The problem with branding a traditional advertising agency is there is nothing to hold on to – there is nothing tangible to grasp, shake, and define as being unique.

agency brand must stand out

We’re great at everything!

The general definition of “ad agency” is “we have a creative product.” Sadly, marketing “creative” ends up being the default branding touchstone. You’re an agency, you ARE creative. Marketing your creative chops is like a restaurant marketing the fact they sell food. You’re a restaurant. Great. Now what type of food? Pizza? Hamburgers? Vegan? Full service or just take out? Prospects know what they are looking for, but ad agencies hide behind “we’re creative… look at all these great ads!” Ad agencies never tell that prospect the type of creative they’re really good at serving in fear of scaring away some other prospect down the road.

Would you go to a restaurant that claims they’re great at everything? Great service, low cost, and five-star gourmet meals served fast, drive through or formal dining, we have it all! Come on in! No thank you. When branding an ad agency, you have to find a way to stand out, separate your firm from the rest of the so called “creative” agencies.

There are 5 key concepts that can help brand your ad agency:

  1. Identify the prospect: Find and fixate on a specific type of prospect. Industry, profile, generation, region, anything. Focus on understanding their world. What motivates them, excites them, troubles them? What are their goals, pressures, challenges they face? Your success in finding more ways to relate with the prospect has much more bearing on the success or failure of your brand than the marketing skills involved.
  2. Find your purpose: Clearly define your role with prospects regarding exactly what your firm brings to the party. A strategic partner that brings in business building ideas? A savvy marketing expert that grows brands? Or someone who knows how to get things done, regardless of the task. If a prospect is not sure how you can help them quickly, then they will move on and find someone who they understand.
  3. Listen, advise, they decide: One of the most difficult tasks for agency people is to learn how to be quiet. Many agencies fall in love with their work and cannot say enough about it. Unfortunately, most prospects do not care about you, only what you can do for THEM. Your brand should be built around listening to the market, the prospects, their staff, and always be responsive to what you hear. Offer insight, tools and knowledge about the prospect when you market your brand.
  4. Give them a map: It is up to you to help the prospect draw a picture of how your brand can help them. Failure to do so results in the dreaded “muddy water” brand. Clearly articulating your unique view of their market and having a proven process is like knowing the secret handshake. It gives you the inside track. It demonstrates that you understand them, their pain, their goals, and builds trust.
  5. Results gets results: Marketing is not just doing great work; it is assisting clients to reach a goal. Your brand should clearly demonstrate that you get results. In the market, in the mind of consumers, or even in the mind of the clients, you know exactly how to move the needle. Be specific. The more you show how you have helped, the more you stand out.

Ad Agency Branding Works!

Let me pull out an old file about one little agency. They were a traditional regional advertising agency, with a long history of success with a few key clients. The only real problem was they hadn’t won any new business in over 3 years. The new president started looking around for some help and called us. As we chatted, he stated that he wasn’t growing because his firm was weak in new business and was operating without a proper new business outreach program. He was partially right. But that wasn’t his biggest obstacle. He had a major brand problem.

Their brand was stale, out-of-date with the current trends, reflected the dreaded “we’re highly creative” and offered no focus, no process, and no content to demonstrate expertise. In other words their brand ended up being a wall of what we call “strategic-creative” words. These are words that all sound great but mean nothing. You know the type: “Highly creative… a unique approach… across industries… effective planning, innovative strategies, breakthrough creative, flawless execution, better brands … and of course results that exceed your expectations.” Nothing there. In fact, many clients feel a little dumber after reading stuff like that. So they run away.

After one session together, it was decided to re-brand, re-name, and add flanker offices to reposition the firm and to make them less regional. An aggressive and distinctive new brand theme was added that provided separation from every other agency in the region. An outreach program was installed to build the firm’s awareness and to encourage relationships with high-value prospects.

Our work continued for the next few months on targeting, pitch consulting, structure, and more. Those are the details. Here are the results: Less than 12 months later, the firm tripled in size, quadrupled in billings, and was going after some of the largest advertisers in the US.

A few years later, this firm was one of the most valuable agencies in the US, with several holding companies bidding to acquire them- all in time for the president to retire young. Branding really works.

When thinking about your agency brand, ask yourself if you want to eat at a restaurant that is supposed to be great at everything? Or do you want to eat at a restaurant that is the best at something you want? If you have any questions about branding your firm give us a call at 412.897.9329. Or just drop us a line [email protected]


Photo by MartheMa