Making the Agency Partnership Work

Every once in a while I read some article that bashes advertising agencies.

Money-grubbers! we are called. Bill-padders! Manipulators of words, pictures, and ideas! We're accused of making poor, unsuspecting clients run ads they don't need at prices they shouldn't have to pay. And on and on.

A March 11 commentary in American Banker ["Fade-In to a Windswept Beach with Ad Execs Wasting Money," by Joseph P. Anderson, page 4] described the kind of mistrust that can develop on the part of banks toward their advertising agencies.

As the author saw it, advertising agency's are motivated by greed and dishonesty in their dealings with banks, so banks must act like police officers in monitoring their ad agency's work.

The Real Answer

But we're smarter than that.

Certainly that warm fuzzy feeling between you and your advertising agency won't happen instantly. But you know when the chemistry is right.

It starts with respect on both sides and builds with the development of shared knowledge.

There's a foolproof way to start off right, so you can indeed build such relationships: Structure and run the agency-selection process properly.

To make a good marriage you look for someone you can grow with, share your triumphs with - someone whose goals and dreams are compatible with yours. Before you sign the marriage certificate, you've sorted out the big issues. You've been honest about your expectations.

The same should be true when picking your business partners.

Banking Novices

Is experience important? It's not unusual for a bank to look for an agency that has no experience in financial products and services. Usually, the reasoning is that the novice has a fresh point of view that will result in fresh advertising.

The downside, of course, is that there can be a long learning process, during which all real activity is on hold. Will the agency hire experienced staffers to run the account? Will it build up internal departments so it can meet your needs? What will this cost you?

Many nonbank advertisers insist that their advertising agencies learn their business in advance, so the agency incurs the expense of familiarizing itself with a particular business.

Billing Alternatives

Of course, money is a key question. Lay it to rest before you enter a relationship.

There are options to the standard 15% payment route. Many agencies today prefer to operate on a fee basis, which works to many clients' benefit and helps allay questions of self-interest when it comes to media buying.

An advertising agency that you trust and that shares your view of banking's future can be your partner in product development, diversification, and other business opportunities.

Product development is 80% marketing-driven. If your agency is your marketing partner, one of its key mandates is to bring new ideas to you. You want it find ways to differentiate your products so you can stay ahead of the market.

This also means that the agency will recommend a wide variety of ways for you to get your message across - direct mail, cross promotions, and so on.

Conflict-of-Interest Bugaboo

The ad agency that knows banking is one that has banking clients. Its account people are members of banking organizations; they may even have come from the banking industry.

For too long, advertisers and their agencies have been handcuffed by the idea that an agency cannot represent two financial institutions at the same time.

Our agency has represented multiple banking institutions for years, and we've managed these businesses without a shred of conflict.


First, all banks have different needs and different personalities. One bank needs to develop its loan portfolios; the strategy and execution would reflect this need. Another bank might have a core of working-class savers to be addressed, while a third might be a major business lender. Yet another may need an asset attraction campaign to build strategically for the future.

Second, customers respond as much to who you are as to what you offer. Banks are as individual as fingerprints. This individuality can be used as a sales tool. Each bank's advertising can be different, and proprietary. The experienced agency can quickly define your identity and develop a strategy accordingly.

Common Goals

An agency can succeed in being part of your organization only if you let it see and be part of the strategic planning activities.

The agency wants to act responsibly on your behalf. Your prosperity is in its interest.

Trust comes with time. One clue to finding an agency you can trust is to look at its other client relationships. If the agency's major clients have been with the agency for a long time, that's an indication that the agency does a good a job and has developed a good relationship with its clients.

With public skepticism about banks at its highest level in 50 years, it's more important than ever for a bank's marketing teams to work together. This means that in-house marketing and outside consultants need to pull together.

The importance of the human factor in building relationships should not be minimized. And it's precisely the same with clients and agencies as with individuals. Some click, others don't.

Most agencies are looking to build long-term relationships of trust. You can't have good teamwork and good results without it.

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