4 Ways To Overcome An Ad Agency’s Ugly Baby


(By Barry Cohen) It always makes you wonder: if mom’s so pretty and dad’s so handsome, how did they get this ugly baby? The same holds true for advertising agencies. They may have beautiful offices and wonderful accounts, but not everything they produce comes out so attractive. Why? Well, consider that not all agency principals came from the radio world. Many came from print and television. Then there is the generational divide. Some of them came from the online universe — the digital world. They may simply not have radio in their DNA.

It’s not their fault. They may not know how to create engaging radio. Why does this matter? Isn’t it our job to just get the order and their job to come up with the copy and the schedule? After all, isn’t that why they get paid a commission? Wrong. It’s our job in radio to make sure that whatever we sell and place on our airwaves will get results for the client. That means no matter who created it, we take responsibility for making it work as well as we can. Of course, that’s assuming we took an order for a client that belongs on our airwaves to begin with.

So what do we do if the agency has a perfect client for our station, but the creative just plain bites the dust? As your parents probably told you, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Here’s a little primer on how to approach the proud parents of an ugly baby:

1. Always preface your remarks by saying, “We truly appreciate your making a commitment to our station, and we, in turn, are committed to assuring that you and your client succeed and keep coming back.”

2. “We have some suggestions on how we can make your copy/ promotion/campaign even more relevant to our audience.” (Notice that we did not say that we can “improve it” or “make it better.” Diplomacy in action!)

3. “We have some really good intel/research on our audience that can help you to maximize your results on our station by incorporating it into your campaigns.” (Notice that we did not say, “We know our audience better than you do,” or, “This approach won’t work on our station.”)

4. “We encourage you to feel free to pick our brains and meet with our staff whenever you are developing not only your media buys, but your creative and promotional campaigns as well. By working together, we know that your staff and ours can really knock it out of the park.”

The same approach applies to scheduling. It’s our job to make sure they are getting maximum reach and frequency for their dollar — not that we are getting maximum dollars for each spot or daypart. If the schedule doesn’t perform, they’re not coming back. Maybe they don’t need to be in morning drive, which is probably at sellout levels and at top dollar. While it may be effective, it simply may not be efficient.

So think again about how to diplomatically demonstrate to the agency that you may be able to actually increase their effectiveness/efficiency with a schedule that will add weight/reach/frequency. (Notice we didn’t say, “We can improve your buy,” or, “We can come up with a better schedule for you.”)

Avoid the temptation to sell agencies the off-the shelf “package of the week” if it’s not right for them. We had to rework a client’s buy in mid-campaign for a concert event because they were sold an ROS package on a low-inventory music station, and it resulted in nearly all of their low-cost spots running during off-peak times. In their case, we advised them to “pay the freight” for prime, and they actually ended up with more spots for the same dollars — and better results.

Unless the agency has consistently bought for and created for radio, they may need your guidance to get it right. And you may not get a second chance if you don’t get it right the first time.

Remember, it’s show business. Bring them in to the station. Let them meet the personalities and see how they interact with the audience. It may be a new flavor for them, so let them taste it!

Barry Cohen is the Managing Member of AdLab Media Communications, LLC (www.adlabcreative.com). He has sold radio, managed a station, and conducted RAB workshops and webinars. He is also the author of the book 10 Ways to Screw Up an Ad Campaign.


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