Simon Hakim of Hunter: how do you judge an agency – awards, effectiveness or both?

This month, April 25th marks two important events. First, it’s ANZAC day, commemorating the sacrifices of the Australian and New Zealand army corps in both World Wars – it also means a day off work. But many in the Australian advertising industry will be working through their day off for the other important event: the Cannes Lions awards entry deadline. As we all know, the Lions are like the Oscars of the advertising industry; pomp, glamour, red carpets and all. And awards like them, the D&ADs, the Effies, etc – have become something of an industry unto themselves. Agencies enter them for the prestige. Big wins can be calling cards, attracting new clients and the best new talent.

On the other hand, there are plenty of great campaigns created by agencies that don’t win awards and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not as good, just that perhaps they didn’t enter in the first place. Awards entries take a huge amount of time – and often money – and many independent agencies can’t rationalise those expenditures without the backing of a holding company to finance them. But where does that leave you, the marketer, in objectively assessing the work of agencies without an award win to measure it by?

For many marketers, the work we do at an agency can often seem a little bit like a dark art. There’s no formula to creativity, no easy objective measure of what’s ‘good’. Part of the problem is that the objective measures that do exist, in the form of campaign results, often aren’t made public because doing so could give away too much information and erode a client’s competitive advantage. Award wins often fill that void, becoming a convenient yardstick to measure the worth of a campaign that’s not otherwise easy to measure.

In the absence of a trophy shelf, there are a few ways you can judge an agency’s work with some simple questions. The following examples aren’t exhaustive, but they’ll at least give you a starting point for the types of conversations you should be having internally and with any potential agency.

Every agency should be able to provide case studies of their work. Case studies should detail the challenge the client wanted to solve, the thought the agency put into developing a solution, the solution itself, and the results. Here’s an example case study for our client Hubbards, the third largest breakfast cereal company in New Zealand:

1. The challenge: Reignite the brand and regain the strong leadership position it once had in muesli. Hubbards had lost its way, and lost market share along with it.

2. Our thoughts: An entrepreneurial challenger brand that stopped acting like one, Hubbards needed to return to its roots.

3. Our solution: Founder Dick Hubbard had a mission when he started the business: make good food, and make a difference. We knew we needed to tap back into that original mission. From our research we found people wanted something that helped them get ready for the day, but they didn’t want bland or boring. Our proposition – ‘Feed Your Amazing’ – recognises the superhero in everyone, accomplishing amazing tasks every day, even if it’s getting the kids off to school on time, or giving daunting presentations at work. Importantly, it fit with Dick’s original vision.

Hubbards Brand New Mueslis! from Hunter on Vimeo.

4. The results: Hubbards was reignited as New Zealanders reassessed the brand and it became relevant again. Hubbards also regained its rightful spot as number one in the muesli category, and it continues to hold that position to this day.

Did the campaign do its job?

Just Google ‘campaign failures’ to get an idea of the worst case scenario outcome here. Ideally what you do want is provable success. Take a campaign you love and ask the agency responsible for the goal at the outset and the outcome achieved. Don’t be afraid of asking an agency for more specifics – or going direct to the client to do your due diligence. Think about other factors that might have factored into the success of a campaign: how big was the budget? Was the campaign coupled with a price decrease? A new distributor or supplier? Elimination of a competitor?

What have they done recently?

No one likes a one-hit wonder, and no one wants an agency resting on its laurels. What has the agency done lately? You want to see a steady track record of work, not just a few peaks. Agencies should be continually building the foundations and moving forward.

There’s a tendency to go for the ‘hot’ agency, the one that’s just come off the Cannes win, rather than the smaller, nimbler and, often, hungrier agency. Sure, the award-winning agency has got some runs on the board and plenty of momentum, but will they give you their all? What will your account mean to them? Ideally you’re in the agency partnership for the long haul. I’ve been working with some of our clients for ten years – that’s longer than Hunter has been in existence. If you’re willing to take the bet on an agency on the rise, that good faith will never be forgotten.

Simon_Online-4-300x160Simon Hakim is MD at Hunter. Twitter: @nomis_mikah

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