3 ways to get better work from your advertising agency

I believe that all else being equal, an advertising agency can only be as good as their client enables them to be.

So here are the top 3 things I have learnt over the years that you can do as a client to improve the chances of your agency producing the best work possible.

1. Its called a brief for a reason

The biggest mistake you can make is giving your agency a brief that is pages long, with no clear idea of what you are trying to communicate, basically because you want to be all things to all people.

This results in crap advertising, that people will ignore, as it is not single minded.

Your job as a marketing manager is to take all the information you have at your disposal, and boil it down into one single sentence outlining what you want to communicate. This is called convergent thinking.

Your agency then takes this single sentence and engages in divergent thinking, coming up with the most creative way to get your single sentence across to consumers.

Don’t believe me?

Check out the single sentence Cadbury UK gave to their agency Fallon, to come up with the Cannes winning Cadbury Gorilla campaign

“The Dairy Milk chocolate bar is nothing but a simple piece of joy in people’s lives, so why not let its advertising reflect that?”

The result, a Gorilla passionately drumming to Phil Collins on behalf of “A glass and a half full productions”. On brief? Definitely.

This single sentence approach dramatically increases the quality of work your agency can produce.

If you don’t engage in convergent thinking, you will most likely end up in a concept presentation something like the video below. 

2. Great work takes time

There is a theory that time pressure leads to the most creative thinking.

This may be true in some cases, but in most cases it results in underdeveloped campaigns.

I think some of the best campaigns I have been involved in is where we have engaged my agencies up to 6 months prior to campaign launch.

As a client I know it is very rare that you are able to do this, but when you can you will reap the rewards of better work.

But don’t just take my word for it. Take this year’s stand out campaign as an example.

The Best Job in the World campaign by Cummins Nitro for Tourism Queensland, took 18 months from concept to campaign launch.

This was mostly because they wanted to wait for the Northern Hemisphere winter to launch the campaign for a job in paradise.

Imagine the guts it would have taken the client and agency to sit on that campaign!

But they were right to wait, on day one the site had more hits than Google UK. Check out the video below for a case study on this incredible campaign.

3. Avoid scope creep

There is a concept in the project management world known as “scope creep”.

This is where you take on more work than the initial agreed scope, often resulting in blown budgets, extended timelines, and poor quality of work.

In advertising, scope creep often comes about following concept presentation, when the client wants to add more and more “mandatory” things to the ad, be it copy or logos or whatever.

But in most cases this just clutters up the ad and reduces effectiveness. Check out the videos below for examples of scope creep in action.

Scope creep usually comes about due to the client having to get the work signed off by multiple stakeholders, many who have not been involved in the briefing, and often because they want to “add value” to justify their sign off.

The classic line that every agency hates to hear is:

“This is approved with the following changes…”

The best way to avoid this is to involve all stakeholders upfront and get them to sign off on the brief, and if possible have them in the room for the concept presentation. That way they get to hear the concept as it was intended straight from the creative’s mouth, and get to discuss their feedback directly.

If all else fails, the line that I often bring out to try to avoid scope creep is as follows:

“Advertising is about subtraction not addition”

(I can’t seem to find who this quote is from – if you know please tell me!)


I have to put my hand up at this stage and say that I haven’t always been able to follow my own advice.

It is incredibly difficult to follow these rules especially in a large corporation.

But what I do know is that when you are able to follow them, you give yourself the best chance of developing an award-winning campaign.

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Categories: Advertising


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