Ad-libs: How to work with ad agencies

Ad-libs: How to work with ad agencies

By John Foust

With experience on both the ad agency and media sides of the business, I’ve learned some lessons about relationships between the two.

There are often clashes between agencies and the media. In most case, the friction between these two key players in the marketing world comes down to two things: control and money. Both want more control of advertisers’ media placement decisions. And both are in business to make money.

Friction doesn’t help either side. And it certainly doesn’t help advertisers.

Here are a few things that media representatives can do to strengthen relationships with ad agencies:

1. Encourage open communication all around. No doubt, things are simpler when the media can communicate directly with a local advertiser. But once that advertiser employs an ad agency, things change.

An ad agency is a lot like a sports agent. Just like an athlete does not deal alone with a team, an ad agency’s client wants the agency to be part of discussions with the media.

Work to build rapport with the agency. Keep them in the loop. After all, you have the same goal: to generate customers for the advertiser.

2. Be careful with spec ideas. I’ve lost count of the media folks who have complained about ad agencies not wanting to see their ideas for ad campaigns. But that should be no surprise. The primary product of an agency is its creativity. That’s the one thing that differentiates Agency A from Agency B. There may not be much difference in the ways agencies crunch numbers and place ads for clients. But there’s a world of difference in their creative philosophies.

The creative product is what you see on their web sites and in their portfolio books and demos. Creativity is their bread and butter. It’s what catches the attention of potential clients. They’re not about to let outsiders take over that part of their business.

3. Don’t try to bypass the agency. Some media representatives – especially those with accounts who have recently hired ad agencies – get frustrated with the new arrangement. They don’t like having additional decision makers or longer approval times. As a result, they are often tempted to try an end run around the agency.

Bad move. It’s not worth risking rapport to meet a tight deadline.

4. Remember that media buyers are numbers people. In most agencies, the media buyers are removed from the creative team. While the copywriters and designers are hammering out ideas, testing offers and measuring concepts against marketing strategies, the media department is analyzing audience statistics and comparing cost-per-thousand figures.

Rarely the twain shall meet. Creatives are right-brainers who don’t spend time with spreadsheets and media buyers are left-brainers who don’t think much about copy.

So when you’re selling to media buyers, talk about numbers – specifics not generalities. And be sure to send updates on your readership figures.

It’s all about getting in step with customers. Whether they’re on the advertiser or the agency side, it’s important to see things from their perspective.

(c) Copyright 2013 by John Foust. All rights reserved.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information: