Working with Agencies: Digital Advertising Creative

Many brand managers include digital advertising as part of their overall media plan. This outline describes the steps a brand manager can expect when working with their creative agency partner to develop digital advertising units, and will help the brand manager establish a project timeline and cost estimate with agency partners. These steps are based on the assumption that the creative strategy for digital is part of an overall creative strategy for all media, and that the brand has defined the landing page experience to which the digital advertising will deliver consumers. I have also assumed that the brand has already clearly defined the primary media objectives. This outline is not intended to be a discussion of what creative or media strategies or tactics should be used; it is intended to describe how the brand should work with its agency to execute already-determined strategies and tactics. In other words, this describes the “how”, not the “what”.

Digital media is somewhat unique in that, in addition to meeting the media objectives, the digital media planner needs to understand the creative objectives and strategy; the desired consumer experience will influence what publishers are right for the plan. A wide variety of creative assets can be developed for a digital media buy. Often, a digital buy will include custom content that is developed by a media partner, in addition to more standard banner ads and rich media units. Ideally, the creative agency and media agency have worked together on the RFP to media partners, and the final digital media plan takes the creative objectives into consideration.

The Brief. The brand manager must provide clear objectives and expectations to the agency team. What is the primary objective of the advertising? To build awareness? Encourage interaction with the ad unit itself? Drive traffic to a landing page? Make your expectations clear in the brief. If you have specific KPIs or success measures, include those specifications. Be sure to specify the budget the agency has to work with to develop creative mechanicals. The creative agency will work directly with the media agency to understand the specific units that need to be developed to support the media plan. In addition to display advertising (banner ads and rich media units), some media plans may include custom or site-specific content that will be developed by the publisher; the creative agency will provide supervision to the publisher’s creative team to ensure consistency with the overall campaign.

Initial Proposals. The agency will respond to your brief with rough ideas about how to execute the creative strategy within the digital environment, and may provide a few alternative approaches. The brand team will be asked to identify an overall look, feel, and tone for the advertising units. You won’t be seeing working versions of ads at this point, but more like storyboards, often in a PDF format.

How well do their proposals respond to the brief? Be sure you fully understand the user experience. How will the approach work in wide but narrow leaderboard ads as well as square 350×350 ads? How will the approach work in any custom creative content in the plan? Does the ad drive the consumer to respond? Does it meet legal and regulatory requirements in addition to meeting the brand objective?

The proposal should include a proposed project timeline and budget, and reflect all the creative work needed to meet the detailed media specifications. (This is often more detail than a brand manager is used to seeing with other media buys.) Be sure the timeline reflects: (1) brand and legal review (2) agency time for developing the creative and incorporating feedback (3) the date by which creative assets need to be provided to the media agency for trafficking to the publishers and (4) the live date for each publisher. Make sure the timeline is consistent with the landing page launch.

Working versions of the ads. Once you have agreed with the agency on the concept and approach, their next step is to create working versions in the sizes needed for the media buy. They will provide links to these working versions; review the look and feel of the ads, as well as the copy and graphics. Ask the agency to show you a mockup of how the ads will look on each of the sites on which it will be placed so that you can see them in context.
Custom content. Often a digital media buy will include creative content that will be built by the media partner. This might be a sponsorship or “skin” for a specific section of the site, a contest, a game, a video, or another element unique to one publisher. The creative agency will need to provide guidance to the media partner so that the content developed is consistent with other elements of the advertising campaign, and the agency’s fees will need to reflect this work. The review process for custom content is similar to the process outlined above.

Measure and optimize. Your brief outlined the objectives for the advertising campaign, and the timing and content of the reports that you are expecting from your agency partner. Your media agency will provide reports to you and to your creative partners that outline the performance of each creative unit and each site. The media and creative agencies should work together to develop recommendations for optimization, reallocating units and placement to the elements that are best achieving the campaign objectives. At the completion of the campaign, the media agency should provide a complete recap of performance and lessons learned.

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