How to not hire an imaginary ad agency

There are a lot of choices these days in picking an ad agency. Back in the pre-Macintosh days, an agency had to have a whole lot of moving parts to make it work. Sure, you could present your ideas on a napkin, over the three martini lunch back then, but, the process of crafting an actual ad required keyliners, typesetters, color separators- shooting a commercial often involved film, lights, sound studios. Now you can shoot a commercial on your cell phone, edit it there, upload it and run it. An Instagram post can be billed as an ad. The lure of the one-person agency, jack of all trades, digital magician is great. You could even have that person on staff! It could be your kid- at least if your company is privately held and your gross revenues are less than 5-10 million a year (and you’re ok with them staying there).

Real offices, a listing in the Yellow Pages, membership in the “Four A’s” were considered credibility builders when The Next Wave was founded. Now, we produce a more up to date directory of ad agencies in Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati than you can find anywhere else, including the dreadful “Book of Lists” published by the Business Journal network. We update it almost weekly. We leave the agencies that come and go- so people can find the wreckage (especially of the imaginary agencies that seem to pop up like flies- mostly, the one person, between jobs type, who thinks they are the next David Ogilvy- until they realize that doing the invite for their sisters wedding didn’t really impress anyone except the AAF Addy awards judges last year).

We do a lot of competitive analysis. You know like JC Penney follows what Kohl’s and Target do (or tries to at least). We look at these imaginary agencies and try to figure out who really is the next wave in advertising- and most of the time, we just shake our heads and hope no one gets hurt.

The first clue is almost always a focus on vision and mission statements. It will be prominently displayed front and center. I remember going to a Cincinnati Ad Club meeting where the presenter, a former new business guru for the Martin Agency, spent an hour comparing these pompous, long, statements of bullshit- and showcasing the similarities.

Here’s two (and we’re not citing them- to protect the guilty):

“The most effective branding goes deeper than just designing the active components of a marketing campaign; it requires building a relationship. Clients look to us for creative branding solutions because we don’t just design campaigns, we create engagement opportunities that build lifelong customers.”

and:

What we do
Agency X™ (yes, trademarked- ooh.) is a think tank; a collection of brilliant minds, inspired souls, and sizzling creativity.

In this chaotic world of relentless change, it takes a tremendous amount of effort and insight for a brand to clearly articulate a meaningful message through all the noise and confusion of a global marketplace. As seasoned branding consultants, we believe the answer is to create a rigorous learning organization. An organization of life-long students fascinated by business, strategy, design, and branding… students fascinated by life.

From Fortune 500 companies to the frenzy of dot-com startups, we have the invaluable experience of working with and for some of the world’s most recognized and respected brands. In the some of the world’s most recognized and respected branding agencies. In the wake of this unfortunate economic apocalypse, we were… well, inspired, to take our collective experience, all our hopes and dreams, and begin our own branding company.

And you know what? We’re having the time of our lives!

It’s a collection of sizzle alright, on the personnel page, only the founder, an adjunct college instructor, bothered to update his LinkedIn account as actually working there. He includes people who still work at other places, including an “SEO expert” (who shares his last name and is probably his daughter) who is a bank teller, and even his wife- listed as a “Creative Director” is listed in Linkedin as working somewhere else. Just because Don Draper fabricated his backstory back in the make-believe version of Madison Avenue in the sixties, it’s a little harder to do it now.

It’s always been a problem to tell what was really done in an ad agency by the current staff at the current agency. So many startups are showing work that they did at other agencies, with other senior people handling the clients, the strategy, the concept. Sure, you “wrote the ad” but, the real question is who wrote the brief, who sold the client the strategy, and did it work?

Agencies are supposed to grow your business, improve the bottom line, help guide your strategic direction. “Sizzling creativity” is wonderful, but if it’s fueled by burning your budget on the wrong things, your life expectancy will decrease to the length of time that this agency will be around- usually until the next job offer with a steady pay check comes along.

We’ve watched the horrific impact of bad advertising advice, like the local salmon smokers who spent a ton of money on a very tame branding package, and advice to spend their Saturdays trying to peddle their lox at the local farmers market, instead of working to find distribution channels for super premium seafood, carefully smoked to perfection. Or even a client of ours, who was ready to sell his business the morning it was set to open, because he had hired his marketing consultant after signing a ridiculous lease at a local shopping mall, instead of finding a low rent private location and investing his money in advertising his new product (what worked for Asda, WalMart in the UK, isn’t the model for a small startup here).

We’re working on updating our site, because, well, we keep doing new things, have new stories to tell and the way we approach advertising now is different than we did 5 years ago, or even three. Of course, the first thing we do is study our competition- just like we do for our clients. We try to find the sweet spot, the positioning that clearly makes us different. As to new mission statements, or taglines- nope, we don’t need to change them, update them, add more to them, because after 25 years in the business, we’re still The Next Wave and we still know what’s really important and can say it succinctly.

We Create Lust • Evoke Trust. And our job is to make you more money than you pay us. And, no, we don’t have to meet you in a coffee shop- we have a real office that people come to everyday- even without appointments. It has our tools of our trade- computers, printers, video and photo gear, and most importantly, our library. Come visit.

Cincinnati agency hits the big leagues! BBDO Buys Barefoot

It’s good to see one of the local agencies get recognized for doing great work, but it’s even better to see them cash out. Barefoot has been on our list of agencies that aren’t The Next Wave for a long time- however, at least for right now- they seem to be the next wave.

Cincinnati-based Agency to Become Part of BBDO’s Proximity Network

NEW YORK, JULY 14, 2008 – BBDO Worldwide announced today that it has acquired Barefoot, Cincinnati’s premier creative advertising agency. The 15-year old agency will become part of BBDO North America and a member of the Proximity Worldwide Network, BBDO’s award-winning global direct and digital marketing network.

Barefoot >> Press >> BBDO Buys Barefoot.

We’ve had a few pleasant e-mail exchanges with CCO Doug Worple- including about his iPhone data roaming charges– and to update their url, since we were one of the main sites that sent them traffic (when it comes to digital- we can still give them a run for their money).

We wish them all the best. Although, in our book- Cincinnati’s premier creative agency is The Creative Department. But, BBDO didn’t ask us.