Treat Ad Agencies as Partners, Not Enemies

Relationships between banks and advertising agencies can be problematic, but Joseph P. Anderson painted too bleak a picture in his March 11 Comment, "Fade-in to a Windswept Beach with Ad Execs Wasting Money."

Yes, we are in difficult times. To meet the challenge, a bank's advertising agency must be fine-tuned to its needs. The last thing desired is waste due to poor communication.

The bank should not pay an agency to learn about the banking business. In selecting an agency, consider those with non-competing bank clients.

Getting Up to Speed

Sometimes, though, an agency will have overlapping banks. In these cases, separate account service, creative, and media teams will keep conflict of interest to a minimum.

If the agency chosen has no bank experience, determine up front the learning-curve costs - and whether the bank will pay them. But this should be the exception. An agency that really wants the business will treat these expenses as a cost of acquiring the account.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Anderson thinks agencies regard banks as second-class accounts. This is not so at agencies that have focused on service to banks as important to their success. A review of the agency's work and meetings with the staff who will be assigned to the account will demonstrate where the account fits into the agency mix.

An agency that works with its client as a partner will recommend programs based on strategic planning, not the latest creative whim.

The planning process will establish specific result criteria. Still, it is unrealistic to pay entirely on the basis of results.

The agency does not control the entire sales process. A properly defined program will get the customer in the door, but the sale will usually depend on the bank.

The agency should not be penalized for the bank's failure in establishing an effective sales culture.

Flexible Pay

In the past, agency compensation was based on fairly rigid standards. Today, however, this is no longer the case.

The agency that wants the business will work with the bank to establish a compensation plan that meets the goals of both parties.

All this comes down to the partnership between the bank and the agency. The bank wants superior advertising; the agency wants a decent profit. Be open with each other and the compensation will be fair to each party.

Current bank advertising covers the spectrum from product selling to image. In the selection process, insist that the agency show the full range of its work.

The one-solution agency will be obvious. Image advertising is just one of several options for selling the bank. There are times when it is appropriate.

The agency selection process is two-sided. The bank that knows what it wants and asks the right questions will choose the right agency. In turn, the right agency will ask questions and tie its recommendations to the bank's marketing objectives. Ad agencies are not magicians. If a bank treats its agency as a consultant and partner, the relationship will be productive and profitable for both parties.

Mr. Donovan is vice president in charge of account services at Doremus & Co. Inc., an advertising and public relations firm in Boston.

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