Choosing an ad agency is a lot like choosing a partner or a mate. There are some who will wine and dine you throughout the courting period. They’ll make you feel as if they really care, as if they truly understand your needs and are willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to fulfill them. They’ll parade you through their fancy offices and tell you all sorts of things they know you want to hear. They’ll throw around industry lingo in an attempt to impress you and lead you to believe that you and your business are all that matter. But once you enter into the relationship, the honeymoon’s practically over before it begins. Suddenly, those with whom you’ve initially met are just too busy to take your calls or meet with you. They invent excuses and send over subordinates who may be less experienced than the principals with whom you’ve met. All the while, they tell you to “trust” them. In time, they listen only halfheartedly to your concerns, but projects arrive late and lack excitement, yet you’re made to feel that it’s all in your head. They insist that they care, then tell you not to worry..

And that’s exactly what you should do: worry. Entering into a relationship with an ad agency is perhaps the most important decision you can make for your company. So, whether or not you choose to enter into a relationship with us, Kamen Advertising, we want you to know what to look for when you make this ever-important decision. After all, being a partner means taking care of those with whom you’re involved. With that in mind, we’d like to begin right now.

1. Look for a partner whom you can trust. Trust is the basis for all solid, enduring relationships. Ask your mother: she’ll tell you.  After all, when you partner with an ad agency, you’re entrusting them with much more than simply selling your product or service. Your agency is there to help actualize your dreams.

TIP: Ask to speak with some of the agency’s existing clients. If they’re hesitant to offer names... run! A good agency should be proud to introduce you to others with whom they work and unafraid of what you might learn about them.

2. Look for a partner who is in it for the long haul. We’ve all heard about the potential headaches involved with one-night stands. Meaningless flings with the wrong agency can be just as unfortunate. They can set you off in the wrong direction — a direction that is frequently impossible to set straight once the wrong message has gotten out to your consumer.

TIP: Find out how long the agency has retained its other clients. If most of them leave after a project or two, there’s probably a good reason — a reason you should know up front before it’s too late. When a relationship works, people tend to stick with it. Relationships with ad agencies are no different.

3. Look for a partner who understands you and your business. If they don’t speak your language or fully understand the needs that are important to your industry, how can they possibly help? Naturally there is always something of a learning curve at the start. You might do things differently than others in your field, or begun a whole new industry. Bottom line: Make sure your agency listens to what you have to say and is intelligent enough to understand your needs. Many relationships end with the parting words, “You just don’t understand.” A relationship with an ad agency is exactly the same.

TIP: Find out if your agency has experience with similar products or services. Find out if you like the way they think before you invest valuable time and money. But don’t expect something for nothing.

4.Look for a partner who is passionate. You’re passionate about your business. Your agency should be, too. They should share your vision and your dream, and be able to keep the fire burning under you and even ignite it when things get tough. Down the road, when it’s time to come up with still more new ideas and ways to stimulate growth and consumer interest, the last thing you want to hear is, “Again? But we did that last year!”

TIP: Listen to how an agency speaks about their business and the clients they’ve served in the past. If you don’t get a sense that they’re still excited and enthusiastic about those clients, how are they going to respond to you down the road?

5. Look for a partner who is creative. No one has ever sold someone a product or service by boring them. You want your agency to be able to deliver advertising that breaks through the clutter of the countless other messages, and gets real attention. The more creative your agency is, the more likely people will talk about your ads. Don’t kid yourself; word of mouth is still the best form of advertising there is.

TIP: Look at the work the agency has produced for other clients. Ask yourself: Did they take a fresh, innovative approach, or was it something you’ve seen time and time again?

6. Look for a partner who has conviction in their beliefs. You don’t want your agency to “yes” you to death. Sometimes, what you want isn’t necessarily what you need. A good agency is willing to go the extra distance to show you what you want, and then show you the creativity and direction you need in order to achieve your goals. The agency should be able to point out the differences and effectively communicate why, at times, they may disagree with you. Remember: You are the client, and the client is always right. But a good agency recognizes that it’s their job to point out to you those infrequent times when you might be mistaken.

TIP: Not every ad or direct mail piece your potential agency will show will be a gem.  Sometimes, they were forced to produce work that they didn’t agree would do the job. If you’re shown too many samples of their work with the explanation: “We were forced into this,” ask them to tell you how they would have done it differently — and why. This can be very telling.

7. Look for a partner who is willing to admit their shortcomings. Do they have their own media department? Their own research staff? Or public relations experts? Chances are if they’re not a huge, multi-million dollar agency, they don’t. You should not let that deter you. If they’re a smart bunch, they’ve got alliances with those experts who can help them get the job done, and done well. Remember: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

TIP: Hiring outside consultants might actually be a more cost-effective way for an agency — and for you — to do business. Often you can rent much better talent than you can buy. Ask for the names and credentials of those with whom the agency teams up to solve the big problems. You might be pleasantly surprised.

8. Look for a partner with whom you’d like to work. Let’s face it: When you hired your staff you looked for more than merely qualified applicants to fit the slots. You looked for people of similar ilk, people with integrity, and the kind of people who would fit in well with your team. Your thought process shouldn’t be any different here.

TIP: Spend some time with the agency. Go for a bite to eat. Get to know your agency as individual people. If you like them, getting the job done is bound to be a lot more enjoyable. Life is short: You should enjoy working with your agency. After all, your agency becomes your partner.

Kamen Advertising is a partner you can trust. eighteen years after starting this firm, Mark has guided his agency through years of successful campaigns providing clients with the kind of work of which he can feel proud.

Kamen Advertising is in it for the long haul. In a business that is known for being fickle, we’re proud to say that the relationships we enter into are relationships that have endured. 

First and foremost, we’re a service business and we respect our clients and their opinions — even if they are opinions that we don’t share. We might debate certain points and defend our thinking, but the bottom line is this: If our clients aren’t happy, we’re not happy. Through relationships that are built on trust and mutual respect, we’ve been able to consistently deliver work that not merely satisfies our clients, but work that satisfies their marketing objectives.