Sounding Off: Tony D´Andrea “6 Questions when Selecting a Multicultural Ad Agency”

In this article, Tony D´Andrea (photo) Director of Planning and Research at The San Jose Group,talks about the importance of the selection process when choosing a multicultural agency.

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

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

For a more refined review process, below you will find some essential questions that need to be considered during the selection of multicultural agencies and 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 may actually blind the agency to the realities of a multicultural yet still predominantly White America. 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. Yet, it might be the case that what your brand needs is a fundamental change across the multicultural consumer footprint, a task requiring a full-service marcom agency. All in all, you’ll be better with an agency that understands that advertising is only one function within marketing. In multicultural marketing, it often takes more than plain broadcast exposure to connect niche consumer segments with a brand. In these cases, a more sophisticated media planning is required to achieve specific objectives along ethnic consumer segments.

4. What is the work process or methodology of the agency?

Listen carefully to how the agency carries out their “work philosophy”. This includes: how the agency discovers insights, how it develops a media plan, develops creative and production delivery (both above- and below-the-line), how it handles digital assets and approaches new technologies, how it 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 – and 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 not only at their category experience, but also at their overall achievements. They may bring great results, even if they have no great experience in your category. See if the account team is able to manage the project and develop a positive relationship with your colleagues. Likewise, watch out for agencies with explosive growth, as their administration and staff may be in turmoil.  Finally, it is important to assess how receptive the agency leaders are to your questions and concerns. Be mindful that an agency’s ethnic “flavor” has no correlation with the quality of their creative and marketing work.

Tony D’Andrea is Director of Planning and Research atThe San Jose Group, headquartered in Chicago. As a strategic planner and anthropologist, Anthony has over 8 years of consulting experience integrating research insights into effective strategies. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and a BBA in Business from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.


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Marcos Baer @MarcosBaer

Marcos oversees editorial and sales. He is based in Portada's NYC headquarters. Prior to launching Portada in 2003, Marcos worked in both the media and finance sectors. He occupied leading roles at the Spanish edition of The Wall Street Journal, in Spain’s newspaper Cinco Dias and at SwissRe. He is an MBA, and a CFA. Marcos is a print junkie and also loves all things digital media. He also is passionate about everything related to New York City and loves to play tennis.

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