Jan. 16, 2011


COCO+CO.’s mission is to help client partners ethically win market leadership and stakeholder respect by uniquely achieving a harmony of strategic and creative resources.  Objective, experienced and audience-centered, the resulting public relations, advertising and marketing programs will earn trust, respect and confidence.

About COCO+CO.

COCO+CO. provides strategic corporate communications with an emphasis on brand consistency across media. COCO+CO. works with businesses in the financial services, quasi-public and energy efficiency sectors.

Greater Boston:
189 Ward Hill Avenue Ward Hill, MA 01835



Why I hate ‘advertising agencies’
And why you should be skeptical too; Look deeper to receive better results

By Tim Coco
President and chief executive officer

This may surprise a few people, but I have always loathed advertising agencies. I don’t mean just competitors—my disdain goes back long before hanging out my company’s shingle—but rather the concept in general.

In fact, COCO+CO. was launched 21 years ago precisely because I knew there was a better way. I even resisted calling COCO+CO. an “advertising agency” because the company’s scope is far broader than placing paid advertisements and it is not an “agent” of others. Unfortunately, classifying the business by another name confuses clients and prospects. Here’s why I hate advertising agencies.

Economics favor agencies over clients

Advertising agencies, as the name implies, began as nothing more than “agents” for the media. They merely sold space in newspapers and, later, time on radio and television. In return they received kickbacks (a/k/a commissions) from the media.

The “father of modern magazine advertising,” James Walter Thompson, began selling display ads in magazines as an employee of William James Carlton in 1868. He bought the company in 1877 and renamed it J. Walter Thompson Co. Since Thompson had to compete against other salespeople and the media themselves, he added the service of writing and illustrating ads to differentiate his firm. What turned out to be even more lucrative was taking the ad and placing it in multiple media and accepting multiple commissions.

COCO+CO. refuses media commissions and works instead on a fair time and materials basis.

Conflicts of interest betray clients

Thompson and others placed ads regardless of whether particular publications were actually a good fit for advertisers or reached prospective customers. As long as the agencies received their kickbacks, they didn’t care whether the advertiser benefitted. This is still true at most agencies. Worse, kickbacks come from many more sources.

When I worked years ago on the client side of a New York City-based conglomerate, I discovered the company’s advertising agency often recommended and placed print advertising in peculiar places. Most of these could not possibly be seen by the company’s prospects and did not further business interests. After pushing and prodding, it became apparent the only benefit was the 17.65 percent commission paid to the ad agency.

Another conflict is so-called “creative contests.” Many graphic designers ignore business goals and instead place the criteria for winning art contests ahead of client goals. More often than not—and studies bear this out—award winning advertisements don’t effectively sell clients’ products and services.

COCO+CO. does not permit its output to be entered into contests unless effectiveness on behalf of clients is the only criteria.
Artificial fragmentation drives up costs, reduces effectiveness

Thompson and others did not typically craft brochures, write press releases or lobby reporters to run free news even if these would prove more beneficial to the companies they claimed to serve. They refused to offer these services because they did not receive the more profitable commissions from their true employers—the media.

Eventually publicists—later known as public relations firms—and even the local job printer picked up the work the advertising agencies refused. Several problems emerged from this artificial fragmentation

First, messages crafted by separate advertising agencies, public relations firms and printers send inconsistent and confusing messages to prospects. Even business logos tended to disproportionately stretch or condense or appear in differing colors as each outside firm made different interpretations. With today’s addition of the World Wide Web, social media, mobile devices, e-newsletters and other means of reaching audiences, the problem has grown exponentially.

As a newspaper reporter early in my career, I observed press releases sent very different messages than print layouts arriving in the adjacent advertising department. As such, I was not surprised when Wang Laboratories collapsed into bankruptcy because it was unclear what the business was trying to sell or the unique benefits of its products. Further, I was amazed—and continue to be—by the absence of public relations people who have actually worked in newsrooms. Journalists not only have a whole array of conventions and rules to follow, they don’t have time to fix non-conforming press releases.

Second, the model of fragmented communication disciplines invariably results in biased advice. Depending on which vendor a business visits, for example, it is invariably steered to the specific products that vendor sells. Not surprisingly, advertising agencies push advertising, public relations firms push press releases, Web vendors push websites and so on.

Third, even those businesses attempting to manage various vendors discover exorbitant costs. This comes from duplicative research and preparation, redundant overhead and the inevitable inefficiency of hand-offs. In-house departments have the additional disadvantages of group think, overbearing egos, lack of resources and proper training and being too close for objective analysis.

COCO+CO. provides the full range of corporate communications services under one roof to ensure necessary consistency and repetition, accountability and focus only on client goals.

Low barriers to entry reduce professionalism

Finally, almost anyone can start an advertising agency. Despite my best efforts, the industry still refuses to require minimum education, experience or professional credentials; enforceable ethical guidelines; or even insurances. This is true on the client side too. Some companies buying Microsoft Office think they can handle the chores themselves.

Of course, the reality is the best computer and software suite can’t make operators good writers, understand the science of persuasion, comprehend how human minds follow and respond to layouts or consider relationships between color models (CMYK, RGB, spot, etc.) and resolutions (lines-per-inch vs. dots-per inch). There are literally thousands of considerations.

Absent industry standards, COCO+CO. has developed a “Resolution of Principles” and “Connections Process,” together governing ethics, education, experience, creativity, strategy, array of disciplines, best practices and accountability.

More than a dozen agencies in the area have opened and closed during the past 20 years. COCO+CO. survives, in part, because it invented today’s modern “integrated” approach by providing all corporate communications services under one roof. As new forms of communication emerge, COCO+CO. has no artificial barriers preventing their timely adoption. This vertical specialization works because the company restricts services to certain industries.

After the World Wide Web became popular and businesses learned about the shady and ubiquitous commission system, they demanded reform. Giant ad agencies, now forced to share their commissions, began claiming an interest in the integrated approach. Rather than actually providing integrated services though, they simply bought other firms and still largely operate them separately. Duplication, inefficiency and conflicts of interest still reign supreme.

To be successful, businesses must simply send relevant messages by vehicles most likely to reach target audiences. Unfortunately, this is neither the advice nor the services businesses receive because of the economic self interests and the conflicts of interests of their advisors. Consider these points when deciding how to take your business to the next level.

2012 COCO+CO. All rights reserved.