JCK Show: Select an agency based on track record, Chatelain Says

The best gauge of an ad agency is its track record with other clients, Liz Chatelain of MVI Marketing noted in a seminar on “Selecting the Right Agency to Grow Your Business.”

“If they have won lots of awards, if they have big names working for them, if they look really sophisticated, it means nothing,” she said. “The only important thing is whether they’ve grown businesses before, and how much they can grow yours.”

Agencies aren’t for everyone, Chatelain said. Some jewelers do better with freelancers. She advised retailers to first calculate their current advertising related expenditures. “Many of you will be shocked at how much time and money you are spending on advertising,” she said.

Among Chatelain’s other tips:

* When looking for an agency, network. Attend trade shows and association meetings and canvass friends and colleagues for referrals. If you see a good advertisement for another company, call its owner and find out who their agency is and how the ads are working for them. * Beware of agencies that specialize in one kind of advertising. “If the agency shows you a portfolio and it’s all newspaper ads, I would be leery,” Chatelain said. “Ideally an agency should handle everything.”

* If you’re not sure about an agency, hire it for a one-time event. An example is a store’s 25th anniversary.

* Check if the agency has handled entrepreneurial companies like yours before. Get data on how it has improved sales for clients, and what problems it has solved for them. Ask for response rates on direct mail campaigns and “call to action” newspaper pieces.

* Choose an agency that’s the same size as your business. “If you hire a big agency, you will just be a blip on their bottom line,” Chatelain said. “But a one-man operation may spend so much time looking for new clients that he can’t service your business. Make sure the agency has the time and commitment to take care of your needs.”

* Don’t feel you always have to speak to the agency’s owner. “A lot of times it’s not the owners who are doing the work, but the creative people one level down,” she said.

* Have the people from the agency’s creative team spend time in your store. That will help them really understand your business and its customers.

* Understand that finding an agency is an “interview process.” If an agency is making a presentation, don’t hold the presentation in your store, but have it in a place where you won’t be distracted. Look for agencies that talk more about your business than about themselves. The best will try to understand your company and its nuances.

* An agency should grasp how advertising fits into the store’s overall marketing plan. “Marketing is everything from the color you paint your wall to how your business card looks to the candy you put on your table-top,” Chatelain said. “You want someone who understands the big picture.”

* Consider a “success bonus.” This calls for giving the agency a fee up front, then increasing it if it produces the desired results.