UniquenessThere’s an old Japanese proverb: “The nail that sticks out is quickly hammered down.”  In Japanese culture, conformity is a highly desirable trait.  But in Western culture, especially here in the United States, we admire — or at least can’t ignore — the stand-outs and non-conformists like John Wayne, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, and Robin Williams.  (R.I.P. to them all.)

We admire companies that stand out as well: Apple, Starbucks, Tesla and Zappos.  In a world of computers, coffee houses, car companies and shoe brands, these firms are unique.  We like unique.  We remember unique.  Commodity companies and their products can only trade on price, but as consumers, we’re willing to spend more money on brands that are unique and that makes us feel unique for buying them.  (Think about it, the guy with the Tesla next door is probably much more interesting than the other neighbor with a 2008 Honda in the driveway.)

So getting down to brass tacks, how unique is your company?  Is your funeral home or cemetery or supply company just another standard-issue brand?  Or are you doing something that’s stand-out, that’s un-ignorable, that the competitor down the street isn’t offering?  Are you an Apple or are you a Dell, or worse, a “house brand?”

And from a marketing perspective, does your message communicate your most unique qualities?  Or is it pretty much doing what others are doing and what your audience expects?  The most grievous and costly mistake you can make is developing marketing programs and content that get ignored because they suffer from sameness. Even if they’re seen, they won’t be remembered any more than you remember any one of the hundreds of ads, commercials, billboards and online messages you were exposed to today that didn’t stir your attention.

Bland is a slippery road into obscurity and failure in today’s business world.

There’s a perceived downside, of course, in being unique.  It demands taking the risk that somebody might actually notice you and possibly react negatively. In my book, getting any reaction at all is far better than anonymity.  Besides, there isn’t one unique person, one outstanding company, or one one-of-a-kind anything that doesn’t have its share of detractors.  Some people hate the taste of Starbucks coffee or think the stores are pretentious. Some people think a Macintosh computer is way overpriced and the software doesn’t play well with other platforms.  But that doesn’t stop those companies from going their own way.  The more one makes an effort to stand out, the more likely some will take exception to what they’re doing.  And that’s fine, the way it should be.  I have one client who laughs every time they get a complaint about their unusual radio commercials because he knows then that people are hearing them and reacting, and discounts the small – but vocal – percent who gripe. It requires thick skin to be the stand-out brand, but the rewards are most welcome.

Being Unique is the first of six values we attribute to the most successful marketing campaigns. In the coming weeks, I’ll discuss the other five: Simplicity, Clarity, Surprise, Story and Experience.  But the first value, being Unique, is foremost.  Nothing else matters if you don’t stand out.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

no-sale-signAs a partner in a thriving marketing firm, one of my responsibilities is that of business development. While I learn something in each conversation with people in marketing leadership positions, many times after I hang up the phone, I say to myself, “there’s another one who’s losing sales to their competitors!”  Mainly that’s because these folks have adopted some misconception about marketing as the “truth” that they can’t and won’t let go of no matter what. So while they say they’d like their sales to be stronger, their year-over-year sales won’t change much or, in some cases, will decrease from one year to the next.

So, let’s do a quick run-through of 5 most common fallacies that I hear. Hopefully none of these sound as familiar to you as they do to me.

I can grow my sales and “share of pie” with a smaller budget than my competitors

When I hear this, it generally implies two things to me:  1) Either your competitors are wasting a big portion of their marketing budget on initiatives or messaging that doesn’t connect with the customers or, 2) your marketing partners are fantastic because they’re willing to work for less than the average market price in order to do the wonderful work they do…which I have a hard time believing is the case.  Oh, and then let’s not forget about the inability of these companies to track how much money the competitor is actually (over) spending on marketing.

The reality is this: if your company is spending a good deal less than the competition, you’re probably not making any significant gains in market share. Yes, there might be a competitor that’s overspending, but my experience working with companies from the Fortune 100 to small mom-and-pops is that you don’t pose a serious competitive threat unless your marketing budget is in the same ballpark with your competition….it’s just one of those “marketing truths.”

Marketing’s role is to generate new business

You’ll get no argument from me that one of the jobs of marketing is to generate new business, directly or indirectly.  But just as important, marketing’s role is to make existing customers come back for more, that is making customers loyal to the brand.  Many businesses are so focused on attracting new customers that they tend to ignore – or even walk away from – the existing ones. Yes, new customers are constantly needed, but truly successful companies prosper on their ability to retain the customers they’ve already acquired. The reason is simple: finding new customers is expensive and time-consuming. Let the following research statistics wash over you….

  • The cost of acquiring a new customer is estimated at 6 to 7 times what it costs to maintain a current one.
  • The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70% while many companies consider a “get new customers” campaign successful if just over 5% of the prospects contacted end up buying.

New business is always good but don’t forget who’s paying the bills.

We’re looking to be more visible with our customers because it leads to better engagement

Reaching the right balance between quality and frequency of the message requires careful consideration.  There is a common belief among some that the more we communicate with our customers, the more “engaged” they will become. In fact, not knowing when to “zip it” is a classic marketing mistake that too many marketing people make. If marketing is about building relationships with customers, over-marketing, or the wrong kind of marketing, is the best way to kill the relationship and send the customer or prospect heading for the door.  A social engagement study entitled “The Social Breakup” prepared by ExactTarget, provides clear evidence of what happens to customer relationships when the marketer comes on too strong:

  • 91% of consumers have unsubscribed from permission-based marketing emails
  • 81% of consumers have either “unliked” or removed a company’s posts from their Facebook.

Guess the biggest reason people break up with companies? (Drum roll)…Too much marketing. The study showed that:

  • 54% of consumers unsubscribe when emails come too frequently;
  • 63% of customers have “unliked” a company on Facebook due to excessive postings.

In short, increasing the frequency of communication shouldn’t be your marketing goal. Constantly improving content quality should be.

We don’t need a marketing firm because we can do it in-house for less

It’s the #1 thing I hear the most. A survey conducted by American Express Canada shows that “84% of small business owners say branding is important to overall business success, but only 14% hire third-party experts to help with branding.” I am not surprised by the results, and I can only guess the reasons: agency expense, the desire to have full control over the creative process, poor prior experience with an agency, or possibly the ability to make changes faster on one’s own. So, instead of looking for an outside marketing partner, many companies decide to hire a “marketing person” who wears many hats: graphic designer, social media specialist, copywriter, etc. Let’s be honest, no marketer can be a specialist in everything, unless the company is willing to cut corners on how it presents itself to the world.

Now please understand, I’m not trying to bash the in-house marketing department as there are a lot of smart and talented people out there working for companies. Rather, my point is this: the right outside marketing partner will bring a focus to the marketing initiatives or project, resulting in faster execution time; will come in with an original point of view – more in line with how your customer will interpret the messaging; develop much fresher creative (no “vanilla” wallpaper stuff that gets passed over), and; deliver a much higher level of production quality. Try this on for size: open up 5 trade or consumer magazines and tag 10 ads that stop you in your tracks… ones that convey a strong value proposition, ones that you wish your firm had done! My completely biased but nevertheless absolutely accurate guess is that all nearly all of those ads you tagged were created by a marketing firm or advertising agency.

We’re looking for something beyond traditional marketing because that kind of advertising is dead

The internet is chock full of  advice on how your company should abandon traditional “old school” communication methods and make the switch to online. It would seem like TV, print ads, billboards, and radio are dying and not worth considering in the overall communication strategy.  Yet, research (and lots of it) says this is an incorrect assumption. I think we can agree that the best marketing communication strategy uses a mix of offline and online tactics to reach the target audience. (Do yourself a favor and visit http://www.marketingcharts.com and subscribe –it’s free. Here you’ll get daily research updates on a wide range of topics including how traditional channels are preferred over digital depending on the audience.)


While it’s true that more money is shifting towards digital, the traditional marketing channels are still heavily required in many business environments.  That’s especially true if you’re reaching the 50-plus-year-old Baby Boomer. In fact, when Google started getting serious competition, they started running…wait for it…TV ads!  When Dollar Shave Club saw that their growth was limited by only online marketing, they started using those old, traditional channels that have in turn made them a rising star company.  When you need to reach a mass audience quickly and effectively, there’s still no substitute for paid media…and even the dot-coms know it.  Think about this, in 2014, the average cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad was more than $4 million. No CEO or Marketing Director would ever approve such a budget without taking ROI into account, right?

So as I noted earlier, hopefully none of these sound familiar to you. But if on the other hand you’ve heard or said one of these things in the past, know that a lot of confusion, frustration and unrealistic expectations can be eliminated by seeing the world through a different set of lenses.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.


Marvin SmWe’ve all had an experience with those finance/accounting types who drive us crazy, requiring that any and all marketing initiatives be measured and that we justify our expenses.  More times than not, we spend lots of time trying to come up with metrics that will satisfy them. But in doing so, as marketers we sometimes come up short in the mind of the finance guys and then you hear things like: “Marketing just doesn’t understand numbers!”  Alternatively, Marketing Directors, say things like: “Finance doesn’t know what good marketing can do for our brand, it’s not just about spreadsheets.”

With all due respect to the marketing people, I’d like to put it out there that maybe a majority of the problem doesn’t always start and end with the financial folks. How’s that?  Well, sometimes, it seems as if the marketing people and the finance people are just talking two different languages. Certainly, each has a different “world view” of business.  For example…

We talk a lot about strategy and forget about tactics. 

Because of the sexiness associated with Strategy, we marketers like to call almost everything we do “strategic.”  In fact, almost every component of marketing now seems to have its own strategy: Online strategy. Social media strategy. PR strategy. CRM strategy. And it just keeps on going. Well, for the folks in finance & accounting, there’s a critical difference between a strategy and a tactic!  The word “tactics” in their minds is immediate, all about bringing in income sooner rather than later.  “Strategy” to them is more about a longer-term income stream that won’t likely show up on next quarter’s P&L statement. So, if tactics and strategy play different roles in ROI, and all we do talk about “strategy,” maybe the CFO is right to wonder if what we do will ever positively affect the bottom line? And when?

More times than we should, we build high expectations and then deliver less than startling results.

Too often, marketers jump on the latest fad and technological ‘’silver bullet’ and declare that this is the answer we’ve all been waiting for.  Some people in marketing are too quick to buy into what others are doing, even if it doesn’t actually makes sense for the industry or company.  Especially within funeral profession.  For example, five years ago, there were people writing books, blogs and commentaries telling everyone who would listen that because of the internet, brick and mortar businesses would decline and that we’d all be working virtually by now. How has that turned out?!  I’m not suggesting that as marketers we sandbag the anticipated results for any marketing effort or campaign we’re launching, but we do need to watch just how rosy a picture gets painted, because the numbers people will hold us accountable to the expectations we establish.

We spend almost no time developing relationships with “those people in Finance.”

When I started in the Marketing Department of a large Fortune 100 organization, the first piece of advice I received from my boss (who had my job before being promoted) was “go and make friends with the people in Finance.”  “Making friends” were the key words because that’s when things start to happen.  It’s amazing when marketing and finance people begin having lunch together and start to understand how each department sees the world. When was the last time you saw marketing people explain the rationale behind their plans, develop some semblance of what the company can expect in the ways of meaningful metrics, give details and defend the realities behind the timelines, or justify the amount of work it takes to make a concept real and attractive in the marketplace?  In short, by figuring how to work with one another, communicate with one another, and then look for ways to help one another, everyone can feel better with what the Marketing Department is doing.

So, do marketers need to talk the language of finance? Or do finance people need to become more fluent in marketing?  Or is it somewhere in between? And how do we get there?

Well, how does this sound as a starting point: When we marketers talk to our customers and prospects, we’re supposed to speak to them in a language that they understand – one that’s meaningful and beneficial to them. Maybe we should try talking to those Finance People the same way. That could bridge a gap that may help the marketing department – and your company – turn the corner.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

iStock_000009381830SmallWhen you consider the brands Reebok, Converse and New Balance, you think about athletic shoes.  But when you think about Nike, you think about runners, golfers and basketball players – even street dancers – pushing for their personal best.

When you think about Dell, HP, or Lenovo, you think about computers.  But when you consider Apple, you think about designers, musicians and all the cool things your Mac, or  iPhone or iPad lets you do.

Why the difference between brands like Nike or Apple and everybody else?

Effective branding isn’t about what you sell, but about what people buy and what motivates them deep inside.

If you’re a funeral home, for instance, what you may sell are things like funeral arrangements, transportation, cremation, memorial products, and assorted containers for the remains.  But what the family wants to buy are things like getting past the pain as quickly as possible, remembering all the good stuff, having the support of loved ones and friends, and justifying the expense…or their thrift.

The connection between what you sell and what people want to buy might be called your brand “vision.”

When a company’s brand vision aligns with the customer’s vision – or better yet, triggers the customer’s vision – the cash register rings.  Nike and Apple don’t so much outspend their competitors; they are much better at expressing their brand vision.  It’s the vision that their customers buy, and the commodities they produce are simply the fulfillment of their visions.

A case example from outside the funeral industry to make the point:  We had a client who makes batteries, chargers and cases for video cameras, still cameras, cell phones and other personal electronics.  So naturally, they saw themselves in the accessories manufacturing business.  And so did their customers, including their retailers.  But once we saw how good their products were and how they really enhanced the gadgets they were meant to accessorize, we proposed for them a new brand vision.  “You’re not in the accessories business,” we said.  “You’re in the Higher-Performance business!”  Their super-fast cell phone chargers weren’t just chargers, they actually extended the value and performance of the buyers’ cell phones.  From that point on, we treated the brand as the “Performance Products” company that accelerated one’s pleasure in their cell phones, cameras, etc. It changed the game and created a brand vision customers could align themselves with, and the company sales proved it.

An example from within the funeral industry:  An old and practically forgotten cemetery was losing business year after year to their newer competitors. But when we discovered the great number of historical figures buried there, including the town’s own namesake, we created a new brand vision for the cemetery as an exciting, “living” historical treasure, filled with the stories of trailblazing pioneers, cowboy shootouts, corrupt city marshals, and celebrated politicians.  A new logo added the word “Historic” to their name, the ads read like storybooks, free historic tours were conducted, and the city named t
he property a “Historic Place.”  The call-to-action for new memorial property was the invitation to “Be a Part of History.”  The downward spiral of sales stopped and reversed within a year of the campaign launch.  All because audiences buy into a vision more readily than into a sales message.

What is your brand vision?  Can you articulate it clearly?  Does everybody else on staff share that vision?  And is it uniquely yours?  If your brand vision is not clear, simple, unique and compelling, it’s time to re-think your brand.

Because if your customers don’t connect to your brand vision, you’re not much more to them than a commodity. And that’s a vision nobody wants.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

business armyOh, the wonder of beautifully crafted taglines. Those few strategically selected words that sum up everything your business stands for and what you want your target audience to know about you. They’ve made companies fortunes by telling people what makes them stand out in the sea of sameness. Consider FedEx’s brilliant “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Nine simple words that tell FedEx buyers precisely what they’re going to get, while simultaneously informing all of its employees what their mission is. What if FedEx’s slogan was “We ship things fast!”?  Would Nike have been as successful had it allowed an executive committee to red-pencil “Just do it” into “When you need great running shoes”?  How would BMW’s vision have changed if “The Ultimate Driving Machine” had become “Our cars are fun to drive!”?  My point is that these companies didn’t settle for weak platitudes or vague, generalized statements that could have applied to their competitors.  Nope, they decided that they weren’t going to settle. Instead standing out and differentiating themselves was business-critical. Can the same be said for your company and its marketing?  Do you have a theme line or slogan that makes you stand out?  Is it unique and memorable?  Or is it mediocre because somewhere down the line, people settled?

Let’s face it, we have a tendency to settle.  Or pick the first “right” answer.  It’s almost human nature. We settle for something that’s not just quite ideal, an outfit that isn’t our absolutely best look, a job that doesn’t maximize our talents, or an ad or website page that’s okay or just “good enough.” While the act of compromise in life, relationships and particularly conflict is an admirable trait, compromise or “settling for” in marketing is a death knell.

The whole point of your marketing activities is to get noticed, get engaged with your audience, and have your efforts be acted upon to bring in the business.  Alternatively, anonymity, swimming in the center of a school of other fish, may be a good survival tactic if you are an anchovy, but it is not a good survival tactic for business.  So you have to wonder why so much marketing – and so many marketers – feel the need to play follow-the-leader with respect to marketing trends.

The logic is that if others have done something successfully, you just need to do the same thing. Well, maybe. And then again, maybe not.  As we all know, breakthrough products and breakthrough marketing campaigns are not achieved through conformity. Note the word “break” in breakthrough.  These are the products and campaigns that break the rules.  These are the products and campaigns that use insight, intuition, experience, sensitivity to the marketplace – and arguably the most important thing….courage – to do things differently. To break away from the status quo.  And for anything that has to do with marketing funeral products and services to consumers, the need is greatest.

It is certainly true that most companies don’t have that innate insight and courage to be successfully different.  We can’t all be like Steve Jobs. But for those are willing to do things differently and well, for those who want their companies to stand out, then the only rule that matters is:  You cannot achieve exceptional success through conformity.

To that end, you can have your brand and product/service stand out if you’re willing to take a risk. For starters, ask yourself these three questions:

1. What’s can you say about your organization, or its products or services that’s seen as a unique, fresh alternative to your competitors?  Think beyond the obvious. Dig deeper. Ask yourself a bunch of “So what does that mean?” and “Why would our customer care?” with each answer that’s given.

2. What medium makes the most sense for your brand?  The goal is to create a campaign that drives conversation and ultimately revenue. So what imaginative or different ways should be explored and implemented? Look at all the possible media selections there are today (while considering which audiences consume which media most) and think about how you could maximize the channel inventively.

3. How will you execute your campaign?  Don’t risk looking amateurish or waste money by trying to save money.  Be big with a Big Idea, even if it means that some people will dislike it.  (Do you think everybody loved “Got Milk?” when it was first presented? Bad English, negative tone, no benefit.)  Dare to be outrageous and unexpected. Sameness never gets noticed or acted upon. If you have to go outside to find talented solutions, do it.  But, for gosh sakes, don’t settle for an uninspired idea.

Clearly, whether it is investing in advertising, developing more creativity, spending the time to follow-up or making the effort to engage with your customers, smart business requires that you elevate your marketing past the point of blah to Wow.  Just as winning athletes don’t settle, you have to go all-out to win in the race for more customers and a stronger bottom line.   Reaching for brilliance every time is the key.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn.See agency work via this link.

Clients GetOne of the peculiar things about my profession (advertising) is that there are a lot of sayings, such as “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes,” and “Let’s see if the dogs will eat the dog food.”  One saying that floats around a lot is “Clients get the advertising they deserve.”  It turns out that this is really quite a truism.  On the whole, clients do get the advertising they deserve, for better or worse.  In well over 30 years of doing this, I remember all the clients who gave us room to experiment, the freedom to make mistakes without blame, and the sharing of the rewards of success, and it should come as no surprise, we joyfully broke our backs for them day in and day out to do our very best work on their behalf.

Further, I can recall the clients who questioned every decision we made, pointed fingers when problems arose, whether large or small, often gave us the headlines or pictures they wanted us to use, or insisted that the daughter of the CEO be in every ad.  Well, I have to admit, it’s hard to put your heart into your work when the client keeps the agency operating in a state of fear.  Worse, it isn’t just the quality of work that suffers, it’s the effectiveness.

Interestingly, in both cases, good and bad, the outcome had almost nothing at all to do with the size of the marketing budget.  And it had nothing to do with the client industry.  Some of my very best clients – and subsequently, my very best work – have come from within the funeral profession.

So how do YOU deserve and receive the very best advertising and marketing?  Simply, pick the very best marketing partner you can, provide them all the information and tools they need to deal with the assigned marketing challenges, inspire them to do their best work and then step aside and let them work the problem.  Sounds easy.  But it’s often tough, since trust is hardly ever handed out for free.

Here are a few pointers, and they apply whether you use a marketing agency, a design firm, a website developer or a freelance creative team (I’ll refer to them all as “agency”):

  • Agree with your agency in writing what the objective of every project should be, i.e., increased calls, more website visits, lead generation, greater brand awareness, etc.  Agree to the price, timeline and deliverables, also in writing.
  • Minimize the number of people on your end who will work with the agency day-to-day.  In the case of multiple layers of staffing, it’s best for one executive on each side to be in contact with each other and one “administrative” person on each end doing the same thing at their level.
  • Keep the agency away from your internal committees. Too many voices confuses the agency or, worse, makes them feel as if they’re sitting in a tribunal.  Remember another old adage: “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.”  If you do want your agency to present to a committee, do it after you’ve already approved their direction.
  • Allow the agency the room to come up with a different solution than one you might have selected on your own.  Presumably you’ve hired them for their expertise, talents and integrity, so now you need to trust them.  Otherwise, you’re “keeping the dog but doing the barking yourself,” as legendary adman David Ogilvy eloquently put it.
  • Similar to the previous point, appreciate the difference between style and substance. It’s tempting to want to reword a piece of agency copy to be more in the fashion you’d say it (or your grammar teacher).  But let it go; that’s style.  On the other hand, if a line of text misstates a fact or isn’t addressing the marketing issue, that’s a matter of substance. Gently direct the agency thusly.  If the agency prefers a brunette model in the layout and you think the blonde with the glasses looks more appropriate, allow the agency the right to choose.  On the other hand, if the agency wants to change your logo which affects your brand equity, speak right up.
  • Involve your agency in your company.  Bring them into sales meetings.  Take them on site visits. Invite them to your company’s holiday parties.  Make them feel like family.  You’ll develop in them a level of loyalty and commitment you never expected.
  • No matter what your budget, don’t chisel the agency. Be as generous as possible. That way, they’ll never feel that the relationship is just about money, which can be as demoralizing as anything else I’ve mentioned.  And pay them quickly, since it’s likely their cash flow is farther out on the edge than your own.  (We pay our suppliers often before we get their invoices and in return we always get their best work!)
  • Finally, allow your agency the right to blow it once in a while.  Nobody’s perfect and nobody’s right all the time. Even Steve Jobs and Walt Disney had a clunker or two.  Keep your agency inspired, keep them feeling appreciated, and look at the trend before you decide what your next move will be.

I love quoting Robert Townsend, the president of Avis Rent-A-Car who led the company’s growth during their glory days.  He sent a note to all his marketing department employees that read, in excerpt:

1. Avis will never know as much about advertising as (our agency) and they will never know as much about the rent-a-car business as Avis.

2. The purpose of the advertising is to persuade the frequent business renter (whether on a business trip, a vacation trip, or renting an extra car at home) to try Avis.

3. A serious attempt will be made to create advertising with five times the effectiveness (see #2 above) of the competition’s advertising.

4. To this end, Avis will approve or disapprove, not try to improve, ads which are submitted. Any changes suggested by Avis must be grounded on a material operating defect (a wrong uniform for example).

5. To this end, (our agency) will only submit for approval those ads which they as an agency recommend. They will not “see what Avis thinks of this one.”


With Townsend’s client-agency relationship mandate steering the marketing, Avis’s “Number 2 Tries Harder” campaign became one of the best-known, best-remembered campaigns of all time and boosted the company’s business multi-fold.

I cannot think of a more succinct guide to client-agency relations than that.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn.See agency work via this link.


16810MadmenIn the funeral profession, perhaps more than in other industries, the companies who work with outside advertising agencies and independent marketing professionals are relatively few.  As a result, most businesses who go “outside” for the first time don’t yet know what they don’t know, and that can limit their best chances for success.  Even those who have worked with agencies or independent professionals before can easily fall into certain traps that may lead to potential upsets with respect to sales or personalities.  We’ve seen and experienced both.

So in the spirit of wanting you to get the very most from your marketing efforts, I am beginning a short series of articles having to do with selecting, working with and nurturing the relationship you have with your outside marketing team.  I’ll refer to these outside professionals as your “agency,” but it could just as easily be a design firm, free-lance copy & art team, or a web developer.

Let’s start with selecting your agency.

So, WHY go outside in the first place?  After all, who knows more about your business than you do, right?  The answer is two-fold.  First, you probably didn’t go to school to learn graphic design, public relations, copywriting, marketing strategy and media buying.  So whatever marketing you have learned, you’ve acquired on your own, which can lead to an incomplete or even erroneous perspective.  A marketing agency is filled with people who have studied their craft, honed their talents, experienced the effects of their efforts across a wide range of client industries, and live solely to see their marketing expertise pay off for their clients.  For the same reason you wouldn’t be expected to know the law as well as your lawyer, or tax codes as well as your accountant, you aren’t expected to be as experienced in the art and science of marketing nearly as much as those who do this as a career day-in and day-out.  Second, it’s nearly impossible to turn your own eyeballs inward.  An agency brings the necessary objectivity to your marketing in the same way your audience does.  The agency’s job is to communicate your story through the eyes and ears of your customers, who aren’t nearly as biased toward your business as you are. That’s why they may not drink your Kool-Aid as quickly as you do and may approach the marketing challenges from a perspective that could feel quite foreign (or even wrong) from your point of view.  So talent, experience and objectivity are the real reasons you should consider going outside.  Marketing dollars are hard enough to come by without wasting any of it through do-it-yourself efforts.

Once you’ve decided to seek “professional help,” how then do you go about selecting the best team to bring fresh solutions to your enterprise?

The great adman, David Ogilvy, wrote that the best way to choose and agency is to look at advertising you envy and reach out to the agencies that created it.  If there is no conflict of interest, if they’re not currently working for your direct competitors, you should talk to them.  It doesn’t really matter if they’re not heavily experienced in funeral marketing.  Every agency has clients whose industries they had to learn about the first time, and even then, every company within an industry has its unique audiences and marketing challenges.  There will always be a learning curve for the agency no matter who you choose.  Until our first cemetery client, we had never done anything in the death-care space, and yet we increased their pre-need business better than 22% the first year.  So reach out beyond your own “comfort zone,” simply look at great ads and marketing ideas you wish you’d have thought of, and then talk to the folks who actually did think of them.

Next, interview the key players in the agency.  Find out what drives them, what makes their work successful, and how they’d get up to speed with your business.  Ask them about their failures as well.  Every agency has failures and you’ll learn a lot about them from whether or not they fess up, or cast the blame on others, and how they responded when the failures occurred.  Ask about their resources.  They don’t need to have a huge staff, but they should be able to provide you whatever capabilities you need in a timely and cost-effective fashion.  And, of course, personalities do play into it.  Is the chemistry good?  Are they a good fit with the people they’ll be working with on your end?

As you do this, think about how much or how little you’ll need from the agency, and for how long.  Many relationships work well in a retainer arrangement wherein the agency is acting as your ongoing marketing department, doing everything a good in-house marketing team would do, only under someone else’s roof.  The cost of hiring an agency on retainer may actually be cheaper than hiring an experienced marketing director in-house, while having the entire agency’s wealth of resources at your disposal.  On the other hand, if you’re not in need of strategic guidance and are only looking to create an ad campaign, produce a new website or re-design your logo – in other words, specific projects – it may be more advantageous to work on a project-by-project basis.  The fundamental difference is how pro-active you want your agency to be on your behalf.  Some marketers need strategic help, others only tactics.

Notice that I’ve not yet discussed money.  That should be the last thing you talk about before you hire the team.  If all else is good, trust me, you’ll work the money part of it out.  But basing your selection of an agency on money too early in the review limits you from hopefully finding the goose that lays the golden egg.

Oh, about the title of this post, that’s also a famous line from David Ogilvy.  It means that if you do bring an agency on to help with your marketing, make sure that once the goals, benchmarks and budgets are set, you allow them as much room as possible to operate with the most minimal direction or supervision.  You shouldn’t have to do their work for them, while at the same time, you should trust that they know marketing as well as you know your own business.

But much more on that in my next installment in which I’ll talk about the care and feeding of your agency so they can be the best they can and do the best they can all for your benefit.  Stay tuned…


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn.See agency work via this link.


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