation to believe anything outside of those standards.
I CAN GET IT CHEAPER
One of the most effective ways to win a client is to convince him or her that the agency can buy media cheaper than anyone else. This line of reasoning fits perfectly with a business person who is fine tuned to getting the best wholesale prices on products they sell. They understand the concept immediately and very little explanation is required.
What to do
There is no other business where manipulating numbers is so easy and convincing. To illustrate this, we recently presented three plans to a client, all with the same rating points per week. But, at the end of the year, there was more than a $100,000 difference in actual cost. The difference was not based upon the ability to buy cheaper, but was based upon a multitude of other variables when making the buy. Your best tactic with regard to this claim is to completely ignore it as a reason to choose an agency. Rather, ask them what their media strategy would be for your particular business.
THE MISTIQUE IS GONE
Like it or not, this business carries with it a certain cachet that others find a bit fascinating. When an ad agency has been around too long, what they do becomes so familiar that it’s like knowing how the magician does his trick. The bit of mystery that makes ad agencies different isn’t there any more. In a client’s desire to “see what’s out there”, there is also an expectation that there is something special they’re not getting.
What to do
This expecation sets the stage for believing claims that are lofty or just plain false. To complicate things, we are in a period of time when on-line marketing is being integrated into agency capabilities. Because of the different levels of competency agencies have in this fairly early stage of on-line marketing, you may find actual differences. The key here is to remain objective with regard to actual capabilities. If one agency can provide Facebook ads or keyword search and the other can’t that’s cut and dried. But, if it gets down to how one agency can do it better because of some secret forumula, that’s the time to stop listening.
POOR SALES
If a company’s sales are lagging, there may be many reasons why. And, if an ad agency is involved, I guarantee that it will be called into question. The client may not even blame the agency directly. But, there is the desperate hope that a new marketing approach will save the day. And, it is in that desperation that the business person clings to the belief that what is being said is worth taking a chance on.
What to do
This is the hardest one of all to deal with. Low sales can cause panic in the best of us. In a situation such as this, it is best to bring in a trusted third party who has some experience in marketing, or choosing an agency. Having a sounding board to modify your instinct to go with the biggest promise can help to keep your emotion from overruling your logic. But, you must be willing to listen and question your motivation.
If you find yourself in a position of hiring a new ad agency, be careful about what you believe. Don’t get distracted by colorful charts and shallow claims. And, check yourself against the four states of mind listed above before you believe something.
Rob Charlton