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Ad Approvals: Developing a Win-Win Situation

From BMA Knowledge Base

Most ad agencies feel that only a few clients allow them to do their best work. And clients often feel that there's plenty of room for improvement in their agency's creative efforts. Therein lies one of the biggest battlefields in the relationship between advertisers and their agencies: The subject of creative approvals.

Approving agency work is a small part of a client's job, but it's critical. Often, it's the key factor in whether you're served by a team that's inspired to give you exceptional advertising, or by dispirited hacks. The same people often fill both roles on different accounts.

Obviously, no agency's work is always on track. Some of it will require extensive changes. But chances are your agency is trainable, so make it your long-term goal to attune your agency to your needs, products, markets and corporate culture so that you have to make few changes in their work. By using a win-win style in approving your agencies creative work, you'll consistently get the best they have to offer.

Start off right. Make sure goals and objectives are clear. Provide in-depth research, product and market information.
Never look at creative work when you're in a bad mood. You may kill good ads and send notice to the agency that you sometimes do so without good reason.
Think like the target audience. Forget personal prejudices. Put yourself in the place of the target audience. All that's really relevant is how they will think.
Read everything at least twice before comment. Consider what is being said without much concern about how it is being said. Be sure you understand how words and graphics work together. Then point out your concerns and ask the agency to address them.
Discuss specifically what needs to be fixed. Be specific about tone, content, technical issues, vocabulary or visuals. Say what needs to be done, then stand back. That's the only way the agency will learn to do it right.
Avoid rewriting copy at all costs. Rewrite copy often, and the situation will get worse. Your writer will decide that you want to "improve" everything anyway and that the real job is to please you, not to influence the reader. That's not the message you want to convey.
Give creatives room to make mistakes. Little new or even out of the ordinary is accomplished without false starts. Let the agency know it's OK to take chances. Be firm and specific when efforts are off the mark, but don't discourage them. It's only through experimenting that new and better things are found.
Even if you hate it, don't kill it. Most things we dislike initially are things we aren't familiar with. If the agency believes strongly in an idea, give it a chance to grow on you. Pin it on your wall for a week. Chances are, you'll like it a lot better. If you don't, at least the problem isn't familiarity.
Which concept do THEY like best? When the agency shows you more than one concept, be sure to ask which ONE they like best, and why. If you have a good agency, you just might have your eyes opened.
Don't take an office poll. If called upon, everyone will have an opinion and will voice it. Limit the contributions of lawyers, engineers and the like to technical, not stylistic or aesthetic considerations.

You hired your agency at least in part because you respected their creative work. Don't sandpaper their ideas to death now that they're working for you. You'll lose the truly original thinking which makes good ads stand apart from the clutter.

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