Choosing the Right Creative Agency
posted March 17, 2022
by Chad Germann, Founder & CEO

You want the right creative agency, a partner that can help you define what the market thinks and feels about your casino. That’s what building a brand is all about. Creating a personality for your casino, communicating that personality to the market through advertising – and everything else. More than advertising, it’s all the things that touch your guests and their experience. And having the right partner to help you maximize all those brand touchpoints is really important. Because marketing is important. Doubly so now that the world has turned back on (post-COVID-19) and many of us are having to compete for wallet-share in a way that maybe we haven’t had to in a couple years. Let’s face it; our guests have lots of options again. Which means – marketing is really important again!

Wait … I’m off-track already. This article is about choosing the right agency. My bad! Let’s get back to the main idea. I suggested that you need to make a specific decision at the start of the process in order to arrive at the right agency partner. So what is that decision, how does it help, and what does the “right” agency partner look like anyway? More specifically, when I see one, how do I know that’s the “right” one?

Now, I’ve been in the middle of many, many such decisions. Both on the client side (I used to be the advertising director for my Tribe’s casinos) and on the agency side. Probably more than a hundred times as an agency. And from all that experience, here’s what I know about the agency selection decision-making process – what it looks like when it’s right, and when it’s wrong.

When it’s right, the casino hires an agency that understands their business/industry, knows what the communication levers are, what a casino can say, what it can’t say, etc. The right agency has done the work before many times, and they have success stories that they can share. The right agency speaks your language, and makes it all easy for you. No having to teach them what to do, what’s important, all that. You don’t have to teach them because they know, because they’ve been there many times in the past, and they’ve solved similar problems before … Is this obvious? Sorry, just making my point.

The wrong agency is the opposite. They don’t know, they need to be taught the ins and outs, etc. You don’t want that sort of partner, because then nothing is easy.

So what, then, is the decision that results in the wrong agency?

The decision comes from something very simple. And slightly counterintuitive. The problem arises when you ask the agencies invited in to pitch for “original creative campaigns” for your casino. Really? Original creative is the original sin that screws up your agency selection process? Yes, that’s what I’m saying. 100 percent. Screws it all up, and here’s why.

Marketing pros know that you can’t solve a complicated “what should our casino brand be” question without a bunch of research information about the casino, the guests and why they visit the casino, why they visit other casinos, what the other competition/casinos in the market offer, what those casinos say/promise in their brand messaging, etc. All that information is the good stuff, the stuff that a good creative agency uses to build a really smart, effective brand strategy, AND THEN FROM THERE a clever and helpful brand creative campaign can be uncovered. But without all that good stuff, you are just throwing darts in the dark.

Which is what happens when agencies don’t know you, your casino, your market, your guests – they are throwing darts in the dark. And there’s almost zero chance that whatever those blind dart-throwers come up with is going to be half as useful as something done by an agency holding all the good stuff/research and information.

Marketing pros know this. But non-marketing pros don’t. They don’t understand how brands are built. They walk into that pitch room, they look at the pretty advertising agency people in their colorful outfits, they see fun and wacky casino ideas on the wall, and they want to pick. Because that’s what executives in the big corner suites do – they make decisions. They tell people what to do. So they see the work on the walls and they want to pick the winner. For them, it’s a beauty contest, and they know that they get to pick the one they like. “I like that one. It’s fresh and it has the energy we want!”

Sure, it’s fun to see new creative with your logo in the corner. It’s like Christmas morning. All the packages have your name on them. But without the research/information, it’s all darts in the dark. And you do not want to run to market, spend all those advertising production dollars, and HOPE THAT THE DART FOUND THE RIGHT TARGET.

I know that we work in the gambling business. But that’s a terrible gamble.

The solution to this problem: don’t ask for new, original creative. In fact, forbid it. Or they will bring new creative, because they know that non-marketers will think it’s fine and give them points for “they want our business so badly that they did extra work. I like that.” Ugh. No, they did some random work and it’s nonsense. Rather, ask them to bring their best casino-specific or hospitality-specific (if they don’t have casino experience) and have them explain why they made this particular brand campaign, how it performed for the client, and what they learned in the process. Ask them to explain how they arrive at their brand campaigns, step by step.

In this way you are measuring the best that they can do, when they did have the research and information in front of them (from a previous partner client), and therefore you are seeing the smartest possible solutions. And you can judge without any Christmas morning bias which agency has the most talent/skill in doing the work that you want them to do for you.

But no original creative. It’s a trap. And guarantees that the wrong metrics for success and the wrong agency skills are being judged (can they do the work versus can they win a room with their charm/wit). That’s when it goes wrong.

You want smart work that will move your business, not wit and charm and darts in the dark.

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Founder & CEO

Chad Germann is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Tribe of Minnesota and founder and CEO of Red Circle Minneapolis, the nation's largest Native-owned marketing firm.