The Digital Age has not been a happy one for marketers. Not too long ago, media decisions were easy: You bought television or radio or print or outdoor, you had a smattering of niche out-of-home options. If you were a business-to-business marketer, you had trade shows and industry publications. No matter what you were selling, your options for reaching your audience were pretty limited.
The World Wide Web and the digital universe it spawned changed all that. (P.S.: Happy 25th birthday, World Wide Web.) Digital dropped all sorts of new marketing opportunities into the mix: social media, web content, banner ads, video preroll, mobile ads, and more. At the same time, traditional media were fracturing: Newspaper shrinking, long-time print magazines dying, television splintering into thousands of cable options that lots of us weren’t even watching on TV–at least not in real time. Digital video recorders made time-shifting simple, and you could fast-forward through the commercials. Now on-demand video on cable and the web is slowly making DVRs obsolete.
Meanwhile, digital advertising appears to be in crisis. Major advertisers are asking questions about fraudulent traffic reports. At the Internet Advertising Bureau‘s annual meeting last month, fraud was the number-one topic of conversation, prompting Digiday’s Jack Marshall to write, “Virtually every company in the online ad ecosystem has something to gain from the existence of fraudulent Internet traffic. Publishers, agencies, and ad tech companies have known about the issue for years and chosen to turn a blind eye in the interest of revenues. Fraudulent traffic is, at this point, better described as a systemic conspiracy than a one-off swindle.”
Does digital advertising even work? Can you get people to watch TV commercials? Can you trust what you’re being told by the people selling you the media?
And what should you expect from your ad agency in the face of all these choices and all these questions?
First, you should expect honesty and accountability. You should expect your agency to ask tough questions about media, and to be responsible for their recommendations. You should agree upon campaign metrics and analyze the results. You should not be looking for ways to spin mediocre performance into good news: you should use your analysis to make the improvements you need to do better.
Second, you should expect your agency to be adaptable. Too many old-school ad agencies don’t have enough online experience to be good digital advisors; too many digital shops don’t really have the chops to do effective broadcast and print advertising. But marketers need integrated plans–and it’s a giant hassle to have to do the integrating yourself. Unless you want to deal with a dozen sub-specialized boutiques, you need to find one agency that believes great marketing is platform-agnostic and has the expertise to work across a full range of media.
Third, you should expect creative excellence; in fact, you should demand it. Opinions vary on how many marketing messages we’re exposed to every day; some say a few hundred, while other estimates range as high as 20,000. Suffice to say this number, whatever it is, is not going down. Which means that it’s more important than ever to do work that calls attention to itself. Conservative advertising that blends in with its environment is a waste of money. It has always been a waste of money, but today the waste is more glaring than ever.
Finally, you should expect to be challenged. It’s not your ad agency’s job to give you what you want. It’s their job to push you to do the best, smartest marketing possible–which, to be frank, is probably not what you’re doing today. Let your agency push you out of your comfort zone. You don’t have to stay there–but you should know what it feels like to stand there for a while.
In sum, what you want from your ad agency is the ability to turn all those challenges into opportunities. Let your competitors dump money into media strategies that don’t work and spin their performance into “success stories” aimed at mollifying higher-ups. Let them waste their time juggling vendors and developing disjointed, uninspired campaigns. Let them take the boring, safe path.
Because today’s fractured media environment actually makes it possible for you to reach exactly the audience you want, better and more cost-effectively than ever. Helping you turn that possibility into reality is really what you should expect from your ad agency today.