On Eating Your Own Cooking

Valleywag has an post implying ad agencies don’t practice what they preach: that they don’t spend on search ads for themselves like they do for their clients. I have no doubt this is true. I just searched for “advertising agency” on Google. The paid results are almost all very small agencies.

Ad agencies spend very little on advertising for themselves in any media. Not because they don’t believe in advertising, because their target customers can’t be found via advertising. Think about it: the person hired by Fortune500Co to spend $100 million on an ad campaign had better know who the agencies she’s going to review for the gig are before she starts. If she’s Googling for names, then she’s probably the wrong person for the job.

Certain types of large professional services firms (ad agencies, accounting firms, investment banks, law firms, consulting firms, etc.) don’t benefit from advertising, and certainly not mass-market advertising. They may put an occasional ad in a trade publication, but even those are probably not efficient. That’s because a DDB, a Deloitte & Touche, a Goldman Sachs, a Jones Day, a McKinsey don’t need brand awareness among their target audience. And they generally don’t care about brand awareness among other than their target audience.

All of these firms need to manage their target audience’s opinion of them relative to their competition. That’s why you see McKinsey partners being quoted in news articles, articles in the trade press being placed by PR people, announcements of deals done being advertised in magazines, books being written by marketing gurus, and all sorts of client services people appearing on conference panels and talking-heads TV.

So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that ad agencies don’t use mass market ads for themselves. What surprises me is when client services firms do advertise, like Accenture has done for years in airports. I can’t even imagine how low the ROI of that campaign is.