Monday, July 12

Choosing an agency (#1 in a series): What, exactly, are you choosing?


The answer is devastatingly simple: a group of people. Yet it does not seem that simple to those who have to make the choice. One reason is that the big networks have successfully created a "brand aura" around themselves. What stands behind these brands in reality?

Some people may be surprised that I am asking this, as for many years I have been promoting the superior skills of network agencies, and of the individual people who work there. I have not changed my mind. However, it is increasingly questionable whether in a small market, the "product" that lies behind the "brand" is as strong as the network agency tries to suggest.

Agencies exist to develop good creative ideas. These ideas are developed by groups of people working together. The ideas are not developed by factories, or project management software. If the top management of all the network agencies in Praha resign tomorrow, what is left? A number of junior people, some computers, and an office contract. What use will they be to any client with big campaigns to develop next month?

The smart client therefore looks most closely at the top people in the agency. From where does their experience come? How long have they been in this agency? Will they stay in this agency? Most important: will they spend a significant amount of time on my business, or will they just delegate me to junior people?

Such questions are asked in all markets, but there are specific difficulties in Central Europe. Network agencies are disappointed by the size of business that each of their relatively small offices develop. They seek to reduce costs. In doing so, they may also reduce the strength of their brand. If a network reduces its Prague office to the status of "affiliate" does the affiliate follow the same approach, have access to training and learning, aspire to the same standards? Maybe. But don't leave it to chance. Ask the questions. And what about the Publicis Groupe model? The CEO of Saatchi now reports to the CEO of Publicis, a different ‘brand". That is not the case in bigger markets such as the UK, and I cannot imagine it happening. Why is it ok here, then, from a client perspective?

Of course it does happen in the bigger markets that top people always remember that agencies are just groups of people. Top people can walk away and start again from nothing, if they are brave enough. The Saatchi brothers did it. M&C Saatchi is a completely different brand to Saatchi & Saatchi now. There have been few examples here, but Kaspen is a fine one, as are the more recent ones of Hullabaloo and Konektor. Their success is a sign of increasing client understanding of what they are buying. The size of the agency is less importance than the quality and experience of the people in the agency who will actually work on the client's business. This is good news for the maturity of the market, and should be exciting for anyone in an advertising agency with talent and ambition.



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