Ad Agency Creative Process

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Ad Agency Campaign Process Case Study

Advertising case studies do not include any information or materials on the pitch to the client, as these materials do not represent the best-and-final work of the brand. Every agency that pitches a campaign to a brand uses one of dozens of pitch strategies, like those included here. Amp Agency offers a comprehensive case study of a brand overhaul (and marketing campaign) from the research and development phase to assessment.

Ad Campaign Pitch Strategies

  • There are a variety of strategies used to pitch an ad campaign to a brand. One of these is called “Don’t You Agree?” which uses a bait-and-switch approach that ends up with the target agreeing with the preferred option. This strategy presents a solid truth, then makes a bold claim, and offers the why of that claim plus a solution to which the participants will gladly agree (based on how it is presented).
  • Another strategy for pitching is called “Fixing a Dichotomy,” wherein the presenter starts with “Truth A” (an undeniable good truth) then points out the opposite reality (or thing that makes Truth A problematic) called “Truth B”. The presenter then outlines the path back to Truth A, presenting the contrast and forcing a comparison.
  • Another pitching starts with a story, which captivates the audience, then segues into the ad pitch. The storytelling bit in the beginning triggers oxytocin (the feel-good chemical) in listeners’ brains, setting them up for deeper connection with the pitch.
  • An additional strategy is a demonstration, like giving a quick infomercial to the target client. Yet another is to “give perspective based on your audience,” which means to know the target audience and fully understand their point of view.
  • Using an emotional appeal is another strategy, which involves identifying the personal/business values of the audience and demonstrating how the pitch relates to those values. Educating and inspiring the audience is another strategy, which involves using persuasive techniques to lay a foundation of knowledge.
  • The “Pique Technique” is another strategy, where the presenter will “make an odd request or ask a question that leaves your audience wanting to know more,” and leaves them wondering why the question is even being asked. Painting a visual (or graphically-represented) picture is yet another strategy, which involves highlighting “three or more points of similarity” between the brand and the pitch.
  • Using flattery is another technique, provided those compliments are delivered genuinely and the ulterior motive is in their best interests. A final technique is to “show them that their time = your time,” by providing the target with research and efforts specifically focused on their needs.
  • Examples of each of these pitches in action can be seen here. Notably, there are many many other approaches for pitches that are also successful; these represent a select few examples.

Ad Campaign Example: Apple & Eve (Amp Agency)

  • Apple & Eve, the #1 juice-box brand in the US and who has been in business more than 40 years, found themselves lost in the growing sea of competitors in the juice box market. Many of these competitors had messaging similar to the brand, and they needed a way to once again stand out from the crowd. The brand hired Amp Agency “to build a distinct brand platform that would authentically connect with its key audience busy moms and dads ….”
  • Amp Agency built the brand a new brand platform and developed a campaign around the changes. The agency’s roles in the project included: creative, content development, campaign development, web development, search and paid media, programmatic changes, analytics, strategy, and social digital marketing."
  • Prior to launching the brand overhaul, Amp Agency delved deeply in the brand’s target audience, which they called “the Nurturer Mom,” and from this, focused their solutions toward establishing the brand as the “preferred juice option as the brand that understands her values and purpose as a mom and why providing her family with the best is so important.” The company researched this demographic’s online habits and digital behaviors, and identified her preferred communication methods. They also found that this demographic will “prioritize quality over price” to keep their families happy.
  • This in-depth target audience analysis helped the agency develop a strategy marketing plan that would be specifically relevant to meeting her needs.
  • This overhaul included a website redesign that presented a more-friendly user experience along with a new content hub. Based on their target audience research, the agency developed a site that was “modern, clean, and family-friendly,” and which highlighted the wholesome goodness of the brand’s heritage. The content hub, which includes recipes, craft-making content, among others, added value to the site for visiting parents, and helped create a seamless approach to promoting the brand and keeping customers engaged.
  • Amp Agency also created a series of branded videos “to bring the campaign to life” that ran “across paid, social, pre-roll, and programmatic” channels. These videos were focused on the “imagination and limitless potential that each day holds for a child,” and were blends that included both animation and live action. The videos proved to be “the most effective performance driver for the campaign, increasing both national awareness and engagement.”
  • Since the “Nurturer Mom” persona is most active on her mobile device, the video assets were “programmatically served as static and HTML5 rich banner ads,” and were targeted based on the persona’s digital habits and behaviors serving them to her at just the right moments. Amp Agency also partnered with Influenster to provide social sampling to increase brand exposure with potential customers.
  • Lastly, the agency paired the intense digital efforts with couponing, which pulled customers from the digital world into the stores to purchase the products. They engaged iBotta and Checkout51 for mobile couponing (again to meet the persona’s habits and preferences).
  • The results of the campaign propelled the brand forward “with unique positioning in a crowded category,” which helped the brand grow through in-store sales, new distribution channels, and through the creation of a genuine, interactive dialogue with consumers. They achieved 90 MM total impression, 1.9 M social engagements, and 80K product purchases from the coupons alone.

Overview of the Process (Featured in the Case Study)

  • PRE-HIRE: Prior to being hired, Amp Agency studied the brand’s market, history, competitors, and direct consumers to identify all aspects needing to produce the campaign and materials. From this information, they presented their findings and solutions to the brand (the pitch). It’s not clear which pitch strategy (or strategies) they employed, as this information was not available.
  • HIRE: The brand determined it would hire Amp Agency to prepare the brand overhaul and matching ad campaign. This likely included discussions on the ideas and materials presented, as well as the ideas and materials the brand itself wanted to convey. Creative discussions on these aspects permeated the entirety of the process (from pre-hire to launch).
  • RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: The project then moved into the R&D phase, which involved the agency delving deeply into the brand’s target audience, competitors, and core market. This phase likely included hundreds of meetings among different groups, all with the focus of discovering as much as possible that could be used to attract and engage the target audience, as well as various versions of creative materials being designed and re-designed (and re-designed) until they met the agency’s and brand’s specific needs.
  • FINALIZATION, LAUNCH, & ASSESSEMENT: During this period, the materials have all been developed, refined, and approved by the brand, and the campaign is launched, or in this case, the new website is released, the coupons are released, and the videos are sent far and wide. The campaign runs an allotted amount of time (or the tracking of it goes for a specific time limit based on an agreement between the agency and the brand), and the results are tallied to determine the measures of success.

Research Strategy

We scoured through hundreds of case studies compiled by various entities like Hubspot, AdForum, Epsilon, and Amp Agency, among others, to discover a comprehensive case study from an advertising campaign over the last two to three years. Despite this extended research, none of the case studies provided the pitch information or the design changes the initial campaign went through prior to finalization. It is important to note that advertising agencies rarely share their pitch materials for one simple reason: The brand to whom they are pitching would not want early (and un-finalized) versions of the campaign to be made public because it would likely detract from the overall impact of the final version. As such, advertising case studies do not include pitch materials within their outlines, nor do they include the creative changes prior to launch. Rather, most case studies identify the issue that prompted the campaign, highlight the materials and brand changes made during the campaign, and provide the results of the whole thing.

We changed tactics looking for outstanding examples of pitches or descriptions/case studies that presented the creative process prior to the launch of the campaign, however again, this search proved fruitless. What we found instead were hundreds of strong tactics and techniques to use during pitches complete with examples, though none of them provided a full campaign outline from pitch to launch.

We then attempted to create our own case study by searching for one campaign that offered each piece (pitch to creative design to launch to assessment) separately, but could not cobble together a complete case study despite repeated attempts with multiple brand campaigns. As such, we have presented what we were able to find in hopes that this will still prove useful.

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Ad Agency Skills and Abilities

The skills and abilities most required of both creatives and account managers at ad agencies include: a customer-centric focus, people and communication skills, solid teamwork skills, the ability of persuasion, strong creativity and open-mindedness, analytical abilities, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and the ability to manage time, money, and resources effectively. Though the skills differ somewhat in the ways they are utilized and some positions utilize more skills than others, the sets of abilities are basically the same. Notably, each of these skills comes into play during every stage of the process for ad agencies from pre-conception, to sales pitch, to research, development, and design, and all the way to the assessment after a campaign or project reaches completion.

Skill/Ability: Customer-Centric Focus

  • Since account managers are responsible for “managing the agency’s relationship with its clients and/or accounts,” the primary focus of this position is the customer. This requires both a deep understanding of business and professional protocol, and innate leadership abilities. For creative professionals, depending on their positions, this could include interests in social and cultural trends (as they relate to brands and/or general marketing), and a conviction to creating stellar materials to meet client needs.
  • Keeping the customer and customer’s needs first and foremost is key to being a successful account manager for an ad agency. The better an account manager is at meeting the customer’s needs, the better the agency will fare. For creatives, the customer-centric focus is delivered through sticking to the compliance requirements of the client while demonstrating high levels of creativity within that realm.

Skill/Ability: People & Communication Skills

  • Since advertising is directly related to influencing people, a full set of “people skills” is necessary for both creatives and account managers. Creatives must understand people their drives, their desires, their fears, their motivations to be able to create the perfect campaigns that meet each of these needs. Account managers must be able to work with high-strung creatives and stodgy client with the same level of aplomb since the job requires a balance between the different types of people involved in every project.
  • Communication skills both in speaking and writing are critical for success in this field. Creatives need to be able to explain their concepts and ideas clearly, as well as present them clearly graphically. Account managers need to be able to read people well, get to the root of their needs and desires, and craft the perfect solutions for them instantly. Written communication skills are as important to both creatives and account managers as verbal communication skills. If concepts are not clearly conveyed in writing through a sales email to a client from the account manager or through content copy from a creative professional, the client’s goals will ultimately not be met.
  • One of the most important people skills is that of listening attentively and actively, and some experts “say that listening is one of the most powerful skills [a person] can have.” Account managers need to listen to what the clients want and be able to convey that clearly to creatives who hear the information, process it, and turn it into a slew of ideas to present to the client.
  • Part of the expectations of an account manager is that they keep successful long-term relationships with clients, and expert-level people skills are necessary for this to happen with a variety of clients all with different personalities and professional manners.
  • Just like every job, working in an ad agency requires a great deal of patience sometimes. There are difficult clients, difficult projects, difficult tasks, and time-consuming work that requires the high level of detail-orientation that goes along with a lot of patience. Additionally, for both the creatives working the project and the account manager selling it, patience is needed to see measurable results from the work that went into a campaign.

Skill/Ability: Teamwork

  • Working at an advertising agency requires a strong ability to collaborate with a wide variety of others, including colleagues and people from the brands the agency represents. Being able to keep one’s eyes on the big picture and work with others successfully is key to being good at both the account managers’ and creative professionals’ positions.
  • Creative professionals in an agency work with a variety of other creative types. Content writers work with photographers, videographers work with audio professionals, user experience designers work with graphic designers, social media managers work with digital marketing specialists, and so on. It takes a lot of flexibility and a great teamwork attitude to engage with this many creative types and be successful.

Skill/Ability: Persuasion

  • Since the whole concept of advertising is based on convincing others of something, it makes sense that persuasion would be a critical skill for those in this field. Some experts say that the easier it is to convince others, the more successful one will be in the field.
  • The entirety of the account manager’s job is focused on getting and keeping clients. Without a strong ability to influence others, sell them on particular concepts, and keep them engaged (and happy), an ad agency account manager would not be successful in this job.
  • Account managers especially need to be highly skilled at “understanding the subtleties of language” from clients and from creatives and to meld them together into actionable solutions that work for both. They spend time convincing clients of the validity of creatives’ ideas, and spend time convincing creatives of the necessity of bending to the client’s wishes.

Skill/Ability: Creativity & Open-Mindedness

  • As it is easy to imagine, the more creative one is, the more successful s/he is likely to be working as a creative professional in an ad agency. Being able to come up with new, innovative, or twists-on-old-ideas is necessary and keeping those ideas rolling in fresh for every new brand is imperative for creatives. For account managers, creativity is utilized in the form of reading the clients and adjusting the presentation or discussion to meet those needs.
  • All personnel working at ad agencies need to be able to come up with “creative solutions to business problems and new ways of communicating with … customers and clients.” Every position within an ad agency will deal with a wide range of products, services, and brands each representing different types of aspects and speaking to different sets of audiences. Creatives need to understand each of these positions, and how to craft specific projects so that they meet those needs in innovative ways.

Skill/Ability: Analytical Abilities, Problem-Solving Skills, & Decisiveness

  • Each client project, each campaign, each pitch involves dozens of mini-problems that need to be solved. In fact, the crux of a marketing campaign is that it solves a customer’s problems or meets a customer’s needs so each campaign represents a creative solution to those issues. The creative needs to be able to solve these issues within the creative process, while the account manager needs to solve any issues that arise with the running of or successful completion of a campaign.
  • Being able to look at problems logically and think of viable solutions that will work for both the client and agency personnel’s needs is critical, and that often comes from an individual with a deep well of knowledge across a wide spectrum of areas, and someone who has a life-long love of learning and growing. Both of these are necessary for any personnel working in an ad agency.
  • Successful decision-making is the balance between creativity and logic, and the use of both allows [one] to make effective choices.” This goes for both creative professionals and account managers at ad agencies, though each employs these abilities on different sets of tasks.
  • Critical thinking (and related abilities, like problem-solving and decision-making) often lead to creativity because it often takes creative and critical thinking to reach solutions that are viable to both the internal and external teams. This is more important in the account management positions than in creative positions, but both use these skills regularly in their tasks.

Skill/Ability: Money, Time, & Resources Management

  • Although these skills seem most-suited to the account manager position, they are required of creative personnel, as well. Each member of an agency’s team needs to keep time and resources used wisely in order to keep within the project budget, and ultimately keep the client pleased with the spend vs results. “Organizational skills are of vital importance for any job, but when it comes to advertising, there will be some deadlines you need to meet and some important conferences with clients to attend.” This goes for both creatives and account managers.

Research Strategy

To identify the skills and abilities needed by both account managers and creative professionals working in advertising agencies, we scoured industry experts’ recommendations. From this collection, we pulled those which appeared across multiple experts’ notes, and which directly applied to every area of the process used in these agencies, and detailed them here.