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Some Advice On Hiring Marketing Counsel From A Survivor Of Many Years In The Ad Agency Trenches

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Author: Michael Sherman

I worked many years for the two largest ad agencies in the world, J. Walter Thompson Company and Campbell-Ewald Advertising (Managing Director) and also owned a small AAAA agency for 12 years. After managing both the clients and employees at the same time, I came to realize that one-on-one efforts with my clients were the most productive and successful for them and the most enjoyable for me. I also found that any company looking for marketing help and thinking of hiring any agency, basically should consider carefully their other choice, a one-man shop totally dedicated to them. So I opened one and have been successfully representing clients all over the country as a consultant for 10 years from Olive Branch, MS, a suburb of Memphis.

I tell you this in hopes that you may conclude that I know what I am talking about.

Ok, so what is the advice?

Getting good marketing counsel and work product from an ad agency or consultant will have a profound effect on the future of your business. This is particularly true if your marketing budget is small. Too often, choosing one is a matter of chance, such as their proximity to you. In this age of the Internet, Instant messaging, Cell Phones and Video conferencing, the value of proximity is over-rated.

On the surface, most agencies look alike. But scratch the surface and you will find some dramatic differences in philosophy, ability and in the experience of the account executive assigned to you, especially if you have a small marketing budget.

Why is your account manager so important? He (or she) is the pipeline through which all information flows in both directions, into the agency from you and him, to his support team and back to you. His experience, ability, dedication, availability and internal clout within the agency determine the success of your marketing investment and the ultimate cost to you.

For those of you who have not found out already the hard way what it is like to be a small account at a large agency or work with a small agency with a very limited number of experienced account executives, if they have one to assign to your account, I want you to know how dealing with an agency really works. Whether you hire a large agency with hundreds or even thousands of employees, or a medium or small sized agency, everything still goes through the account executive they assign to your account, supported by an account supervisor who (on and off) hopefully rides shotgun over him. It is the job of the account executive (also called an account manager) and occasionally his supervisor to…

1. Learn your business, your competition, your goals and budgets.
2. Communicate your needs or opportunity to a team the agency assigns you. You do not pick them, the agency does. You would not know who to pick anyway. And a small account does not get their big hitters.
3. Oversee the team progress, get them back in line when they stray off target, and stray they will.
4. Review the time sheets with your name on it. And be sure, the straying also gets logged on your time sheet.
5. Approve or edit their work on your behalf, when they miss the target, again on your nickel.
6. Present to you the agencies work product and sell hard, mostly in the interest of the sale.
7. Integrate your feedback into revisions and hopefully disagree when you are wrong -something that is inherently difficult for an agency account man to do; it is much easier to sell you what you want.
8. See to it that the approved plans are implemented quickly and correctly.
9. Monitor the programs and their effect on your goals.
10. Recommend ongoing changes.
11. Evaluate the results against the expenditure and goals.

What do I mean by Account Manager Clout?

As I have said, no matter how big or small the agency is, all of your input goes into the agency through one man, your assigned account executive, especially in a small agency. All of the direction to the agency personnel to work on your account comes from him, all of the agency work product is approved or disapproved by him or his supervisor and all of the work is funneled to you through him and initially started by him, supervising the support team implementation at the agency.

This is the important point to grasp. No matter how big or successful an agency is, you are only going to get out of them, what this account executive is capable of understanding, explaining, appreciating, fighting for and can get approved by the creative director, media buyer and his managing. Junior account execs have no clout; they are salesmen and hand-holders and deliver to you what they are told to sell. They have to start earning their wings some place. Unfortunately it is at your expense.

And, as far as the creative product goes, I believe that advertising is supposed to produce sales, not just win awards, a simple fact that sometimes eludes the creative types at agencies. This only becomes a problem for you, the client, when the creative director gets dazzled by his own creative team enthusiasm for their work product, forgets about the goal and sells it to your account manager. Unfortunately, this happens too often. Sales go down, the agency gets fired, the creative team gets fired, they pull their awards off the wall, go across the street, re-hang them and it starts all over again.

Makes you think you should be interviewing account men and not agencies, does it not? It should.

If you choose to go the full service agency route, you basically have four choices:

1. Hire A Big Agency: You get the prestige of being a client of one of the biggies, if they are interested in your annual expenditure ($1 Million being the lower limit). What you really get is the heavy weights from the agency for the initial presentation, annual contract renewal presentations and multi-client social events. The rest of the time, if you are lucky, you will get a part-time account executive, whose talents and experience will be a direct reflection of the size of your account, the money you spend with them.

2. Hire A Regional Agency: One or two steps down in all ways from the big boys.

3. Hire A Small Local Agency: They will not have a heavy-weight account exec with the talent or experience to deal with the challenges facing you or programs you want to implement, especially PR designed to get you exposure.

Small companies or large ones with small marketing budgets, looking for marketing help, can find it very difficult and it can be very expensive. This is particularly difficult when looking for an agency that will assign a heavily experienced account exec to your business, if they have one and if he is available.

There is a fourth choice that is decidedly different and better.

4. Hire a heavily experienced account exec, as a consultant, with all the resources needed to get the job done.


Michael Sherman
Michael Sherman Marketing Services

Marketing, advertising and PR consulting with many years of experience in all disciplines. My overhead and production costs are very reasonable, so all costs to you are very low. Check out LinkedIn ( for my complete bio and experience. Or please send an email to to have me contact you.

About the author: After graduating from the University Of Maryland with BA in Motivational Psychology, I went to work for as an Account Supervisor and ultimately Office Manager for the J. Walter Thompson Company. At that time, JWT was the world's largest advertising agency. I worked Ford Motor Company (cars and trucks), Ford Dealer Advertising Fund, Holiday Inns, Pan Am and Lark Cigarettes from June 1966 to June 1972.

I left JWT to open my own full-service 4A advertising and marketing agency, Michael Sherman Advertising. Clients included Hotel Chains:(Holiday Inn International worldwide and the Southeast and Caribbean Regions of Holiday Inns corporate owned resorts and properties along with several franchise chains), Airlines: (Eastern, Western, Aero Condor and KLM), Travel Industry Suppliers: (Panamanian Tourist Bureau, American Automobile Association - Tour and Travel Division, Ziff Davis publishing), Banks: (Sun Banks of Florida), Oldsmobile Auto Dealer Associations and several individual Dealers and dozens of retail businesses. Casinos: (King Brothers Casinos, Contadora Resort and Casino).

In April 1982, I accepted a position with Campbell-Ewald Advertising as Senior V.P., Managing Director. I managed the Boston office of Campbell-Ewald. Accounts included The Howard Johnson Hotels and Plaza Hotels, Eastern Airlines and Traveldisc (and internet forerunner). Responsibilities included office management and direction, management supervision of all accounts, office profitability, marketing planning and client contact.

I re-entered the private sector in May 1986 as President, Owner of TIME (Travel Industry Marketing Enterprises), a full-service advertising and marketing company specializing in the travel industry. Clients included Flyfaire (a $200 million wholesaler of Caribbean package vacations, Eastern Airlines, Econo Lodges of America, Omni Hotels, Vacation Network, several franchise hotels and World ComNet, a supplier of advanced marketing software for Eastern and United's reservation systems. I was forced to close TIME in October 1990 because of the bankruptcies of Eastern Airlines.

Next I was President of World ComNet in Irvine, California, Senior VP Marketing for Varitek Industries, Inc. and then I opened Michael Sherman Marketing Services (August 1999 to Present) and served concurrently as Director of Marketing for the Winegard Company from March of 2002 to September 2006. Recent clients include Antennas Direct, Commdeck, BitWise Controls, TopTronics, ComponexX, digitalwavewire and Surplus Brokers Seminar.

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