How To Get the Best Work out of Your Advertising Agency

In the advertising industry, certain clients consistently drive us to do our best work. You’ve seen this work before in the innovative technology that you decided you had to have immediately, or in the sleek design work that made your jaw drop, or in the words and images that were so powerful it nearly moved you to tears. What do these clients have in common and how are they able to consistently get the best out of those of us in advertising? They get it. Inside the advertising industry ó regardless of the agency or type of industry an agency services ó there is one ultimate compliment that can be paid to a client. At some point during a presentation or strategy meeting, a creative director may turn to another member of his or her team and say something to the effect of, “they get it.” Clients that “get it” don’t always have the most money to spend, the coolest projects to work on, or the toughest recruitment or marketing challenges to solve. But the work that is done for them consistently wins awards and the recognition of their peers, regardless of the scale. They allow their ad agency to create the innovations that other organizations try (and often fail) to duplicate. Some vital principles to “get” that will drive the best work out of your advertising agency include recognizing the importance of the following areas. 1. Truth. At its core, there is a definite promise implied in your advertising efforts. If you say one thing and do another, word will travel very fast. This is especially true in recruiting, with the focus on employee referrals and networking. Some exaggerated but not-too-far-from-true examples of this: You say you have cutting-edge technology to work on, but most employees use an operating system that’s over six years old and a dot-matrix printer that sits in a different building. You say you’re committed to diversity, yet anyone in a management position is a white male. You reference an exciting, collaborative culture ó which turns out to be a cubicle farm with five people to a cube. Employer branding is definitely not a place to “put lace on a pig” (Midwestern-speak for the futility of trying to dress up a bad situation). This is why the best branding consultants speak of “uncovering your brand through research,” not creating it. The more believable your promise is ó backing up your messages with recognition, awards and facts ó the more effective your advertising will be. False or misleading claims may get people in the door, but the door will be revolving if you can’t back your promises up with the actual work experience. 2. Differentiation. What truly sets you apart as an employer? This is often called a unique selling proposition (USP) or “the WIIFM” (What’s in it for me?). Think this through very thoroughly before you meet with your agency to discuss any creative strategy. Here’s a simple test to see if what you think makes you unique really does. Think of your unique selling points as an employer. Was it excellent benefits? A collaborative culture? A team orientation? Now go to your favorite job board or to Google and type in those terms. If you got a million responses back (like all of the selling points above would), you might want to try again. This time, don’t be afraid of taking a risk. This may seem frustrating at first, but it creates a huge opportunity: in a sea of undifferentiated employers, it will be easy to stand apart once you discover what makes you truly different. 3. Checking your assumptions at the door. Very closely related to the point above, target audience research is the most essential element of almost every successful campaign. Why? Because our assumptions about what makes our organizations unique or appealing are very often wrong. Continuing along the lines of the WIIFM concept, your advertising has to appeal and be relevant to a specific target audience that you are probably not part of. You may deal with the target audience every day in your recruiting efforts ó and these experiences are essential to helping drive a creative strategy. But the best judge of whether your audience will like red or blue, polka music or hip-hop, is the target audience themselves. Without research, this judgment may happen too late, as members of your target audience decide your company is not worth pursuing. Ideally, research will simultaneously focus on the challenges you need to overcome and the things about working at your company that would be most appealing to the target audience. 4. Creative freedom. Anyone who has recruited or worked with creative talent will understand this statement: in order to do their best work, creative people need room to play. The creative mindset is one of imagination, of thinking about things in different ways than others. The more this imagination is limited, the less imaginative (read: creative) the end result will be. 5. Passion. If you don’t have a passion for what your company does and what recruiting does for your company, then your branding work will probably never excite or motivate anyone to join you. Your own personal level of enthusiasm about your organization is something that inevitably comes through in your advertising. In general, the best creative is as much a function of the company driving the work as it is of the creative talent that actually follows through on the work. With an understanding of the principles above, some of the most innovative, most creative work you’ve ever seen will flow out of your agency relationship.

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Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (, a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.


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