Six Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Multicultural Ad Agency

Mar 05, 12 Six Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Multicultural Ad Agency

By Tony D’Andrea, PhD – Director of Research and Planning at The San Jose Group

“Losing a client” is a painful but almost an unavoidable fact of life in advertising. Although the winning agency would never question their client’s favorable decisions, the review process is often a mysterious one. And that’s not because of personal connections or personal intrigue, but often because key questions are not properly examined in the review process.

This is particularly the case with multicultural advertising agencies as secondary but increasingly influential partners in the agency rosters of big marketers. Their rise reflects the nation’s shifting demographics which, despite some clear trends, still leave many marketing professionals confused on how to address them.

For a more refined review process, below you will find some essential questions that need to be considered during the selection process of multicultural ad agencies, towards building a positive partnership.

1.  How diverse is the agency staff? Trivial but not so obvious. For starters, the ethnic background of a marketing professional does not define excellence (or even competence) in ethnic marketing. In fact, an excessive emphasis in one ethnicity – predominantly White America – may actually blind the agency to the realities of cultural differences. A diverse agency has team players from different ethnic, gender and generational backgrounds richly interacting with each other, with consumers, and their clients to deliver great work in multicultural marketing.

2.  What business results has the agency brought to its clients? Ad awards are an established tradition by which creative professionals recognize outstanding work in the industry, but, as often noted, it does not necessarily lead to a higher ROI for clients or even the agency. It is important to consider how an agency aligns communication strategies to the client’s business goals, and what it says about measuring the results. In the multicultural arena, this message often involves a discussion on comparing awareness, sales and loyalty across general and ethnic segments. In addition, it must be noted how the multicultural agency seeks to overcome challenges posed by small budgets and cumbersome branding strategies defined by the complex relationship between the client and their “lead” (general market) agency.

3.  How does the ad agency complement your marketing needs and capabilities? If the client possesses robust in-house marketing capabilities (from market research to sales, including multicultural teams) then a creative shop may suffice. Nonetheless, it might be the case that what your brand needs is a fundamental change across the multicultural consumer footprint, and this will require a full-service marcom agency. You’ll be better with an agency that understands that advertising is only one function within marketing. This is often the case in the multicultural arena where niche consumer segments require more than broadcast exposure in order to connect with a brand. More sophisticated media planning is thus required to achieve specific objectives of the client along ethnic consumer segments.

4.  What is the work process or methodology of the agency? Listen carefully to how the agency develops work, i.e. their “work philosophy”. This includes: how the agency discovers and plans insights, creates interaction and media, develops creative and production delivery (both above-and below-the-line), handles their digital assets and approaches new technologies, measures their pre-and post-campaigns, and incorporates feedback in current and future interactions. Also, be wary if they only emphasize creative work and advertising while neglecting your marketing issues and business needs. In particular, evaluate how coherent their strategic thinking manifests across their creative development and tactical solutions.  Mutually agree on what the agency has to say about planning and executing campaigns according to multicultural segmentation, consumer mindsets, behavior, and media consumption in connection with marketing touch-points – everything should be based on evidence (including an honest preview of involved risks).

5.  Does the agency culture reflect your business culture and needs? Category experience positively propels the agency work with a client but is not the only factor in determining a successful relationship. Each agency has an organizational culture that promotes certain behaviors and mindsets over others – their “DNA”. For example, if your marketing team has low tolerance for risk and cultivates a more conservative lifestyle, then a cutting-edge shop renowned for controversial work may not engender the right chemistry. In multicultural marketing, such cultural traits can be seen in creative, media and even planning. If an agency works with traditional themes – in native language and conventional media only – then a radically innovative strategy involving compelling ideas and linguistic hybrids in digital media may not live up to the expectations.

6.  How will the agency handle your account? In evaluating the team that will service you, look at their individual category experience, plus their track record, special achievements and overall potential to deliver superior results. See if the account team is able to manage the project and develop a positive relationship with your colleagues. Watch out for agencies with explosive growth, as their administration and staff may be in turmoil. Finally, assess how receptive the agency leaders are to your questions and concerns. Be mindful that the agency’s ethnic “flavor” has no correlation with expectations of superior or sloppy work, and likewise does not necessarily relate to the quality of its marketing services and creative advertising.

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