Managing your ad agency is vital for long-term marketing success
What does it take to get great advertising that works? The formula is simple: clear direction from a client and great creative from the agency. Sounds simple, but getting there is a little trickier than you would think.
In recent months, I’ve had the great luck to work with a variety of B2B companies. Whether they are new to the casino industry or very experienced, there seems to be a feeling that the marketing office is something of a revolving door, ushering new marketing directors in and out as quickly as you can update your database. Because of this turnover, ad agencies also tend to come in and out of favor with their casino clients. Sometimes this is because of bad work on the agency side. Sometimes this is because the casino has hired an otherwise great agency that is simply not equipped to handle the volume of work casinos require in a manner the client finds cost-effective. Often, new marketing leads want a stronger sense of comfort when faced with a new environment and they go back to the agencies they’ve worked with in prior locations. Sometimes the casinos just want a change. Sometimes casinos just know it’s time to terminate the working relationship, and since they can’t fire themselves, they fire the agency.
I have been in all of these situations, and I can tell you from experience that none of these reasons for change is going to result in great advertising. Great advertising has to start with a great relationship. That relationship must be built on honesty and trust.
Institutional knowledge and continuity are important to any brand. How do you ensure continuity? Start from the beginning. Find the right agency—one that wants to help you generate revenue, not awards. We all love awards. They are a visible signal of our success and they boost morale. Do you know what boosts morale even more? Revenue growth. If you can somehow keep working with your agency (and I’m assuming they are willing and capable of doing the work for you), find a way to do it. Before firing or hiring an agency, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with your agency. Ask yourself and the agency a few questions.
Are you allowing your agency to be as involved in the operational evolution of your casino as they are in the advertising? A friend often quotes a popular advertising adage, “Nothing kills a bad product faster/quicker like good advertising.” The first honest point you have to be clear on is what you’re selling and how you’re going to sell it. Remember, selling a fully-rounded four-star experience is easy; selling a small riverboat experience isn’t as glamorous but it is appealing if done the right way. If you are honest with yourself and your agency is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your offering, you can get great advertising that can help you move the needle.
Who is giving direction and is it being given to the agency directly or is it getting “translated” like a game of telephone from the vice president or director, to the manager to the coordinator to the agency?This, more often than not, is at the crux of “bad ads.” I recognize that as the marketing leader, you may not always have the time to be involved in the development of creative briefs. After all, isn’t that why you have an advertising manager? Another question in the same vein is about approvals. Who is approving the creative? Is it the person responsible for giving the direction to the agency, or are you constantly surprising your agency with someone else’s opinion? Be honest regarding your time. Be honest about the skills of those you give directions to. Be honest with your agency. If you can only allocate 15 minutes a day to pay attention to the creative, keep to a schedule. Your agency will thank you. Your manager and coordinator will thank you.
Here’s a tip: try taking those 15 minutes after everyone leaves the office and ask your agency to share that block of time with you. You won’t believe how much you and your agency will get done in those few minutes when all of your attention is on the same thing.
Are you sharing the information needed to build great marketing programs and communicate them effectively?One school of thought is just to tease the audience so that your employees can be more engaged when customers ask questions. That’s a great school of thought if you have enough staff to cover answering all the questions that will come from your teaser ad. There is another school of thought that says you should give the audience all of the detailed information you can provide so that there are no surprises. That too is a great idea unless your ads look like a contract rather than something fun and interesting.
I think you can see how both of these approaches impact the guest experience, but can you also see how it impacts the creative development? If you don’t share the information, your agency can’t develop the right ads. Did you ever ask the agency to develop creative for a giveaway that was still on the drawing board? Be honest… is this any way to get great creative?
Are you fully aware of what it takes to service your account and how you are positively or negatively impacting that level of service?Honestly, how many revisions do you expect your agency to make to one ad? Remember those 15 minutes we talked about. Concentrating on your creative during this time and discussing them with your team and the agency can cut down on the number of times your ads are revised and can cut down on the turnaround you need to get your messages out.
With honesty comes the respect both parties need to be a great team, but that is only one piece of the puzzle.
Trust is a two-way street. Your agency has to trust you. They have to trust that you won’t blow-up their creative when they don’t give you what you think you’re looking for. They have to trust that you are being honest with timelines and restrictions; sudden left turns put you on a different path and cost you and the agency time and resources. The best way I’ve found to build trust is to be a good client. Yes, agencies aren’t the only ones that can be good or bad, clients can be that way too. Here’s how you can be a good or better client:
Know what you want. Don’t ask for 27 revisions only to approve the very first option that was provided. Yes, I actually had that happen. To this day, it is my hallmark example of when a client doesn’t actually know what they want so they get caught up in the minutia of creative details. You must admit that casino marketing programs depend on certain tried and true programs—car giveaway, cash giveaway and slot play giveaway. Yes, there are some times that a casino comes up with a unique item that customers are really attracted to—perhaps a home makeover or the VIP treatment a customer’s normal play would not merit.
These unique items are energizing to everyone involved, including your agency, but what happens when you’re giving away the sixth car of the year? You start to think tinkering with the ad will make it seem new and different. It doesn’t, but if you trust your agency to share your ennui, they’ll get you something creative that feels right for your brand, but new to your customers. It’s ok to say, “I don’t want it to look the same.” Trust them to work within your brand.
Tell the agency what your business challenges. I can’t count how many times I’ve said, “tell the agency what your business challenge is, and let them come up with the graphic solution.” Too often clients fixate on fonts and colors without the graphic knowledge to know the impact “making it yellow” or “bigger” has on the layout. Requested changes can often have a ripple effect on creative. Make enough of these random changes and all of a sudden you have an ad that looks like it came out of left field. Trust your agency with your business challenges; let them give you great creative to solve those challenges.
Don’t do it yourself. My coworker used to say, “let the creative people create.” You have a job to do. The agency has a job to do. Do your job as great as you can and trust them to do the same. They already have the brand standards and know the tone and manner of the ads. Chances are they won’t give you something too far off the beaten path unless they’ve run out of options. I like to think of it this way—I have a screwdriver, but I don’t fix slots. I let the slot techs do that.
Say what you want.I recently worked with a client who was unhappy with one of his agencies because of the work they were not doing. I asked him if he had actually told them he wanted them to do those things. His answer was negative. He wanted them to just know he would want them to take the extra steps. Agencies are not psychic.
Be passionate.I know I just told you to take the business role instead of the creative role, but you have to be passionate about the creative and messages you’re putting out to your audience. If you’re not, what makes you the agency or your audience will be? Pushing for greatness is not the same as making uneducated changes or pushing just to show who is boss. When you push respectfully and they push themselves, you’re going to get some of the best work you’ll ever see... the awards and rewards will come.
Be a good client. Get the work you deserve. Do the work you deserve to be doing.