Ad management tips for the newly annointed

More and more companies these days are putting managers in charge of the advertising function who have little or no experience in that area. If you are one of these people, here are several important tips to guide your efforts.

1. You can’t save your way to success.

Because advertising is an expensive and sometimes frightening prospect for the uninitiated, many managers react by cutting back the level of activity. If times are really hard (like now, for example), they cut the program out altogether.

This is a simple fix, but not a proper one. Chances are, your competitors are experiencing difficulty, too. If everyone cuts back on promotional activities, it’s much easier for you to gain market share and maximize bottom-line results if you maintain an aggressive program.

And if competitors are not cutting back, you’ll get left in a cloud of dust. The goal is to use the marcom funds your company has allocated to best advantage. They’re of no help to people in the trenches if the funds are still a line item on your operating budget sheet.

2. Planning is good.

If you’re concerned about doing the wrong thing, an in-depth planning session can be just what the doctor ordered. Too many managers these days are inclined to look at planning as an unnecessary expense. They want to skip the planning step and get started right away on specific projects.

Spending a few dollars on planning makes all the other dollars go further. And it will alleviate your anxiety about investing large sums in things you don’t fully understand. The understanding will come with each program you undertake, but it does make it considerably more enjoyable if the first ones are targeted at the right market opportunities.

3. The agency is your partner.

Some first-time managers take a vendor/buyer or (even worse) adversarial posture with the advertising agency. I guess the thinking is you’ll get more out of them if they’re scared or reacting in a defensive manner.

Think about how you react to people who keep you at arm’s length, doling out limited information while making you think if this project falls short of their vaguely defined objectives, there probably won’t be another one.

Most agency people I know would work harder for someone who treats them like a partner, someone who shares confidential information, sets high expectations and gives them lots of encouragement along the way.

And it really is okay to tell the agency people they’re doing a good job, too. They’re not going to raise their rates.

4. The best price is generally not the low price.

Anytime I encounter a client who has received a very enticing low bid from another agency or supplier, I tell them I can do the job for less. Because I can. It’s easy in this business to cut corners and trim costs out of projects.

We can work with less expensive people, spend less time in each phase, rule out more expensive creative options, even skip steps altogether. You may not be totally thrilled with the results, but that’s what happens when we’re constrained by the prospects of losing money on a job.

You may be thinking, “but what about competitors who have different cost structures and are willing to put in more effort for the reduced budget?” And in some isolated cases, there are talented people who charge less for their time than the market will bear.

Eventually, however, most people who are good know it, and want to be paid accordingly. In no other occupation is the saying, “you get what you pay for” more true.

5. Remember the T.M.D. Rule.

There are three primary things that impact an agency’s ability to do good work in advertising and marketing communications: Time, Money and Direction. Lack of effort or attention in any of these three areas can doom a program before it begins.

Instead of demanding that a project be completed in an unreasonable timeframe, ask for a range from most expedient to normal to relaxed. If you really need the shortest time schedule, help them understand why, because they’ll have to justify pushing aside other projects in order to accommodate your deadline request.

Setting budgets is particularly difficult for managers who have no experience in this area. The agency probably has historical records of project costs, and can furnish these on request for projects similar to the ones you have in mind.

The way to get more for your money is to set a reasonable budget, and then demand that the agency “knock your socks off” with creative concepts that will make your program stand out.

And don’t forget to provide proper direction. The closer your agency partners are to the nitty-gritty of “how” and “why” your product or service is good, the better their efforts are going to be. They’re visual people, so it really does pay dividends to paint them pictures: provide diagrams, photos, take them on lab or plant tours, even let them ride with salespeople or attend marketing sessions where selling strategy is being discussed.

You never know where or when a truly breakthrough idea is going to pop up. And the agency’s different perspective can find one that’s hiding amidst a forest of mundane points, invisible to those of you who wander through the trees every day.

6. Continuity is important.

Many new managers think they have to throw out everything that’s been done in the past, and put their stamp on a totally new program. And this may be the right decision in some cases.

In many others, however, it’s better to fine-tune the ongoing programs because their messages are only just beginning to sink in with customers and prospects. You can add value by re-focusing the program objectives and pressing for better execution in most cases.

These suggestions are not a panacea, but they will help you get your feet on the ground quicker and off to a better start with less anxiety. Advertising is the single most powerful tool at your disposal if you learn to use it properly.

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