Advertising Tips

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Patrick Quinn

I have had an e-mail from a gentleman with something on his mind. Since what is irking him may be of general interest, he has been good enough to allow me to dissertate on it right here. As a matter of fact, it’s of a touch more than general interest, because his is exactly the kind of account that the freelances among us earn our bread and butter from. So it could be a lesson learned.

The gentleman in question is the advertising manager of a Midlands engineering company with a total promotional budget of around £200,000. Of this, some £150,000 is spent through an ad agency. Up to a couple of years ago, our friend had been using a local agency which, he says, ‘gave us excellent service; but their output of ideas and their general standard of creative work left a lot to be desired’.

Accordingly, not without a good deal of heart-searching, he moved the account to a medium-sized, up-and-coming London agency with a strong and growing reputation for creative originality. Has everything turned out fine? Not particularly. He is not getting the same kind of ‘we’ll be around in five minutes for the brief and have some scribbles ready for you in the morning’ service that the previous people gave him. Nor has his present agency exactly set the Thames on fire with its standard of work.

Yet, he says (and here’s the nub of it) they are doing some outstanding work for other clients of theirs. Therefore, is his appropriation too small for them to bother about? Has he jumped from provincial frying pan into metropolitan fire? “In all fairness to them,” he ends, “ours is a rather difficult account which presents special problems.”

Well, let’s take the service angle first. If someone lives on your doorstep, and if your business represents a sizeable slice of his turnover, obviously he is going to hop around to you quicker and jump to your wishes more smartly than someone who is 200 miles away and to whom your billing is relative peanuts. This argument is sustainable despite the convenience of instant communication via e-mail and intranet because, generally speaking, clients do like to see on a regular basis the people who are working for them. It’s something of an anachronism, but it’s true. After all, an e-mail can’t take you out to lunch or allow you to win on the squash court – if you see what I mean.

Something else. Practically any given agency will feed to practically any potential client a yard-and-a-half of eyeshine about all its accounts, large or small, getting an equal slice of the service cake. But, let’s be sensible, the smaller a client is, the bigger the pinch of salt he needs to take this with. The point is too obvious to be laboured.

And now for his second point. Although ‘ours is a difficult account which presents special problems’ is a familiar cry, it is seldom as true as it is cracked up to be. Everyone thinks his business is unusual and complicated. In advertising terms it rarely is.

What this guy should really be asking is why the agency concerned is producing second-rate work for him, yet is doing first-rate work for others. Either he is not getting his fair whack of their creative talent, in which case a little determined hell-raising in the right quarter will work wonders. Or he is not allowing the agency to live up to its capabilities. I don’t know which it is, of course; but if I had to bet blind, I would put my money on the latter.

So here’s the moral to this sorry story. All advertising, when you really come down to basics, is in the hands of people called copywriters and designers. This applies whether the people in question work for agencies or for themselves as freelances. There generally ain’t no difference in work standard or commitment. I know for sure that the sad experience of my correspondent is by no means a singular one. It is being repeated daily up and down the country. It therefore follows that what these hundreds, possibly thousands, of ad managers really need is nothing more than a good, local freelance writing/design team which knows a thing or two about client service.

A freelance team, unlike an agency, has minimal overhead; and its fees will, or should, reflect this. And because a freelance team works for itself, it will almost certainly be hungrier and therefore more conscientious than its agency counterparts.

Were I the ad manager of a company, I would choose a freelance team rather than a local agency every time. Likewise, were I the ad manager of a company with a modest budget, I would steer very clear of big-ambition metropolitan agencies. And when it came down to it, I would far prefer to have lunch or play squash with my nubile secretary than with some hairy artist.

Therefore, if you are a member of a creative team, does the local industry know where to get hold of you? Do they even know you exist. I am conscious that writers and designers are notoriously bad at promoting themselves; but on the basis of what we’ve just heard, there is a huge market here just waiting to be tapped. So tap it.


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Patrick Quinn is a copywriter, with 40 years' experience of the advertising business in London, Miami, Dublin and Edinburgh. Over the years, he has helped win for his clients just about every advertising award worth winning. His published books, include:

The Secrets of Successful Copywriting.

The Secrets of Successful Low Budget Advertising.

Word Power 1, 2 & 3.

© Markethill Publishing 2005.

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