What does it take to get great advertising that works?

The formula is really simple. Clear direction from a client and great creative from the agency.

But getting there is a little trickier than you would think.

A few years ago, I had the great luck to work with a variety of B2B companies in the casino industry. In fact, they were the reason I started J Carcamo & Associates.

As different as all of these companies were – some were in technology, some were selling analytics, some were selling what they thought was the big idea…BIG with a capital B. One thing they seemed to have in common was this feeling that the marketing office door was somewhat of a revolving one, ushering new marketing directors in and out as quickly as they could update your databases.

This type of turnover is one reason ad agencies seem to come in and out of favor with their clients. Sometimes it’s is because of “bad work” (and I say that in quotes) on the agency side. Sometimes this is because the client has hired an otherwise great agency that is simply not equipped to handle the business. In the case of casinos, the volume of work casinos require is often more than a traditional agency can bear given the retainer fees.

Sometimes a new marketing leader want to find comfort in a new situation. So, they go back to agencies they’ve worked with in prior locations.

Sometimes clients just want a change, and since they can’t fire themselves, they fire the agency.

I have been in all of these situations, and I can tell you from experience that neither of these reasons for change is going to result in great advertising. Great advertising has to start with a great relationship built on honesty and trust.


Institutional knowledge and continuity are important to any brand. So, how do you ensure continuity? Well..you start at the beginning. Find the right agency – one that wants to help you generate revenue, not awards. I mean…We all love awards. They are a visible signal of our success. They boost morale and are great to point to when you’re trying to develop new business. But, do you know what boosts morale even more? Revenue! Not just revenue, but revenue growth.

If you can somehow keep working with your current agency (and I’m assuming they are the right agency for you), find a way to do it. Before firing or hiring an agency, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with your agency.

Ask yourself and the agency a few questions.

Are you allowing your agency to be as involved in the operational evolution of your company?  As involved as they are in the advertising? Are they developing great advertising that perhaps is more significant than your operation? A friend once quoted a popular advertising adage, “Nothing kills a bad product faster/quicker than good advertising.”

The thing you have to be honest about is what you’re selling and how you’re going to sell it. Remember, selling a fully rounded four-star experience is easy until guests realize that you are somewhat south of those four stars. Selling a small riverboat casino may not be as glamorous but it is appealing if done the right way. If you are honest with yourself and your agency is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your offering, you can get great advertising that can help you move the needle.

Next, consider how and what you communicate.

Who is giving the agency direction, and is it being given to the agency directly or is it getting “translated” like a game of telephone from the VP or director to the manager to the coordinator to the agency? YEARS of doing this have proven to me that this more often than not at the crux of “bad ads”. Again…air quotes.

I recognize that as the marketing leader on your team, you may not always have the time to be involved in the development of creative briefs. After all, isn’t that why you have an advertising manager?

Another question in the same vein is about approvals. Who is approving the creative? Is it the person responsible for giving the direction to the agency or are you constantly surprising your agency with someone else’s opinion?

Are you sharing the information needed to build great marketing programs and communicate them effectively? One school of thought is just to tease the audience so that your employees can be more engaged when customers ask questions. That’s a great school of thought if you have enough staff to cover answering ALL the questions that will come from your clever teaser ad.

Then, another school of thought says you should give the audience ALL of the detailed information you can provide so that there are no surprises. That’s a good idea unless your ads look like a contract rather than something fun and interesting.

I think you can see how both of these approaches impact the guest experience, but can you also see how it impacts creative development? If you don’t share the relevant information, your agency can’t develop the right ads.

How about what it takes to service your account? Are you fully aware of what it takes to service your account and how you are positively or negatively impacting that level of service? Honestly, how many revisions do you expect your agency to make to one ad?

An honest look at both sides of the agency-client relationship will go a long way to building a great team, but that is only one piece of the puzzle.


Trust is a two-way street. Your agency has to trust you.

They have to trust that you won’t blow up their creative when they don’t give you what you think you’re looking for.

They have to trust that you are being honest with timelines and restrictions. Sudden left turns can easily put you on a different path and cost you and the agency time and resources.

The best way I’ve found to build trust is to be a good client. Yes, agencies aren’t the only ones that can be good or bad. Clients can be that way too. I have been both, but I hope that I learn from my mistakes.

Here’s how you can be a good or better client.

Know what you want. Please don’t ask for your agency for 27 revisions only to approve the very first option that was given to you. No exaggeration. To this day, it is my hallmark example of when a client doesn’t actually know what they want so they get caught up in the minutia of creative details.

As an example. Most casino marketers agree there are certain tried and true programs – car giveaways, cash giveaways and slot play giveaways. Sometimes, a casino comes up with a unique item that customers are really attracted to – perhaps a home makeover or some dream experience. We all love to work on those, but what happens when you’re giving away the sixth car of the year? You start to think tinkering with the ad will make it seem new and different. And, it doesn’t. You look back six revisions later and no one really remembers where you started. But if you TRUST your agency to share your desires, they’ll get you something creative that feels right for your brand and new to your customers. It’s ok to say, “I don’t want it to look the same.” Trust them to work WITH you.

Tell the agency what business challenges you’re facing and let them come up with the graphic solutions. Too often we can fixate on fonts and colors. Make it yellow” or “bigger”. Requested changes can often have a ripple effect on creativity. Make enough of these random changes and all of a sudden you have an ad that looks like it came out of left field. Trust your agency with your business challenges. Let them give you great creative to solve those challenges.

Don’t try to do it yourself even if you’re frustration is beyond words or because you have the Creative Suite on your desktop. Do your job as great as you can and then trust your partners to do the same. They already have the brand standards, they already know the tone and manner of the ads. Chances are they won’t give you something too far off the beaten path unless they’ve run out of options. I like to think of it this way. I have a screwdriver, but I don’t fix things. I let the handyman do that…or my sister-in-law. I swear she could build a house with matchsticks if that was all she had to work with.

My last bit of advice is to be passionate. I know I just told you to take the business role instead of the creative role, but you have to be passionate about the creative and messages you’re putting out to your audience. What makes you think your agency or audience will be if you’re not? Pushing for greatness is not the same as making uneducated changes. When you push and they push themselves, you’re going to get some of the best work you’ll ever see…the rewards and maybe some awards will come.

Get the work you deserve. Do the work you deserve to be doing.

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