What We Learned from Working at Big Advertising Agencies

EAG, August 1, 2018

And How We Adapt Our Knowledge For Small Business Marketing

Nearly every EAG Advertising & Marketing employee has a large advertising agency or corporate marketing department position on his or her resume. Our clients and our own agency gain immeasurable value with that type of experience from one of the top local advertising agencies in Kansas City. It’s a competitive edge for us and for clients, yet not everything we’ve learned applies equally and directly to business owners and entrepreneurs.

For 15 years, EAG has had a singular focus of being Kansas City’s small business marketing agency. We’ve had to adapt and modify nearly every traditional ad agency process to fit our clients’ small business models. Small business owners and their leaders do things slightly different. We get it because we’re a small business, too.

One creative or digital marketing concept is enough, if you do it right.
The standard procedure in creative design for digital marketing and traditional advertising is to provide three ad concepts from which the client can choose. At EAG, we’ve never produced more than one design concept for a client unless it’s a logo or the client specifically asks for multiple approaches.

The reason for our one concept approach is simple. We get it right the first time because we know our clients and their customers well enough to be on target. Why waste a client’s investment in graphic design when doing our research lets us get it right the first time? Small company owners like to know every dollar is managed as if it were their last.

Plan long-term, react short-term.
Our full-service outsource marketing clients enjoy all the benefits of having a long-term marketing strategy and plan. All big brand marketers think similarly and some plan ahead as far as five years or more. When it comes to small business marketing, long-term thinking is good, but only when it is combined with short-term flexibility and quick reaction time.

Smaller companies shift on a dime. What is important today may not be on the radar tomorrow. At EAG, we’ve learned to change gears at a moment’s notice, including adjusting budgets based on sales results, seasonality, and unforeseen circumstances.

We may plan for a year or more at a time, but we continuously connect with our clients because small business marketing shifts that quickly. It would be wonderful to begin planning the next holiday season campaign eight months ahead of time, but we simply can’t count on that because of the nature of small business.

In graphic design, check your ego.
Our graphic designers, creative directors and copywriters check their ego at the door. We have to because our advertising agency clients are mostly small business owners. We may be artists, but they are entrepreneurs. A solid business strategy always precedes a graphic design concept because without marketing strategy, all you have are art and words. Strategy drives design and messaging, not the other way around.

We’ve won some creative design awards. Quite a few in fact. We’re proud of our advertising design abilities. We are even prouder of the measurable results our clients have achieved with our advertising and digital marketing designs.

Time is money.
Bigger advertising agencies have layers. It’s simply a fact that applies to large marketing companies and practically every other business. Layers add process and process adds time and complexity. To a business owner, time is money – his or her own money.

As we’ve grown as an ad agency, we’ve had to be very aware of our own hierarchy and focus on keeping a flat organization. Efficiency is essential when working with small and growing enterprises. We can’t put six people in a meeting with one business owner unless it’s necessary to achieve goals. While we are presenting creative concepts, the owner will be counting dollar signs.

Accountability is a must when working as an outsourced marketing partner. Every hour must be accounted for and associated with a project or task. And that task needs to be part of an outcome that can be monitored and measured. Time is money and accountability is critical in our agency culture.

Research is optional.
This one may make marketing traditionalists and advertising academics grunt in disgust. A great many entrepreneurs and smaller enterprises don’t believe in spending significant amounts on marketing research. It has been our experience with more than 350 clients that market research doesn’t a great brand strategy or marketing plan make.

If a client only has $100,000 to spend on advertising and marketing, dedicating $30,000 to an expansive marketing research project is disproportionate to the rest of the budget. Despite what some marketing experts might argue, the information gained from the $30,000 investment may not be significant enough to warrant the investment.

What we have found in our years working with our outsourced marketing clients is that the knowledge and data needed to do our jobs effectively can be found among the owners, leaders and employees of the business. We know that this information might be slightly skewed, but it is never inaccurate. It is our job to ask the right questions, challenge those that seem contrary to what we know about best practices in marketing, and when necessary, speak truth to power. If a business owner is wrong, we speak up.

In some cases, when an owner or leader disputes a finding, we do suggest conducting primary marketing research, often in the form of customer interviews or a focus group. This approach alone has reconciled countless debates over strategic direction and plans, and it’s at a fraction of the investment.

Remember, nearly all EAG employees have worked at the top ad agencies in Kansas City and beyond. We’re not afraid to call on our prior experiences, and business owners appreciate that expertise.

Plan on doing the unexpected.
Perhaps it’s because our model is to operate as a fully staffed outsourced marketing department or maybe it’s because our clients are smaller companies, but we get asked to do things for our clients well-beyond what would be asked of many of Kansas City’s largest advertising agencies.

Our clients hire us as their fully staffed marketing department, just like one they’d have down the hall if they had an in-house team. Imagine what a business owner or chief marketing officer might ask of their in-house marketing department. If you can imagine it, we’ve done it.

  • Attend a board meeting to explain the marketing strategy for the next five years.
  • Assist in recruiting and hiring sales teams.
  • Meet with architects and contractors on new building designs and interior branding.
  • Join family meetings to help generations of owners come to consensus on broad business and marketing issues.
  • Put on our best public relations faces when a company finds itself in a precarious or embarrassing situation.
  • Put pencil to paper and help owners and leaders write everything from speeches to employee announcements and even the rare obituary.
  • Hunt down and nag a busy business owner to give us just ten minutes to review the next month’s marketing plan. Although we may be annoying at the moment, the owner usually understands and appreciates our diligence in keeping the process moving.
  • Help the children of clients understand career paths in marketing. Help children of clients in the family business succeed by guiding and nurturing their learning process, even if it means they will do some of the work previously assigned to EAG.
  • Develop and write a robust content marketing strategy when the subject matter is obscure or highly technical, even to the most knowledgeable marketer.
  • Build email or direct mail lists using questionable data sources. In these cases, we’ve had to educate our clients on marketing best practices, speak truth to power about the consequences of such actions, and in one case, resign the relationship.
  • Most importantly, we’ve been asked by clients to think about their business as if it were our own. That is a privilege and an honor we don’t take lightly.

We love big advertising agencies.
We love the big advertising agencies because they have given us some of the best employees we could ever ask for. Some of the top Kansas City ad agencies recognize our unique position in the market and refer business to us.

We learned a lot from our bigger ad agency brothers and sisters. But for us, there’s nothing like the joy of helping a fifth-generation, family-held company grow, succeed and pass the business along to the next generation.


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