Advertising Experts

Daily life forces us to become experts. Walk into a big box store and ask an employee about a product and you’ll get a sales spiel, but no information. We can’t be experts in everything, but most business demand that we act like we know what we are doing. Most of us are horrible at writing our own ads, creating a marketing program, or putting together a website or brochure. We aren’t professional marketing designers, even if we are artists and can write.

Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try something new, but it does mean you shouldn’t put your businesses’ growth in inexperienced hands.Even if you have some experience, you are too close to your own business goals to handle your own ad writing. Turn it over to an expert. It’s the biggest present you can give yourself this holiday season.

The strongest ads and marketing materials are created by experts in the advertising and marketing fields. You don’t have to hire the biggest agency in town, but you do have to use experts—people who have experience in your specific field. You wouldn’t cut your own hair, you wouldn’t set your own broken bone, so think of hiring an agency to write your ads and marketing material as a smart move, not a lack of skill.

“Advertising doesn’t work,” I’ve heard clients say. “I ran an ad once, and nothing happened.” No wonder. One ad can do nothing. An advertising expert knows that it takes several exposures to an image to get people to think they’ve seen it before. And several more before they act on it. An advertising expert knows that a good ad appeals to a need with an answer. An action. A good ad has a call to action (call, write, buy, protest are all calls to action) and fills a need. A good ad explains features (characteristics of your product) and benefits (how that characteristic can help your clients).

There are many beautiful ads that don’t work, don’t create sales. The best ads do both. How do you know if you are working with an expert? An expert knows your business, knows your audience, and brings the two together in a series of ads placed in publications your audience reads.

Here are questions you should ask a potential ad agency:
1. Are you a product agency? (A product agency handles everyday items that are sold to clients. It is different from a business-to-business agency or a marketing communications agency.)
2. What products do you handle? (They should be the same or similar to items you hope to sell).
3. How long have you been in business? (Agencies come and go as quickly as restaurants, choose an agency with a good track record).
4. Why did you lose your last client to another agency? (There should be no blame directed at the client, it’s not professional.)
5. Who will work on my account? (Junior people are traditionally assigned to small accounts. That’s not necessarily bad, but you don’t want someone inexperienced to be working unsupervised on your business.)
6. How do you charge? (Agencies charge in different ways, including by the hour, by the project or on a monthly retainer. Know what you get for your money.)
7. What is included in the fee? (Most agencies will make small copy changes for free, but every time you change the scope of work, you are paying for it.)
8. What clients that you already have are similar to my company? (Let your company benefit from experience gained somewhere else.)
9. What is your goal for us? (Beware of agencies that tell you that an ad campaign can quickly bring you income. Your product has to be good, clients have to recognize its value and it has to be priced right, you have to have a way to deliver it and your store/gallery/website has to be easy to find.)
10. What’s the timeline? (Success takes time. An agency that promises you too much too soon is unrealistic.)

On your part, you should be ready to answer questions the agency asks you—who are your clients—demographic and geographic information; which items are your most and least popular ones and why; your budget for advertising.

When you are ready to work with an agency remember that they are not magicians that can create clients for you. The best ads can increase traffic in your store or to your website, the rest is up to your product and your sales staff.

Tip of the moment: The best ads focus on your clients and answer their pressing question, “What’s In It For Me?”

Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer, teacher, and certified creativity coach who helps artists through transitions in their lives and work. You can e-mail your business-of-art questions to We do make an effort to answer your questions, either individually or in future columns.