An informed decision

An advertising agency can be a boon or a bust for your company, depending on how the relationship works out. The process involved in finding the right ad agency is as important as the message in your campaign. Here are seven simple guidelines to help you make an intelligent, informed choice.

1. Establish a selection committee made up of managers who will be working with the agency. Establish written criteria to be used during the search process.

2. Compile a list of eligible agencies. Some important criteria to consider:

Size — Where would your company rank in budget size in relation to other clients the agency handles? You don’t have to be the largest client, but it’s often foolish for a small client to select a large agency. You’ll have trouble getting the attention of the top talent unless special arrangements are agreed upon in advance.

Reputation — It is well worth the investment of a few phone calls to learn about the agency’s reputation among its clients, vendors and competitors.

Credit rating — This is important to evaluate periodically, even after you choose an agency. There’s always the case where a company discovers that although it’s paid for the agency’s services, the agency has not paid its suppliers, such as the media.

Current accounts — How many accounts does the agency handle? What percent is consumer-oriented and what is business-to-business? Is the agency involved in any way with your competitors?

3. After you have assembled the business capabilities of a prospective agency, get a taste of its creative flair.

Speculative work is generally more glitz than substance if it’s thrown together at the agency’s expense. And if the agency wins the account, you’ll pay for the work in future billings.

The best approach is to look at recent work performed for an agency’s current clients. But you must select the clients. Pick campaigns done for a few companies that have marketing situations similar to yours.

4. Examine media planning and buying for the same clients whose creative work you have just studied. Media is one of the toughest, most important and underemphasized areas to be judged. It’s where the bulk of your dollars go. Ask the agency’s senior media people about planning and buying strategies. How do they evaluate media and audience data? How do they evaluate media schedules against the competition before, during and after a campaign?

5. Evaluate production services. Ask about the relationship between the agency and the printers, film houses and others who do outside work for it.

6. Arrange for committee discussion. This is to discuss the chemistry between you and the agency. No matter how competent an agency may seem, if you don’t have a good feeling about working with the agency team, you may be headed for trouble.

7. Notify the winning agency by phone and letter. Also notify the other agencies by phone and letter the same day, and thank them for their efforts. You never know when you may need to switch agencies down the road.

Rod A. Covey is president of Covey & Koons Inc., a Canton-based advertising and public relations firm.