Want advertising that works? Leave it to the professionals.

If you are a TV channel surfer as I am, you have seen the growing number of Do-It-Yourself shows. Regular guys in flannel shirts imply that if you can identify a wrench from a lineup of tools, there is no mechanical task you cannot handle. Toilet need to be replaced? No problem. Bookcases for the family room? You're the one. Timing belt replaced on the SUV? Go for it. I got the bug myself. Why couldn't I be a Do-It-Myselfer?

I started with a conservative project: replace the leaky kitchen faucet in my 30-year-old house. Venturing into my neighborhood hardware store, I found a faucet that looked similar to my old one, and with a "you-can-do-it" slap on the back from the store's handyman, I was on my way with confidence.

It did not go well. More than once I flung an expletive at the TV handymen. Who knew that each step along the way would require unanticipated trips to the hardware store? The project cost much more than I expected, I wasted a perfectly good Saturday, the results were disappointing and in the end I had to call in a professional.

Why do I tell you this story? Because for each of you who thinks your advertising is a Do-It-Yourself task, I hope to save you from the same results I found at my kitchen sink: spending more money than anticipated, disappointing results, wasting time that could have been spent more effectively on other responsibilities and needing to turn finally to a professional to get the job done right.

While advertising is not a DIY project, selecting a firm to handle your advertising is. I've put together some guidelines to help you determine whether the advertising agencies you might consider are a good match for your business.

  1. One size doesn't fit all.
    Like other industries, advertising agencies come in all sizes. For small- to medium-size companies, choosing a large agency often means being a little fish in a big pond. Staffed to serve corporations, these "big ponds" offer a level of services that you may never need, and frequently require a significant financial commitment. Smaller firms can provide equivalent expertise, and can do so more economically.
  2. Do they feel your pain?
    Advertising agencies know advertising, but how well do they know the unique challenges of the death-care industry? It will cost you for the time it takes them to come to an understanding of your business. An agency that deals with clients like you already recognizes the unique challenges and likely has strategies in mind for your success.
  3. One-trick ponies need not apply.
    Advertising requires a media mix. The most effective advertising and marketing use a variety of efforts, from direct mail to Internet search engine optimization, grassroots efforts to trade show displays – and everything in-between. Direct mail houses or firms specializing only in electronic media, for example, will not have the skill to meet all of your needs.
  4. Chemistry counts.
    You will be working closely with your ad agency, entrusting the growth of your business to them, so the chemistry must be right. Do you admire their attitude? Do you connect with them on a personal as well as a professional level? Do they listen to your needs – or are they quick to tell you what they think you need? Is there mutual respect?
  5. The "welcome mat" is always out.
    With a smaller firm, you can expect to be a bigger fish. Every person should make you feel that your business is priority one. Are your phone calls accepted warmly and returned promptly? Are questions welcomed and answers satisfying? Do you have access to everyone at the agency, including the person at the helm?
  6. Success breeds success.
    Has the agency shared success stories with you of clients, perhaps with challenges like yours, and how the agency's strategies and execution have produced measurable results for them? Has the firm earned awards, either from the advertising industry or from your industry?
  7. A picture is worth 1000 words.
    Ask to see the agency's portfolio of work. See if their style resonates with you, if their work is different for each client, not just a variation on a theme. Does their advertising make you want to buy the product or engage the services of their clients?
  8. Can we talk?
    Ask for client references and then call them. Talk about their experience with the agency – how long they have worked together and what measurable results they have achieved. Call a few of clients not on the reference list, too. Is there a reason they were not offered to you?

When I'm surfing the channels, I still check up on the DIY guys. At first, I was disappointed in myself for not achieving their expectations of me. Then I realized that being handymen is what they do for a living. They are professionals, trained to get the best results. When you want the best results from your advertising, using a professional is the most practical approach, and your part in the process of selecting the right agency will help ensure their success. Make certain that step is a Do-It-Yourself one.