Tracking Down the Best Agency...For You

Jun 18, 2007

DIRECTIVE:

Track down standout healthcare agencies using legal means. Your purpose: to assist prospective clients in choosing the right agency for their brands. Find out what makes agencies tick. See what's in their toolboxes. Go behind closed doors. Observe agencies' physical environment, note how they work. Take stock of the company's internal culture. Are the employees engaged, happy? Gather whatever information (i.e., facts, gossip, samples of work) and/or anything else that might be helpful to prospective clients. Take pictures of key principals at work and at play (if possible). Deconstruct the agency's proprietary approaches and strategic processes. Translate them into language an eighth-grader can understand.

FINDINGS:

Agencies resist categorization (e.g., professional vs. consumer). Want to be seen as full-service, all things to all people. If they are big, they tell you they're small. If they are small, they tell you they're big. No doubt this is true. In the same way a really great restaurant will allow you to order off-menu and make you a boiled egg if so desired, top agencies have deep resources and are likely to be able to serve up whatever marketing strategy a client wants. Our interest, however, is in the agencies eager to form a partnership with a client, who truly understand integrated marketing, who have teams who employ left-brain planning techniques, who know the science, who care about your brand, who engage with you and are willing to stay the course. Size doesn't matter. Holding companies aren't the ones that come up with the ideas, as Peter Kim points out in a recent Forrester Research study "Help Wanted: 21st Century Agency." Kim urges clients to choose their partners on an agency level, to look for agencies that employ a media-agnostic approach—in other words, agencies that favor no particular medium over another. Look for agencies that do whatever is necessary to accommodate clients who are increasingly becoming interested (even if tentatively) in a more integrated approach to marketing and channel planning that might include some traditional advertising as well as a focus on other communication disciplines like med ed, PR, and interactive.

THE SKINNY

Advertising is, after all, a service industry. As with any service industry, finding and keeping help is both a top priority, and a challenge. "One of the biggest reasons agencies get fired is turnover on the team servicing the brand," says Dale Taylor, president of AbelsonTaylor. Clients want to be reassured the people they start out working with will stay the course. To that end, the following AGENCY CONFIDENTIAL spotlight report favors agencies that actively address recruitment and retension issues by way of training programs and other internal initiatives. The other criteria for inclusion is having a clear cut differential, something that makes the agency special. Truth is, all top agencies produce creative work, and win awards. Finding the right one for you then is often a matter of following your gut. An agency is only as good as its people. Hanging out at an agency for a day, lunching with employees is likely to tell you more about the place than the fanciest of pitches. We hope this report might also be a helpful starting point.

NOT JUST A PRETTY ALGORITHM

AbelsonTaylor

CREATIVE IS THE word most bandied about in connection with AbelsonTaylor. And the Chicago agency has awards and citations a mile long to prove it. AbelsonTaylor's creativity is not the tippy, showy, often brilliant but quickly evaporating kind so often associated with advertising agencies. AbelsonTaylor's creativity evolves out of structure, stability, limits (even regulations) and, most of all, freedom. And when it works, their ads can take your breath away.