“We love our agency, we just wish they understood our business.”
This is a quote I frequently hear from building material manufacturers.
Here is why this happens:
1. Unless they have extensive building materials experience, most agencies don’t recognize the importance of the channel in building material sales. They assume their brilliant creative will pull products through the channel.
2. At many agencies, you won’t get their best team. This is not only because you may spend less than their other clients but because a building material client is just not as cool as some of their other clients.
3. You get high turnover on your agency team. Frequently a building material client is a stepping-stone or proving ground for agency employees. If they do a good job for you, they will probably be moved up to a more important account. You then get to start all over again training a new person while paying the agency for their time as your student.
4. Many of the most effective solutions for building materials will never win a creative award. Most agencies don’t equate or value creativity unless it’s something they can enter in an awards show.
5. Most agencies are good at understanding the features and benefits of a product and developing a creative way to communicate this to an audience. They struggle with the many different audiences and influencers that have to be considered. The result is they frequently develop a very creative solution aimed at the wrong audience. Or they do the opposite and go after the right audience with the wrong message.
6. Many agencies worship at the holy grail of creativity, believing that creativity alone is all they need. Their focus is on how creative they are and not on did you sell more stuff. This is why the majority of CEO’s are suspicious of their agency’s effectiveness as this article shows.
Here’s how to fix your ad agency relationship
1. Select the right agency in the first place. Because of experience, most agencies are very good at serving a particular type of business. Look at their website, you should be able to see their areas of expertise. If building materials isn’t one of them, keep looking. They have to be the right size. I frequently see clients become enamored with a large well-known firm who is too big for them.
2. Fire your agency if they are just order takers. I still frequently see agencies that never question an assignment from a client. If you request a new ad campaign, your agency should be asking what are you trying to accomplish and why you think an ad campaign is the best solution.
3. Make it easy for the agency team to learn about your business. Let them ride with sales people and interview customers. Make sure they know how a house or building is built. They should know who all the players are what their roles are in the construction process. Have them attend trade shows and walk the show with them. Tell them what you see and ask them what they see. Create a relationship with them where they are not afraid to ask a question and admit they don’t something. Encourage them to be curious.
4. Make your agency team rock stars within their agency. Look for reasons to send the agency president an email about what a great job the team did on a regular basis. These messages will get distributed to the entire agency. Your team will work even harder for you. Your account will be one of the agencies favorites and will become a magnet for the best talent in the agency.
5. Measure your agency by the sales results and not by some nebulous mesusrement like increasing awareness. Make sure the agency understands you are measuring their results, in large part, by your sales.
Your agency can’t do it all
The majority of agencies still view themselves as full service agencies who can do anything whether its an ad, website or social media campaign. They are afraid to loose the billings and their creative egos can get in the way. Find out what they are best at and where they provide the most value. Consider bringing in other firms who are experts in their fields such as social media, PR, events, websites, etc. Make it clear to the agency that you are not looking to replace them. While it can be challenging, if you chose the right firms, they should all be able to work together for your benefit.
Here are some examples:
I had a leading building material manufacturer as a client. They had an ad agency, a PR firm and my agency that handled channel marketing. We met once a month, without the client, to share what we were working on. This resulted in a much more cohesive and effective marketing effort for the client. Another large building material manufacturer wanted a total update of their website which was a major undertaking. They had a web firm who understood how to build a great website, they had their agency who was responsible for the design and copy in conjunction with the web firm. And the client understood the product. What they didn’t have was the voice of customer. They didn’t know what each of their many customers and stakeholders were looking for in a website. They hired an outside firm, like mine, to do an extensive customer and stakeholder audit to insure that this major investment would result in the industry leading website. Sometimes bringing in an outsider can act as a catalyst to get your agency to see alternative solutions. On several occasions, I have been hired by a manufacturer to help jump start their thinking on a challenging problem. I help develop a new solution and then their agency takes it from there.