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Why Clients Should Hire 4As Agencies.
Posted by Sam Meers on Monday | August 20th, 2012
I have often wondered why some advertising agencies choose not to be members of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the 4As. It is the premier trade association for advertising in the world.
The 4As have been around for 95 years. My first agency job was for a Charter Member of the 4As, Caldwell Van Riper in Indianapolis. I didn’t know the 4As. I didn’t know for what the 4As stood. I had no idea how the 4As would influence the next 30 years of my career. But I did know that if I ever started an agency, I would work to join the 4As as quickly as possible.
Almost every industry has a trade association. They exist to help their members grow, otherwise why would we pay the rather hefty dues? The 4As is no different. The training seminars they host, the conferences they hold, the speakers they deliver, the webinars they present, the extraordinary research capabilities they have — their management training and financial services expertise is beyond compare. So here’s my question. Why would an agency NOT be a member of the 4As?
All agencies are not created equal. While that is not news, I don’t think most clients think about it very often. Clients tend to judge agencies on their ability to deliver great creative. But it goes much deeper than that.
Advertising agencies should be judged on a number of their corporate investments and practices, such as:
- Sound financial practices
- Ongoing training investment
- Adherence to a recognized set of industry ethics and standards
- Robust media planning and buying capabilities
- Thorough business intelligence services
- Delivery of great creative
- Demonstrated industry leadership
Clients should look to find thought leaders in their agency — and not just on their business. Agency thought leadership extends well past the walls of the agency.
Recently, our City Council proposed a 2% sales tax on outdoor advertising. Some Kansas City agencies immediately began a dialogue with the City Council to understand the issue, others ignored it. We reached out to the 4As Washington office and discussed how we should approach the issue, not just as Meers, but as an advertising community. We could do that because the 4As has a Washington office focused on advocacy and policy.
Another example. We reached out to fellow 4As member Butler Shine Stern & Partners in Sausalito several weeks ago to inquire about their Project Management discipline. We are in the process of instilling a formal Project Management practice at Meers and wanted to talk with a few progressive 4As shops about what they are doing. Greg Stern was happy to help. We sent two of our team to a workshop his Project Management Director was hosting in Portland three weeks later. That is the kind of collaboration that comes from 4As shops. Getting a phone call returned may not seem like a big deal, but when it is important to our business, it is a very big deal to have the CEO of another, much larger agency, take my call.
If an agency is not a member of the 4As, then you must ask “Why?” Are they so confident in their abilities they believe they can answer all the questions without the benefit of thousands of agency peers’ support? Do they not need the financial savvy that comes from annual management research reports? Are they really that good at running an agency, especially in the digital age when so many aspect of the business are changing at the speed of light? Can they truly afford not to network with their peers at forum meetings and national conferences?
Candidly, I think non-4As agencies are at a significant disadvantage when they compete with a 4As shop. We have more resources, more experience upon which to draw, more opportunities for staff training and more collaboration with 4As staff and peers than they do. So in a pitch, our odds are better. I like that.
To the clients who choose to work with a non-4As shop, ask yourself “Why?” It is possible they may not know what they are missing. They may not wonder if the financial practices are sound or if the media recommendation is based on the best syndicated research-based strategy or if their account team is as well trained as they might be. They might be just fine getting great creative and leaving the other issues to chance. But I doubt that’s the case. They just may have never considered the question.
You should expect great creative when you hire an agency. But I would argue you should also expect a great client experience. And your odds of having a great client experience go up dramatically when you work with a member of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.