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Get me an ad man!: A former bank marketer explains how to find, hire and work effectively with an advertising agency. (Fundamentals).

Many financial institutions--especially community banks--have questions about advertising agencies: how to find and hire one that meets the bank's needs; how to maintain a positive, mutually beneficial relationship once the bank has located a good agency; and how to work effectively and efficiently with an agency.

As a former bank marketing officer and currently an advertising agency owner I am in a unique position to provide some practical pointers in response to these questions.

Most bank marketers fall into one of several categories when it comes to advertising agencies:

* Your bank has an existing, successful relationship with an agency.

* Your bank has an existing, unsuccessful relationship with an agency--and it's time to find a new one.

* Your bank has an existing relationship with an agency, but, because the bank's needs have changed, you're not sure if your current agency is still a good fit.

* Your bank has not used an agency, but you feel it is time to consider using one if an agency's services would be beneficial to you and your bank.

If you fall into the first category--congratulations. If not, then here are some things you should know about advertising agencies and how to deal with them.

What an agency has to offer

Let's begin with a few obvious questions. "What can an agency offer me?" and "Is my bank large enough to need an agency?"

An agency should be able to offer you and your bank two basic things -- ideas and service.

Ideas because, in its purest form, these are an agency s product -- matching marketing, media, public relations and advertising ideas with your specific needs.

This may sound simplistic, but it's true. Advertising agencies employ creative professionals whose entire job is to craft attention-grabbing messages that communicate an idea in a compelling way to your desired target audience. They are adept --or should be -- at understanding your products/services and your customers/prospects and finding the best way to introduce one to the other. When this is done correctly, it results in a "big idea" that moves market share and increases profitability.

And if you employ an ad agency, you should take the advice of David Ogilvy (America's most famous advertising expert), who told advertising clients: "Do not compete with your agency in the creative area. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?" This is so true. If you think you have the ability to create effective, persuasive advertising without an agency's help, then do it yourself and don't hire an agency. Otherwise, you'll simply be wasting money and frustrating yourself and the agency.

So what is your role in working with an agency in the arena of ideas? Here are three suggestions.

First, and foremost, give direction. Many agency creative types don't understand banking and bank products. Most of them are too young to have personal experience from which to draw upon if the advertising isn't promoting convenient hours or check cards. Trying to get a 26-year-old copywriter to understand the nuances of trust marketing or GD advertising simply won't happen without good direction from the client.

Give them all the information they need to create something that's sharply focused -- target audience (including demographic, psychographic, and lifestyle), benefits (what about your product will compel the target to purchase?), features, limitations, things that are mandatory, and so forth. Too often clients give about 25 percent of the information the agency needs to do a job right, then wonder why the work is off target when it's presented.

Be honest. If you like the ideas an agency has presented, say so. Not because creative people need to be stroked and told they've done well (they do, but that's not your concern) but because it creates momentum inside the agency for your bank and your work, and the next job that comes through will get everyone's best effort and ideas.

Even more importantly, if you don't like the ideas an agency brings to you, say so. Don't try to be nice and avoid saying, "Guys, that really isn't on target. And here's why..." Or, "Folks, that's one way to approach this, but I don't like it." There are some clients who don't want to hurt the agency's feelings, so instead of asking for a whole new idea, they take the idea in front of them and beat it down until there's no idea left -- just an ad looking for an idea. Trust me, an agency would rather be told to come up with new ideas than have what they consider to be a good concept shot down and changed so much it's unrecognizable.

But, you must also remember that bankers, by nature, are in the business of avoiding risky ventures. Effective advertising, on the other hand, is fraught with risk. Advertising folks will tell you that a good concept should make your palms sweat and that an idea good enough to get noticed by the consumer has to rake risks. So while you should be honest about what you like and don't like, remember that part of an agency's role is to expose you to some risk, and you shouldn't dismiss any idea that pushes you out of your comfort zone by a degree.

Always work with more than one idea. I'm a firm believer in this principle for both agencies and clients. Insist that your agency present at least two concepts to you for new advertising efforts. As a client, I'd rather see two or three rough ideas than one idea with a fully developed layout. A couple of rough concepts help me decide which idea works best from the bank's perspective, and it makes it less likely that I'll have to say that I don't like anything.

Now, what about service, the other agency product? Great ideas are important, but, without top-notch service from an agency, it won't matter how good the creative ideas are. An agency's service should include the involvement of a seasoned account supervisor or account executive who is responsible for marketing strategies and development. In small- to mid-sized agencies, this might be an agency owner, while in larger agencies it will be a senior account executive. Preferably this person will have previous experience in bank marketing. This is important because they will represent the bank and its needs within the agency to the creative team. When attempting to select an agency, you should always ask who your account executive or account service team will be and what prior bank marketing experience he or she has.

Agency service also should include media planning and buying. While it's not as important to know exactly who your media planner/buyer is, make sure that the agency has prior experience in buying the types of media that your bank will most likely utilize. If the agency doesn't have the tools and resources available to buy TV or radio, it won't be able to provide the level of service you will require.

There are other areas of service expertise found within an agency, but in my experience working with banks, these are the most crucial.

When does a bank need an agency?

Many community bankers ask if their bank is large enough to need an agency. In a word, yes.

Contrary to popular opinion, size doesn't have as much to do with a bank's need for an agency as do the bank's goals and objectives.

My agency has successfully worked with start-up banks that had virtually no assets at the time, but their objectives were to grow and expand rapidly. We've also worked for banks with over $300 million in assets that didn't need an agency because they were not marketing-oriented institutions.

If your bank desires growth and expansion, you need an agency. If your bank is only interested in maximizing profitability, you may not.

Finding the right ad agency

There is no magic formula for finding the right ad agency, but here are some things you should keep in mind when you find yourself looking for one.

Personality and style: While agencies pretty much all do the same thing, they all have different personalities and styles. Some are very formal and process-oriented. Some are funky and instinctive. You need to realize the importance of finding an agency that's a good fit for you and your bank. If you like the style and personality of your agency, you'll be more likely to have open, honest communication with them that will result in better work.

Formal reviews: Many banks will go through a formal review process to select a new agency. Questionnaires are sent to a handful of agencies, a few finalists are selected to make presentations and then an agency is selected after presentations. Going through this process is recommended when you're looking at some agencies about which you don't know much at the time. If you decide to go through this process, be aware that you will be asking agencies to spend a lot of time (the primary product they sell) and to reveal a great deal of information about themselves; so the agencies, in turn, may require you to reveal information about your advertising expenditures.

Test drives: If you already have a relatively short list of agencies in which you are interested, you should consider hiring them to perform a single project or campaign. This will give you a good sense of how you work together, who would work on your account and if you're a good fit for each other. It also allows you to compare different agencies in a real-world context.

Distance issues: Many markets have more banks than agencies with sufficient bank marketing experience. This often-times leaves bank marketers considering out-of-market-area agencies, which leads to the question, "How far away is too far away?" My experience says that, with the advent of the Internet, overnight shipping companies and other technologies, distance is not really an issue any more. If you could find an agency that is a good fit, that has solid bank marketing experience and provides quality creative and service 500 miles away, it would be a better option than an agency across the street that doesn't stack up in other areas. The exception is if your agency needs to have frequent face-to-face meetings in order to help you get campaigns approved within your bank's organizational structure.

Maintaining a positive relationship

Once you've hired an agency that you're happy with, how do you maintain the relationship? The key word in this question is "relationship" and the answer is the same one heard in marriage counselors' offices--keep the lines of communication open and realize that relationships are two-way streets.

If you're not communicating openly, honestly and frequently with your agency, or if they aren't doing the same with you, the relationship will deteriorate. Communication leads to an understanding of expectations and needs. Once an agency understands your expectations and needs, they should be willing and able to meet, or exceed, them. You don't have to be best friends with your agency representatives, but you should develop trust, respect and understanding.

Realizing that the relationship is a two-way street typically revolves around the issue of money--never an easy subject. If you have an agency that you'd like to keep, then make sure that you are allowing them to make a fair profit from your business relationship. A client that tries at every turn to save a buck at the agency's expense will eventually find that the agency will always be looking for a better client.

Don't misunderstand me. I don't think agencies should make an unfair profit from their clients, but the agency business is different than the banking business. In banking, you know that 70 to 80 percent of your customers are unprofitable or marginally profitable, but they allow you to make a profit on the other 20 to 30 percent. Agencies don't have that many clients, and if they aren't profitable with an account, they will have little incentive to do good work for that account.

Let me leave you with two questions: If your bank had a good relationship with an ethical, quality advertising agency that produced effective, creative communications, would you see an increase in business and market share? Would consumers view your bank and its products and services in a more favorable light? If you answer "Yes" to these questions, then make sure you do whatever is necessary to find such an agency. Your bottom line will thank you.

Mike Sells is CEO and creative director of Sells/Clark, a Little Rock, Ark.-based agency specializing in bank marketing and advertising. In the past seven years, Sells/Clark has represented over 25 banks in Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Missouri. He was previously with First Commercial Bank in Little Rock. His e-mail address is mike@sellsclark.com.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Bank Marketing Assn.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Comment:Get me an ad man!: A former bank marketer explains how to find, hire and work effectively with an advertising agency. (Fundamentals).
Author:Sells, Mike
Publication:ABA Bank Marketing
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
Words:2130
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