How not to get ripped off (in which Anthony Gardiner rants a little bit more)

So I had a rant about the industry, threw my toys etc. But it was a little bit oblique of me to vent in such a manner without giving a bit of guidance to those who are funding the industry, the blessed clients.

While the cheques are still coming in, the advertising industry is unlikely to change, no matter where the consumers’ eyeballs/wallets are straying to. With that in mind, and with a few weeks of self-unemployment to clear the head, I thought it about time to give a few tips to clients who want to get the best out of their money. As the people holding the purse strings (on behalf of consumers), change will need to be forced from the client side. So here are some gotchas to look out for that, in my opinion, represent traditional agency models.

Who are you paying?

This is something that really surprised me when I got elbows deep into Adland. Most of the big agencies in New Zealand are owned by the same few parent companies. I was going to publish who owns what, but all the information is available for anyone to find on the Companies Office website www.companies.govt.nz. Look up your ad agency, then click on the Shareholders link. For most there are a few layers of shareholding companies you will need to link up through, but ultimately you will see who you are really paying.

Many clients have a roster of agencies, but most don’t realise the several agencies they have on the other side of the table can be owned by the same entity. This can be problematic when one partner agency has a million dollar idea, and the other has a $10,000 idea that could probably achieve the same results.

It gets even worse in a pitch situation. I am not sure how competitive it can truly be when three agencies pitching for the same business are owned by the same parent company.

To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

As was pointed out to me by a commenter following my rant, media agencies have not yet earned the right to charge concepting fees. The nugget that sits at the heart of every campaign is where the gold is for clients, and they should pay a concept fee for that idea, regardless of whether it comes from the media agency, creative, the receptionist, the cleaner, or the marketing manager’s 12-year-old daughter. It should be rewarded. However, if your agency has a staff of flash developers, or TVC folks, or social media executors, have a guess at what they will recommend as the solution to your marketing problem?

Great concepts are worth every penny, but if you are charged $50,000 for a concept from an agency who specialises in microsites and TVCs, don’t be surprised when they recommend a $400,000 microsite and supporting TVC. It is the same with social media gurus. Have you ever had one recommend a billboard or a radio/print ad? If I was a bricklayer and you asked me to design your house, guess what I would say you should make it our of? Never mind if it was completely the wrong material for the job.

Buy in bulk, save in bulk. Oh, and sell in bulk.

Don’t even bother looking at rate cards. NO ONE pays rate card prices for media. While being self-unemployed I have had a client who I booked a large billboard for. Rate card price for the site alone was $10,000 per month, but me (the most hated person in advertising) got it for $1,800. Not even I pay rate card, and everyone hates me.

Large media agencies can also negotiate a bulk purchase in advance with media suppliers. This ensures they get a really sharp deal that they can pass on to their stable of clients. This suits everyone. Unless over the course of the 12 month discounted contract the media landscape changes, and suddenly the media agency has a large amount of media placements they need to fill to meet their contractual obligations. So guess what they start recommending to clients.

Everyone hates meetings. EVERYONE.

Everyone who works in an agency has a title such as executive, manager, director etc etc. Most clients will have a pyramid of people working on their business. This is an incredibly inefficient use of resources. However, it is easily justified by the amount of meetings required each week. I once had a stretch of 18 meetings in three days. Meetings can be beneficial when a decision is reached at the end, but 60 percent of meetings could be removed and life would go on. Plus everyone would save money and time.

One final trick…

Ask your agency if they would be willing to have half of their fee performance-based. Imagine if you could agree upon a key metric at the start of each brief, then pay a portion of the fee on achievement. How many other industries exist where you pay the full price regardless of the outcome? And remember, the outcome should be sales, or brand adoration, or something else extremely measurable. It should not be based on ad industry awards, or reach, or whether you thought the idea was good.

Also, perhaps read the award entries that agencies put forward, and see if they have anything to do with your desired outcomes as defined by your brief. If I paid a bloke to put a new roof on my house, and he only did half of it, then entered the half-built roof into an award ceremony under the verandah section, I would ask for my money back.

But that is just me. I am self-unemployed so I need to ask for all the refunds I can get.

  • Anthony Gardiner is the ex-social strategist at OMD. He is currently consulting to clients and can be reached at [email protected]

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