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Let's dance: achieving maximum synergy with your advertising or marketing agency is like perfecting a dance partnership. Here's how to develop a good working relationship that enables performance to soar from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Recall the first dance at the last wedding you attended. Unless the bride or groom was a professional hoofer, the choreography was probably rather ordinary. Now picture Fred Astaire in his tuxedo mad Ginger Rodgers in her evening gown tripping the light fantastic. That's extraordinary dancing.

Most banks, regardless of size, maintain an effective, but ordinary, relationship with their advertising, marketing or public relations agencies--your average wedding dance. However, some financial institutions achieve the distinction of extraordinary relationships--the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers partnership.

"Extraordinary delivers more than just quality execution and a solid return on investment. The best relationships offer a range of tangible and intangible benefits that ensure that the communications programs are not merely supporting the bank, but are leading the charge in support of the financial institution's business goals. When you achieve maximum synergy with your agency, you have a partner who helps you identify and pursue new opportunities, a guide who helps keep the vision focused, and a navigator who helps keep your communications on course.

Realizing this type of relationship requires more than just the proper alignment of the stars. Your internal culture must support the time and risks needed to achieve great things, and you must find an agency team that complements your culture.

However, first, to build an extraordinary relationship with your agency, you need to cover the basics--no matter what your culture.

Start with the ordinary

Before you achieve an extraordinary relationship, you have to accomplish an ordinary one. "Ordinary" starts with having the right people performing the right roles at your bank and having the right team at the right agency. By getting the basic structure in place, you ensure that the relationship is positioned to solve problems strategically rather than merely execute predetermined activities.

Banks, like other organizations, tend to hire agencies for two reasons: first, to gain access to strategic expertise and, second, to increase the number of hands available for execution. Unfortunately, too many organizations hire just for extra bodies. If a relationship that delivers extraordinary results ks what you are after, you have to hire for both.

If you're not sure you that have the correct balance, review the following checklist to see if your [rank is on the proper path:

* Are senior management decision-makers involved? In order to achieve extraordinary, you need to be able to drive change, and that requires senior management participation.

* Have all the appropriate bank functions provided input? All functions that directly affect bank revenues should provide input regarding their communications needs. Be careful not to confuse input with approvals--extraordinary results do not come from organizations focused on consensus building and analysis.

* Is there a business plan and a budget? To succeed, the communications program and all of its components need to reflect the bank's overall business goals and objectives. You also need basic budgetary guidelines.

When assessing the agency part of the relationship, ask the following questions:

* Is it the right-sized firm? You want to be one of the agency's larger accounts, but perhaps not the largest. If you are the largest, the agency may hesitate to "push back" or suggest ideas outside of your comfort zone for fear of losing your account. Conversely, you may not want to be one of its smaller accounts, for fear of getting lost in the shuffle.

* Does the location make sense? If you are a local or regional bank, you want a firm in your backyard that knows the nuances of the market. If" you are a multiregional, national or international institution, you must determine how much on-the-ground support you will need in specific markets. Your answer will determine the role that geography plays in selecting your firm.

* Is the team chemistry right? The agency's team should work well with your team and have a mix of senior strategists and other talented professionals appropriate to the needs of your account. When checking chemistry, make sure to test it with the entire team on both sides, not just senior executives.

Never stop questioning

At the beginning of a potentially extraordinary relationship, you should question everything you think you know about your bank, your products and services, and your customers. As the relationship matures, you should keep on questioning, always evaluating from multiple viewpoints and adjusting the course appropriately several times a year.

An agency partner capable of developing an extraordinary relationship will have a wide range of approaches, tools and processes available to help ask questions and evolve your understanding of the market and your bank's position within that market. These can include:

* Competitive analysis.

* Customer research such as surveys, direct feedback sessions and observational/behavioral analysis.

* Industry benchmarking.

* Employee research such as surveys and focus groups.

* Messages and positioning platform review/development.

* Brand analysis and strategy development.

It's important not to rash the research and analysis results. Depending on the scope of the research, a 60- to 180-day time frame is not unreasonable. The agency needs time to not only collect and analyze the data, but also to interpret what the results mean. After all, you hired the agency for its brains, and smart thinking requires time. Through the review and discussion of the results, the essential business challenges--those that will have the potential to deliver significant results toward the brook's business goals--will begin to take shape.

Once you and the agency agree on these challenges, look to the agency to help effectively and persuasively frame a presentation to rally support across the senior management team. With the reality of your situation before you and the support of senior management, you can work with the agency to develop the specific core strategies that will result in extraordinary solutions.

A sign that you are working with an agency capable of participating in an extraordinary relationship will be its recognition that, in addition to the need to research, test and analyze the market, you also have pressing tactical needs. The agency should have the ability to execute on the "get it done yesterday" tasks required to keep your bank moving forward as the core strategy solidifies.

Be willing to risk failure

Teams that are willing to risk failure are more likely to develop the most extraordinary solutions. A willingness to risk failure frees the team from fear of failure--and it is this fear that keeps things ordinary, safe. If you've never worked with a team of risk takers you will be pleasantly surprised to discover thai they are reticent to accept failure and will do everything possible to ensure success.

As the team moves from development of the core strategy to program planning, laser-sharp focus is essential. Every task, tactic and strategy must support a bank business goal. It's equally important to determine where the focus will not be. Teams that fail to define where "they won't be focusing" run the risk of aiming too wide and thus spreading themselves too thin.

Often an agency with the potential of developing an extraordinary relationship will propose a 90-day plan to get the ball rolling, while finalizing what the six-months that follow will look like. Tiffs allows the team to get a kick-start, while learning from results on the fly.

What the program plan looks like doesn't matter nearly as much as how it gets implemented. Programs that deliver extraordinary results:

* Change tactics as warranted, but never the core strategies.

* Regularly pass up "once in a lifetime" opportunities because they don't support a core strategy.

* Constantly correct course.

* Never continue down a path that isn't delivering results.

* Move through the review and approval process quickly without rushing and sacrificing quality.

* Are implemented by a team that shares equally the responsibility for success.

* Include ongoing evaluation checks as well as three-, six- and 12-month in-depth evaluations.

* Willingly try anything once as long as it supports a core strategy.

Sustaining extraordinary synergy

Extraordinary agency relationships do not magically happen overnight. Like the progress of any successful business, they build momentum gradually and steadily. Sometimes they will require moving the bank team through a significant cultural shift that increases risk-taking, decreases bureaucracy and imparts a greater sense of responsibility. Sometimes, they simply require recognition that alter years of an "ordinary" relationship, it's time for a new agency.

Once you attain an extraordinary relationship, you need discipline to maintain it. This means:

* Constantly questioning what you know.

* Always taking new risks.

* Sticking to the core strategy.

* Continuously evaluating your progress.

With the right in-house team and the right agency, the momentum will take on a life of its own. Together you will guide and navigate all aspects of your communications program in support of the bank's goats, achieving a synergy you will probably never realize is happening--until someone from the outside points out that the two of you work together as smoothly as dance partners!

You Can Attain An Extraordinary Relationship If ...

* Your agency and in-house teams regularly talk about all your business challenges--not just communications ones,

* You and your agency willingly risk failure.

* Working with your agency is as rigorous as it is fun.

* Your agency's people often suggests action items and ideas outside the plan, and sometimes you take their suggestions.

* Your agency has counseled you to reconsider decisions and sometimes you change your mind.

* Your agency understands your business, your products and your customers--and demonstrates that knowledge regularly.

* You are comfortable with the agency's financial management and budget process--the agency's people treat your money like their own.

* The only surprises from your agency are pleasant ones.

* You are the first to know when there is a problem.

The agency team is accessible and responsive.

Now useful was this article? Please use the postage-free Reader Opinion Card provided in this issue or leave a message at (202) 663-5075. You can also send comments by e-mail to

Gary Hatch is president and CEO of MDB Communications, a full-service advertising, marketing and public relations firm in Washington, D.C. She is the author of the Communications Q&A column, which appears in this magazine. TeLephone: (202)728-0132; e-mail:
COPYRIGHT 2004 Bank Marketing Assn.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Fundamentals: advertising agencies
Comment:Let's dance: achieving maximum synergy with your advertising or marketing agency is like perfecting a dance partnership.
Author:Hatch, Cary
Publication:ABA Bank Marketing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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