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
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.
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
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
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
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
COCO+CO. refuses media commissions and works instead on a fair time and materials basis.
Conflicts of interest betray clients
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.