Lead Generation

Advertising: do it yourself or hire an agency?

written by Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software https://www.paloalto.com

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Do you develop your own ads? Can you? Can you afford to use an advertising agency? Can you afford not to?

Deciding on how to create your advertising is a decision each business must make. Your available resources will determine how difficult a decision this will be.

It is important that the creative aspects of your advertising communicate the look and feel of your business to build the image you desire. What is the “persona” of your business? Is it an image that is fun, formal, secure, functional, intellectual, reliable or a combination of these qualities? Your advertising must capture and communicate the optimal attributes. If you cannot accomplish this goal in-house, your decision to buy these resources is already made.

What resources does your organization possess to contribute to this process? You may want to “inventory” those resources before you look outside the organization for the creation of the advertising materials you need to promote your business. The list may begin with these skill areas:

  • Graphic design
  • Copy writing
  • Web design
  • Photo manipulation

You may have the luxury to then take on the tasks that match your in-house skills and have other work done by an agency or other resource to fill the voids.

When going through the “make or buy” decision process, ask for references from those companies with advertising that you like and that seem consistent with a look and feel that is going to be best for your business. You may be surprised where some of these referrals lead you. You may not want or need a “full service” advertising agency. An independent graphic artist may be a good solution for your needs, be more responsive, and more affordable.

If you already know where you want to advertise, explore what might be available to you through the organization selling the advertising. They may have resources to do your creative work that can be included with the purchase of your ad. The newspaper you are working with may have graphic artists that are on staff to assist you with your advertisement. Television and radio stations may offer support to assist with the production of your commercial. If there is a cost associated with the creation of the ad, ask if there are arrangements where the cost, or a portion of that cost, can be credited to the broadcast time or space you are buying. Using the advertiser’s services may involve additional time, so plan ahead and ask about required lead times.

Consider investigating innovative options to compensate for creating and buying advertising. For example, based on the products or services you offer, bartering may be a solution to keep costs down and leverage the expertise of others.

The goal of the “make or buy” process is to acquire the best ad possible with your available resources. Keep in mind how important it is to have an ad that produces optimal results. It can be one of your most significant investments in your marketing efforts.

Dealing with an Advertising Agency

Most organizations need to have access to external graphic resources. A logo is critical, most need stationery, some will use collateral, and others will need to have a Web page.

Advertising agencies offer a variety of services. Most agencies offer a source for your “creative” work, including the graphics associated with your ad, letterhead, collateral or website. Agencies also offer additional services, including the option to place your ad with the media source, and some also offer public relations work.

It is important to determine what you need from the agency before they attempt to make that choice for you. In most cases, the agency will be excited to do everything they can for your business, and you may not be able to afford their level of enthusiasm.

Here are some questions that you may want to consider regarding the aspects of dealing with an advertising agency.

How much will it cost?

Get a bid regarding the work they will be performing before anything billable begins. Open-ended arrangements can lead to surprises for and from both you and the agency. Establishing a fixed cost or “not to exceed” amount can avoid difficult and expensive problems later.

Who owns the creative?

Before your project begins, determine who owns the creative, them or you. In some cases, the agency will retain ownership of their work, and you must depend on them and compensate them each time you use the graphic, the ad, or the photo. In most cases, it will be an advantage for you to have ownership of the creative so you can go to other sources with the work they have done.

Who is going to be the point of contact?

Arrange for a primary point of contact within your organization to work with the agency. This will add consistency in dealing with the agency and can save a tremendous amount of time to assess progress, build on previous work, or deal with billing questions.

Are you using the best skills for the task?

You may find creative resources that are better at some things than others. Some have incredible skills at logo design; others in ad layout. Don’t assume that one agency or resource is going to do everything well. However, trade-offs do exist here. You will need to weigh the increased burden of dealing with multiple resources against the benefits accrued from optimal work on each type of project.

Who should place your ad?

If your ad agency creates the ad, you may need to decide who places the ad with the advertiser. If the agency places the ad, there may be percentage increases included, such as a commission. You may get a discount for placing the ad directly with the advertiser. Regardless, you may have to arrange to prepare disk, electronic file, or film for the ad, depending on the specification of the advertiser. Most agencies will offer you options regarding how you work with them on these types of activities.

How do you assess their performance?

Take a critical view of what the agency is doing for you on a regular basis. Don’t stay with an agency out of loyalty alone. Check with other agencies if you feel you are not getting the level of performance you need. Letting your agency know that you are no longer going to use them can be difficult and it happens all the time. Tell them why, and if they are professionals, they will focus on satisfying your needs, knowing that they are at risk of losing you as a client.

The goal is to identify and leverage the creative resources you need to complement your business and produce high quality promotional experiences. Advertising agencies can account for a significant percentage of your marketing budget. Make sure you are using them wisely.

Tim Berry

about the author

Tim Berry

Founder and President of Palo Alto Software and a renowned planning expert. He is listed in the index of "Fire in the Valley", by Swaine and Freiberger, the history of the personal computer industry. Tim contributes regularly to the bplans blog, the Huffingtonpost.com as well as his own blog, Planning, Startups, Stories. His full biography is available at www.timberry.com. Follow Tim onGoogle +


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