A client’s view on what makes a great Advertising agency

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

It seems that clients are firing ad agencies very quickly these days.  

I’m half way old enough that I’m straddling the fence on whether agencies are as good as the old days. But it seems that there are pitches going on constantly, and yet no one is really wanting to look themselves the mirror and say “Am I part of the problem?”

I’ve been brought in a few times to look at the situation. The first thing I normally tell the Brand Leader is “you have to fire yourself first” and then see if the agency is still bad. The best clients respect the process, the agency and their own judgment. And yet, most Brand Leaders under-estimate the role the client plays in getting to great creative. As a Brand Leader, if you knew that showing up better would get you better advertising, do you think you could?  If there are 100 steps in every advertising development stage and you show up OK at each step, how are you possibly thinking you’ll end up with a GREAT ad at the end?  

What makes for a great Advertising Agency?

I come at this from the vantage of a client, having spent 20 years working as a Brand Leader.  I’m not an Ad Agency guy,but I’ve seen some great agencies and some not so good.  Here is my list of what makes a great Agency:

  1. They work for you, not your boss. While your boss pays them and has the final say, the best agencies still know you are the client. Nothing worse than a client service person constantly trying to go above your head. The best way for an agency to earn your trust is to consistently demonstrate that they work for you. That trust will earn them a seat, along side you, at the table of your boss. You will know they have your back and will support your recommendation, not cave at the whim of your boss.    
  2. They understand your goals, your issues and your strategies. They write briefs that are on your brand strategy and deliver work that expresses your brand strategy. Yes, the modern agency struggles to write advertising strategies that align to the Brand’s strategy. Just as though clients are not trained enough in the areas of strategy and planning, I see the same thing on the Agency side. As margins are squeezed, the first casualty is strategic planning. Yet, that might be one of the most important. I’d prefer to have a great strategic planner on the brand than have 5 client services people each show up taking notes at meetings.  
  3. They make work that drives demand and sells more widgets, not work that just win awards. Awards are part of the agency world–helping to motivate creative people and establishing the agency reputation in the market. I once had an agency person say: “we can’t write that strategy because it will make for boring work”. The balance of winning awards and selling more widgets always has to side with selling more widgets. I’m really tired of agencies starting off creative meetings with the “we are so excited” line. You want an agency that comes into a room and says “we have an ad for you that will sell more of your product”.  
  4. They give options. And they don’t always 100% agree. Come on agencies. We are in year 100 of making ads and you haven’t figured out yet that the clients like options. Each option has to deliver the strategy. Nothing worse than agencies who tear apart the brief and deliver options for each part of the brief. (e.g. here’s one for the younger audience, here’s one that does fast really well and here’s one that does long-lasting) That’s not creative options, that’s now strategic options.Marketing Execution 2016.025 We collectively decide on the strategy before the creative process begins, not meander the strategy during the creative process. As clients, options give us comfort. But even more importantly, options treat us with respect that we can still make the right decision.  
  5. Agencies are not territorial. They are transparent allowing you open and free access to their planners and creative people. It’s really the account people here. Good account people allow you to communicate directly with the creative team. Most great creative teams that I have worked with want direct access to the client, rather than have it be filtered through a series of contact reports.  
  6. They adjust and easily take feedback. Agencies serve at the pleasure of the client. Every client is unique and the best agencies adjust to that style. Not only the company but even the individual. I used to sit with my Account leader every quarter and go through how we can each get better. Some clients aren’t even doing annual agency performance reviews.  
  7. They are positive and already motivated to work on your brand. While I do encourage clients to motivate their agencies, it’s much easier to motivate someone who is already motivated.  When I see a 25-year old account person openly complaining, I see that as a problem with the culture of the agency, not a problem for the client to have to figure out. I’m now on the service side as a consultant, and we can never openly complain.  
  8. They teach. When I was a new Brand Manager, my client services person (Leslie Boscheratto) taught me more about advertising than any client should have to learn. In fact, I’m still embarrassed at how little I knew, yet thrilled at how much I learned from that team at Bates back in the mid 90s.  
  9. They act like you are their only client. And you feel important to them, no matter what share your budget is of the overall agency. Why sign you up as a client and then keep reminding you that they have Coke, Budweiser or Dove. When you are with me, treat me as though I’m the most important client in the world.  
  10. Trusted Advisor: They are a trusted advisor who will give you real advice, not just on advertising but on your performance and on the overall brand.  Most senior agency folks have seen plenty of clients come and go. Never be afraid to find a quiet moment with your agency person and ask two simple questions: “what can I do better” and “what do your best clients do that I could learn from”.

You’ll notice the one thing missing from my list is “They Make Great Work”.  That’s a given because that’s the only reason you hire an agency. Yes, some agencies make better work than others. But even those agencies that make great work, also make bad work. And if we were to look at why, it would likely start with the relationship, processes or interactions. So if the client can fix what they are doing wrong and the agency can show up right, then you should be able to make good work together.  

Making great advertising should be simple, but it is very hard to do. 

Here’s a presentation on How to get better Marketing Execution

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. 

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

To contact us, email us at graham@beloved-brands.com or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands

Beloved Brands Graham Robertson

How to Express your Brand’s Big IDEA through Great Advertising

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

In an earlier article we big-idea-1talked about creating your Brand’s Big Idea and using it to drive every inch of your organization. The Big Idea should drive every activity and every function.  To read more on how to come up with the Big Idea and how to leverage it throughout, click on:  How your Brand’s Big Idea should drive every part of your Organization

Once you have your Big Idea, you should then use it to frame the 5 different connectors needed to set up a very strong bond between your brand and your consumers.


Brands are able to generate love for their brand when the consumer does connect with the brand. I wish everyone would stop debating what makes a great brand and realize that all five connectors matter: promise, strategy, story, innovation and experience. The first connector is the Brand Promise, which connects when the brand’s main Benefit matches up to the needs of consumers.  Once knowing that promise, everything else feeds off that Promise.  For Volvo the promise is Safety, for Apple it is Simplicity and FedEx it might be Reliability.  It’s important to align your Strategy and Brand Story pick the best ways to communicate the promise, and then aligning your Innovation and the Experience so that you deliver to the promise.  

Slide1Beloved brands can tell the brand story through great advertising in paid media, through earned media either in the mainstream press or through social media.  Beloved Brands use each of these media choices to connect with consumers and have a bit of magic to their work.  That story telling should come from the Brand’s Advertising.  

Once you have your Brand’s Big Idea, it should inspire you to seek out a Creative Idea, from which everything should come from.  The best brands use a Master Brand anthemic spot to help tell the overall story of the Brand.  But even more so, the Creative Idea should help with any specific product spots around the Innovation you’re bringing to the market.  


Taking that a step further, you can use it to begin crafting your media plan, by launching with the Anthemic Spot, and layering in your specific product messages.  As you look to continue to stay connected with your consumer, you should keep coming back to regular intervals of the Anthem spot.  Too many brands, who are failing, try to do both at the same time. They try to create a lofty “Brand Spot” with their agency and just as they start to like it, they ask “can we jam in some news about our new faster widget” message in the middle, or maybe even do a 5 second tag with it.   

Put another way, a good piece of communication can only move one body part at a time:  the head, the heart or the feet. Challenge yourself:  do you want to target the HEAD so you can get consumers to think differently about you, the HEART to try to connect emotionally or the FEET where you try to drive action.  


If you think you can create an Ad that does all three, you are the worlds greatest advertising in history.  And if you can’t you should then focus on one at time.  That’s where the Anthem will help reposition the brand (head) or connect emotionally (heart) and the Innovation spots should drive action (feet).  The choice on where to focus should come from your brand’s strategy.  At Beloved Brands, we use the Brand Love Curve to help determine where your Brand currently sits with consumers.  If you’re at the Indifferent stage, you need to drive Trial (feet) or change their minds to see you differently. As you move along the curve, it becomes a balance of mind and heart, but driving towards Beloved, you need to connect emotionally.   (The Heart) of consumers.  


As you look at the Creative Advertising the best ads attract ATTENTION, tell the BRAND story, COMMUNICATE the main benefit of the brand and STICK over time.  Leveraging the BIG IDEA and matching up a CREATIVE IDEA, you should make sure it’s the CREATIVE IDEA that does the hard work to a) Earn the consumers’ ATTENTION  b) Draw and hold attention on the BRAND c) tells the brand story in a way that COMMUNICATES the benefit and s)  STICKS with the consumer and builds consistency of  brand experience over time.  It’s the ABC’s of Good Advertising.



Once you align everything to the Brand’s BIG IDEA, you’ll create a strong bond with your consumers.  That bond becomes a source of power for your brand, whether that power is with the very consumers who love your brand, versus retailers, suppliers, competitors, influencers, employees or even versus the media.  


Once you’re able to generate power for your brand, you can then turn that into profit, whether driving price, cost control, market share or increasing the market size.

My hope is this will help you align your Advertising to the Brand’s Big Idea and manage it so whether you are looking to develop new Creative or Media Plans.  Remember, you can only move one body part at a time.  That choice should come from your strategy.  

Use your Brand’s Big Idea to Align the Advertising into the Market



Do you want to be an amazing Brand Leader?  We can help you.

Read more on how to utilize our Brand Leadership Learning Center where you will receive training in all aspects of marketing whether that’s strategic thinking, brand plans, creative briefs, brand positioning, analytical skills or how to judge advertising.  We can customize a program that is right for you or your team.  We can work in person, over the phone or through Skype.  Ask us how we can help you. 

At Beloved Brands, we love to see Brand Leaders reach their full potential.  Here are the most popular article “How to” articles.  We can offer specific training programs dedicated to each topic.  Click on any of these most read articles:

*Brand DNA first seen at Level5 Strategy Group

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How to give Feedback to an Agency so the work gets Better

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

As our Ad Agency friends are partying it up in Cannes, I figured its perfect timing to talk about How to give Feedback to an Agency so the work gets better.   It’s funny how bad clients under-estimate the impact they have on the advertising work and yet good clients get it.  There’s this weird contradictory circle:  a) clients hire agencies based on work they do for other clients–many times better clients b) great agencies still make bad work–which highlights that good clients help make good work and c) the client is ALWAYS right, which means if you tell an agency to do something, they will.  If we put all three of those together.  

How they show up does more to make or break an ad than even how the agency shows up.   After all, the Brand Leader gets the “final say” on every aspect of the ad–brief, script, director, casting, music, budget and final edit.  The agency can only recommend.  What the Brand Leader does with that “final say” can make or break the ad.  

If you knew that how you show up to your agency got better work for you, do you think you would show up differently?

In terms of giving feedback at that first creative meeting, a Brand Leader can really only do three things.

    1. Approve an ad
    2. Reject an Ad
    3. Give direction on how to make the Ad better 

 If you’re sitting in the hot seat, how will you know?  It’s not easy to sit in the hot seat as the decision maker.  I’ve seen some Brand Leaders use all instinct, and no fundamentals.  They miss the most basic of things.  While other Brand Leaders strictly use fundamentals and forget to use their instincts.  They miss the magic or are the first to put together a Frankenstein from various things on the brief.

Before You Get Started:  How will you Judge the Ad?  Here are the ABC’S of Advertising 

Here’s a potential tool you can take into the room that is very easy to follow along.  You want to make sure that your ad delivers on the ABC’S which means it attracts  Attention, it’s about the Brand, it Communicates the brand story and Sticks in the consumers mind.  

  • Attention:  You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising.  Consumers see 6000 ads per day, and will likely only engage in a few.  If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.
  • Branding:  Ads that tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand will link best.  Even more powerful are ads that are from the consumers view of the brand.  It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad.
  • Communication:  Tapping into the truths of the consumer and the brand, helps you to tell the brand’s life story. Keep your story easy to understand. Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it—because that says just as much.
  • Stickiness:  Sticky ads help to build a consistent brand/consumer experience over time.   In the end, brands are really about “consistency” of the promise you want to own.  Brands have exist in the minds of the consumer. Slide1
How to use Feedback to make the Work Better

I’ve seen guys go in with pure instincts and spin around in circles.   My suggestion would be to use your instincts but be guided by a process that can help you judge the work.  Look at sports as a metaphor, there’s instinct used in every sport, but the superstars of any sport (Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps) are disciplined in their approach and then let instincts go on top of the fundamentals.   So use the ABC’S above, and then let your instincts take over.

The Creative Meeting is not Easy.  You’ve got to balance, the head, the heart and the gut against the good of the brand.  Take your time and sort it through asking the following questions:

  1. Do you love what it can do for your brand?  If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it?  A great ad has to have everyone’s heart and soul put into it.  If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end.  If you love it, you will fight for it.  (The Heart) 
  2. Is it on strategy?  Is the Advertisement an expression of what you have been writing in your strategy documents?   Is it doing what we hoped it would do?  I love the ABCS technique (outlined below) because it helps me to frame things in my mind, so I can evaluate it past how I feel.  I think you need something to ground yourself.  (The Head)  If  there is something in your gut says it’s off, it likely is.  (The Gut)
  3. Is it long-term Idea?  Is a big enough idea that fits with the brand, does the hard work you want to do for the brand and can last 5 years.  Think about leaving a legacy—which forces you to think of campaign-ability.  (The Brand)  Look at the Creative Brief and if the ad is not on strategy, then it has to be rejected   Advertising is an expression of strategy.  If it’s not on strategy, it has no value.  


Tips on Giving Feedback
  •  Remember to Relax and Smile:  I always find that the room gets so tense, stiff and serious: we forget to laugh, smile and be real. Imagine trying to present something funny to a room of deadly serious brand managers.  It helps motivate a nervous creative team. 
  • Give  the feedback in three ways:  a) First Impressions: during the presentation, it’s great to be engaged enough to say “I like that” or ask a question. b) Giving Direction: focus on what‘s working and how to make it better. Focus more on the board you like first, and then move to the ones you don’t like with less detailed feedback.   c) Leave the Detailed Direction on how to make it better for the day after.  Moving the details (copy points, placement, colours) to the next day, helps focus the immediate comments on big picture items.  Take 24 hours to digest all the little details
  • Focus on Direction, not feedback:  Feedback is static, direction has action and decision-making.  Speak on behalf of your consumer & your brand. 

You should agree upon a Feedback process with the Agency ahead of time and then use that consistently.  There are two main ways you could do it. Either give the feedback live where everyone talks or take a break and consolidate your thinking first..  I’ve done both, trained on giving feedback live, but have changed my opinion over the years and now I’m a fan of taking the break.   

Here’s the old tired Archaic 1950s style processes:
  1. Account Team re-reads the brief then they do a set up of each board, explaining the technique/process (e.g. this is funny)  Set ups can taint the client’s view of a spot. 
  2. Agency presents 3 scripts, and says which one is their favourite.  Potentially de-motivator if you ask for their favourite and then dismiss it.  A better question is “which spot did you find you kept coming back to, as you worked the process”.
  3. Client Feedback is given with the most junior person goes first, all the way up to the senior person in the room.  This feels very 1950s humiliation and de-motivating to the junior people on the team. 
I’d suggest you Take A 30-Minute client huddle helps because:
  1. Agency gets one piece of feedback.  Time allows client to get the story straight. The break helps to slow down process so the client can think things through.  
  2. Gives Ownership to the Brand Manager, who should do all the speaking on behalf of the team, not the most senior person in the room that over-rules them.
  3. Client Team has a very open discussion, freely hearing out everyone’s thoughts, giving the junior people easier input the final opinion.  Brand Manager hears everyone then consolidates it to one message.
Tips to help Clients provide Clear Decision Making Process in place
  • Decision Making: Team leader in the creative meeting room gives direction to make the work as good as it can be before selling it in.   This gives them ownership over the project. maximum to get it right.  When the VP or President attend the early creative meetings, the work doesn’t get better, it gets more complicated. 
  • Pre Testing Does Help:  Narrow the creative concepts down to 1-3, put into animatic format and test to determine success potential in the market.  Instincts are great, but having them confirmed by consumer feedback is even better.   
  • Selling the work in to the Organization.   The team leader accompanied by the senior account person (plus Creative Director if needed) should jointly sell it in the organization. 
  • Make sure you leave Enough Time:  While everything is a rush these days, a well run project, with adequate breathing space for creative ideas, 2-3 rounds of creative, potential testing and adequate time for development
  • Communication Goes Both Ways:  Exhibit the leadership style that welcomes feedback, and gives it.  Each side brings an expertise, the agency has advertising and communication expertise and the client brings consumer/brand expertise.
  • Seek Advice Beyond Advertising:   Good account people know what it takes to be a good marketer.   They can help you on the side.  And many times, their superior people skills can help a client that might be lacking in that area.   They also likely know how to sell to your boss, which can help you when you need to sell to your boss. 
  • Build a relationship with the Creative Team:  The creative teams want to engage with the client and will respect your attempts to get closer to them.   Like anyone, they will do a better job for those they know, respect and even admire.  Being the best client, will attract the best creative people on a given team.  They’ll want to work on your brand. 
  • Performance Improvements: Annual agency performance review, quarterly senior leadership discussion on what’s working/what’s not.  Ask “how can we get better?”, “how are my people doing?” and “how is the work?”. You can talk about the gaps you or your team might have, and ask for advice how to close those.
  • Let the Agency Make a Profit:  You can’t “nickel and dime” your agency.   Be open about your budget, but once set, let the agency work to that budget. 
If how you show up to the agency will produce better advertising work.  Then show up right. 

To see a training presentation on Get Better Advertising: 


If you are in the mood to see stories on great advertising, here’s a few other stories:

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  1. How to Write a Creative Brief.  The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan.  To read how to write a Creative Brief, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Creative Brief
  2. Good Advertising:  Here’s a list of 10 things that good advertising should do, whether that’s separating your brand, telling a story or being focused.  To read more click on:   10 Things Good Advertising Should Do
  3. Turning Brand Love into Power and Profits:  The positioning statement sets up the promise that kick starts the connection between the brand and consumer.  There are four other factors that connect:  brand strategy, communication, innovation and experience.   The connectivity is a source of power that can be leveraged into deeper profitability.  To read more click on the hyper link:  Love = Power = Profits


I run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

To reach out directly, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com

About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.

I love Marketing that starts off small and costs very little

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

I have always loved when you see a big idea come out of the smallest of ideas. As Brand Leaders, sometimes we complain about a lot of things: no money, we don’t have any new products in our pipeline, our agency keeps presenting the same old thing and we are too conservative to do the really cool stuff. While many Brand Leaders are struggling with how to use new media too many times they opt for the new conventions they see everyone else doing so they say “Like Us on Facebook” approach that generates 38 likes, or they start their own Twitter account and tweet out something boring every six months. Instead, you should think about the new media as liberating in that you can use even more creativity than just trying to follow along what everyone is doing. If you want your brand to generate more love among your base of users, finding ways that surprise and delight them is a great starting point. Consumers will feel more connected with you. Here’s a few different takes on creative solutions that started small and grew, trying to inspire you a little bit while you sit at your desk going “so what can we do”. 

Take a chance. Be inspired.

Volkswagen “Fast Lanes”

When you have very little money, I always say “Act Like a Blowfish” and try to find a way to appear bigger than you really are. That may require more creativity than dollars. It might mean something a bit odd, compared to the conventional 30 second TV ad. If you have no money, tell me you couldn’t have done this one.  It must have cost only $5,000-10,000 to produce, it is one of the simplest ideas ever and yet they now have 3 Million YouTube hits. Mainly because it just makes people smile a little bit. And it fits perfectly with the Volkswagen brand.

What’s your version of this idea on your brand?


Chipotle “Back to the Start”

The Chipotle brand is unique in that many times it runs against convention. Everything about their “Back to the Start” runs counter to how things are supposed to be done. First of all, if any agency came into you and said “we want to do an animated spot about a farmer and we’ve decided to use Scientist by Cold Play as the main song….except we want to get Willie Nelson to do it”, I wonder how many Brand Leaders would have said “go on, tell me more”. Most would throw the Ad Agency out and opt for something more conservative.  The good news for Chipotle is they didn’t have to go through that conversation because Chipotle doesn’t even have an ad agency. They did all this work themselves. It took them a year to make it. Now that’s crazy. On top of that, the goal of the ad was never to sell more burritos but to let people know of their commitment to sustainable farming.  The barely mention the brand name, never shows one of the products and even sells the Willie Nelson song on iTunes at the end of the ad.  The media plan calls for showing it viral first, then show it in movie theatres and then just show it once on TV, but show it during the Grammy Awards. Who is still with me? Would you as a Brand Leader have the guts to do this?   


This ad has generated over 10,000,000 hits on YouTube and was the hit of the Grammy Awards, lighting up Twitter that night. And if you’re totally interested now, then here’s “the making of” that generated another 100,000 hits.


McDonald’s “how a Burger is Made for TV”

Now McDonald’s has all the money possible, and is on TV all the time. Yet this “behind the scenes” look at how they make a Quarter Pounder for their advertising takes on question that many consumers have probably been thinking for decades: “how come my burger doesn’t look as good as the one on TV?”   McDonald’s answers this with direct honesty, showing why they have to fluff up the pickles or eliminate little blemishes on the bun. They compare a recently purchased Quarter Pounder to the one that their stylist works on for the ad. This simple little spot, made up in Canada, has generated almost 8,000,000 hits on-line. 


I want these ideas to inspire you to do something different! 


To find ways to make your brand more loved, read the following presentation:



Positioning 2016.112