What kind of ad agency is right for you?

What kind of ad agency is right for you?

How do you find the right agency for your business? Well, it starts out knowing enough about advertising to know that their are different approaches to advertising and different agencies approach problems differently.

Justin Oberman is a prolific poster on Linkedin and is teaching an ad history class for AdHouseNYC, this is his summary of the main strains of agencies.

If you are looking for an advertising agency or a job in an ad agency, it’s essential to understand the different kinds.
Because no matter how much an agency says it reinvented the model, when you study advertising history, you discover that there are essentially five different types of ad agencies.

  • Bill Bernbach-type agencies.
  • Rosser Reeves-type agencies
  • Leo Burnett-type agencies
  • David Ogilvy-type agencies
  • And Howard Gossage-type agencies

Here’s a breakdown:
Bill Bernbach Agencies
• Advertising is an art form
• Focused on persuasion.
• Creative Idea Driven
• Entertainment over repetition
• Believes humans make decisions based on emotions.
• Every ad is based on human truths
• Idols: Bernbach, Droga
• Example: Erich and Kallman
Rosser Reeves (Ted Bates) Agencies
• Advertising is a science.
• Focused on the hard sell.
• Data-Driven
• Repetition over entertainment
• Believes humans make rational decisions
• Every ad is wrapped around a “unique selling proposition.”
• Idols: Data. They also have no idea who Rosser Reeves is.
• Example: Any good digital DR agency
Leo Burnett Agencies
• Advertising is symbolism.
• Focused on simplicity.
• Archetype driven
• Drama over cleverness
• Believes in the down-to-earth, wide-eyed perspective of Midwesterners
• Every ad is based on finding the inherent drama in the product
• Idols: Themselves as regular people
• Example: W+K or Any “branding agency.”
David Ogilvy Agencies fall somewhere in between.
• Advertising is capitalism
• Focused on selling or else
• Benefit-Driven
• Classy over entertaining
• Believes humans are led by emotion but justify it with reason
• Every ad is based on a product benefit interestingly told
• Idolis: Themselves as the creatively rational ones.
• Example: Mekanism, Note: Most agencies think they are Ogilvy-like agencies. But they are rarer than you think
The Howard Gossage Agency
• Advertising is propaganda
• Focused on solving problems
• P.R-Driven
• Less advertising over more advertising
• Keep it simple. Make it exciting. Believes humans want to have a good time
• Every ad is based on a conversation
• Idol: As Rory Sutherland put it: Gossage is the Velvet Underground to David Ogilvy’s Beatles and Bill Bernbach’s Rolling Stones. Not a household name, but to the cognoscenti, a lot more inspirational and influential.”
• Example: Mischief @ No Fixed Address, Anomaly, The early days of Crispin Porter Bogusky, Generalists
None of these types of agencies are better than any other.
All of them serve an essential purpose for every brand.
But none of them can truly be all of them.
Happiness in this industry is knowing where you belong.
Happiness as a client is knowing which one you need.

Some agencies can be hybrids- falling into more than one category.The Next Wave tends to fall into a cross between the brand driven symbolic style of Leo Burnett style crossed with the Howard Gossage problem solving propaganda. We aim to help our clients find a voice, and use it efficiently to convey their magic mojo in the marketplace

One of the latest trends is clients looking for a “Digital agency” which is an absurd ask. There are no agencies doing paste up, or shooting ads on film. We’re all digital, what the client is thinking is a media targeting strategy that relies on programmatic ad buying and search engine marketing. That’s all well and fine, but, if your message isn’t working, no amount of digital wizardry is going to solve your problems.

Learn about the different types of agencies- and then find one you can build a good long term relationship with. That’s been the best kept secret in advertising since Steve Jobs met Lee Clow or Phil Knight met Dan Wieden and David Kennedy. It takes time for any good agency to learn your business and fully understand your customers.

David Ogilvy: “I am a lousy copywriter” and how do you pick a good one?

As I sit at home, writing this post (too many interruptions at the office) I realize that when clients are choosing an ad agency, many have no clue on what they are really choosing. In most cases, the overworked and under-recognized copywriters aren’t given a whole lot of thought. One of the first questions for the creative director/CEO/President/Chief Creative officer is to find out where they started in the agency business? The answers should tell you a lot about the agency- if it’s a former copywriter or art director the agency focus will probably be on great creative, if it’s an account planner- strategy may be their lead strength, if it’s a finance person- run, and if it’s a account executive/bag man/sales professional- I’m sure the presentation will be charming.

When it comes to the giants of advertising- and the guy you would want running your ad agency, David Ogilvy belongs on the  top of the list. Even though the book is dated, I required all employees to read “Ogilvy on Advertising” for the first 20 years of The Next Wave. I still recommend it- but instead want them to read the excellent “Hey Whipple, Squeze this” by my friend Luke Sullivan first. Ogilvy was a brilliant writer and a consummate ad guy. He understood that you had to eat, sleep and breathe your product in order to do it justice. One of the requirements for working at Crispin Porter + Bogusky according to their employee handbook is that you are an ad person. Ad people are tuned into everything about the business- what accounts are where- and who is doing great work. If you aren’t an ad person you have a job- if you are one- you have a career.

When I stumbled upon this letter from David Ogilvy I knew things hadn’t changed much in the world of advertising. Great ads comes from people who immerse themselves in the work. It may be your most important indicator of what kind of agency you are about to hire:

Source: The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners;

April 19, 1955

Dear Mr. Calt:

On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see:

  1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.
  2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.
  3. I am helpless without research material—and the more “motivational” the better.
  4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.
  5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down ever conceivable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.
  6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.
  7. At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.
  8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.
  9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.
  10. The next morning I get up early and edit the gush.
  11. Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.
  12. I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.

Altogether it is a slow and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.

Yours sincerely, D.O.

via Letters of Note: I am a lousy copywriter.

The humility of Ogilvy’s letter is quaint. I’ve met other great copywriters and they’ve run the gamut in personality traits, but generally everyone of them is fascinating and perfectly capable of doing many different things. However, I’d beware of those who are really frustrated authors- because if you are writing ads to pay the freight while working on the “great American novel” you probably aren’t really an ad person.

If you are an aspiring copywriter, see number 6 and realize 20 is a low number these days. Another great copywriter who I’ve had the pleasure of working with, Sally Hogshead once wrote 800 headlines for her client, BMW Motorcycles. So get writing.

The other key is to write daily. The day you run out of ideas is the day you die if you are a real copywriter. Blogs make it much easier than it was in David Ogilvy’s day to test your writing chops and get feedback. Real copywriters can’t stop writing- which may explain why I’m sitting at home, writing this post on a Saturday afternoon.