Why advertising agencies do not fix real problems

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

12 June 2014

They’re just looking to bill you

Why don’t advertising agencies fix real problems? To start with, they are not hired to do that job. Most companies hire an ad agency because they want a new campaign or fresh creative. But, the problem is so much deeper than that. Even your current agency is not fixing fundamental problems. It works on the message only. it is not a rebranding company.

I came from an agency background many years ago and part of the problem with an agency’s failure to really change market share to any significant degree is deeply rooted in the relationship itself. Agencies know that they will not have a huge effect on your business. They have little power to influence all the other variables needed to steal share. They cannot tell you of operational issues at the core of your business. They cannot fathom the internal structural issues that affect your brand’s success. They are, in fact, handcuffed to the status quo.

I say that because they have a conflict of interests. Ad agencies live and die at the altar of new business. Once they have a client, they try to hold tenaciously onto that business. In fact, the actual effects of their work are almost impossible to measure.

“At the end of the day, they don’t tell you objective truths about your business because they want to keep the retainer and progress their relationship with you.”

Advertising Agencies

So how do they keep your business? Well they try their best to become your friends. Sometimes they try to play the eclectic and eccentric friend because they believe you see creativity in their weirdness.

At the end of the day, they don’t tell you objective truths about your business because they want to keep the retainer and progress their relationship with you.

They don’t really understand the prospect. Rarely, if ever, do they insist on projectable research on the prospect. They might do focus groups. But those are not research.

The agency also thinks tactically and not strategically. It has to do this because you have hired it for a campaign. The moment you share any information or goals, the agency’s creative team begins to think about execution. This means it will fall in love with a creative script or idea… and will try to rationalize that creative idea with a strategy. This is simply backwards.

We are a rebranding company and our model is very different. We don’t work on a retainer. We are paid a flat fee for our work and we have a finite period of engagement. This means we place no efforts on schmoozing you and becoming party partners. Often, we have to be blunt and direct. We point out and recommend fixes to problems. Those that want you to love them forever don’t do that because they can’t.  We tell you when the kids are homely, the dress makes you look fat and say, “That  is the ugliest tie we have ever seen.”

We don’t guess on the solution. We research it. We figure out the permission your brand has to be important and align that permission with the highest emotional intensity available. When we do that, your brand becomes persuasive and the strategy upon which it is built is founded on persuasive principles.

We research the switching triggers, the equity markers, the messaging, the category of competitors and the product features. Our only goal is to change the brand at its foundation so that the agency has a strategy rather than a tactic to execute.

Ask the agency about us. It will tell you that you don’t need what we do because it already does it. What agencies are really saying is that you have money on the table and they feel entitled to it. Are we the enemy of ad agencies? To hear them talk, sometimes it seems so.

See more posts in the following related categories: Advertising advertising agencies consultants


  1. Mike Oz

    When I left the advertising agency world many years ago I thought, “You know, I don’t think we ever really helped a client.”

    • Tom Dougherty

      What a sad commentary. Glad you left the sham society.

  2. Corbin

    I am absolutely convinced that the only way to grow market share is comes out of doing research.

    • Tom Dougherty

      I completely agree. Trouble is there are two kinds of research … Bad research and great. Most agencies can’t tell the difference.

  3. Mark D.

    Great points… My time in agencies was bittersweet. I loved the creative process, but found too many creatives interested in being cool rather than smart. The cool made for superficial work… Which probably highlights Mike’s sentiments of never really helping a client.

    • Tom Dougherty

      The era of old school ad agencies has past. Revenues are down and they still Klingon, for the most part, to the old worn out model.


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