Business Tools

Best Practices: Finding the Right Advertising Agency

SEMA News—February 2013

By Steve Campbell

Finding the Right Advertising Agency

For Manufacturers, It’s the Ultimate Match


Meigan Powell Alexander has used her marketing skills to enhance the success of such brands as NAPA Filters, Carquest Filters, GM and Wachovia.
Meigan Powell Alexander has used her marketing skills to enhance the success of such brands as NAPA Filters, Carquest Filters, GM and Wachovia. Her wide-ranging agency experience spans widely diverse projects that range from managing media for Six Flags theme parks and implementing Hispanic media and merchandising for Heineken, Heineken Light and Amstel Light to developing and managing a NAPA Filters digital campaign. Powell & Partners has been a SEMA member for five years. E-mail: Meigan Powell Alexander

Building a brand, informing business partners and educating consumers are key factors in marketing a product successfully. And while manufacturers may be experts at innovation and development, few also possess the expertise to publicize and promote their products for optimal sales in media ranging from print to web and from brochure to billboard. That is the business of advertising agencies. Finding the right one should be every manufacturer’s ultimate promotional goal.

“There is a vast difference between a professional, experienced ad agency and an ‘art service,’” said Bill Holland, president of Holland Communications Inc.

“Carefully positioned messages, a feel for the market and compelling ad copy are required to get the best results. An Apple Mac does not make a marketer.”

Experience and expertise are fundamental. So is finding an agency that understands the manufacturer’s product line. But equally important is ensuring that the agency’s personnel mesh well with the company’s staff.

“The people assigned to handle the day-to-day communications with the client must be extremely knowledgeable about the market, the idiosyncrasies of distribution, the manufacturer’s product, their competitors, their sales strategies, the category, the history and what the specific goals of the manufacturer are,” said Don Fall, president of Fall Advertising.

“This person is the direct link to both major and minor decisions that affect the success of the agency and the manufacturer.”

That makes research the first priority when a manufacturer begins to hunt for an advertising firm. The agencies that we consulted referred to a number of easily accessed sources for preliminary information, including consultation with non-competitive manufacturers in the same market segment, the advertising and marketing listings in the SEMA Membership Directory (available either online or as a PDF download at and through the recommendations of media professionals in both print and electronic outlets.

“SEMA’s website and SEMA News are good places to start,” advised Kipp Kington, president of KingTec Communications and the KTC Media Group. “Invest some time to find out if an agency provides consistently high-quality work, meets deadlines and can handle a variety of projects. An agency should be able to demonstrate overall reliability and the ability to grow and adapt to the market.”

Holland recommended also checking the agencies’ involvement in industry organizations, including SEMA councils, and he pointed out that an agency’s client base is an indicator of its involvement in various niches.


Don Fall is the owner and president of Fall Advertising.
Don Fall is the owner and president of Fall Advertising. His years of marketing expertise and extensive automotive mechanical background drive the agency and guide companies to success in the automotive aftermarket. The firm is a third-generation advertising agency and is dedicated to the automotive aftermarket. Fall Advertising was one of the founding members of SEMA. E-mail: Don Fall

Tom Marx, CEO and president of The Marx Group, recommended a series of steps to qualify an agency, including the completion of a questionnaire to establish the agency’s credentials, a face-to-face meeting as a second phase and then, when there is some confidence that the agency is a good fit, a paid project as a test of the relationship, communications and the agency’s talent.

“It is so important that the relationship, communications skills and work processes are closely aligned between the client and the agency,” he said. “This is a long-term commitment for both parties and should be looked at as if it were a marriage. Divorce is expensive, time-consuming and disruptive.”

It’s also important to qualify an agency for the types of media it deals with. Consumer and trade publications are targeted differently, so an ad touting a component’s benefits may appeal to an end user, but its salability is probably the salient point for a distributor or jobber.

“Most products manufactured by SEMA-member companies must eventually be purchased by consumers, and wholesale buyers are much more receptive to a manufacturer’s sales overtures when they have recently been experiencing demand for that company’s products,” said Jim Wirth, president of Wirth & Wirth Advertising. “Push-pull marketing is one of the most effective sales programs in our industry because consumer demand pulls the products through the sales channels while the manufacturer’s business-to-business (B2B) sales efforts push them in the same direction. Manufacturers need to find agencies that can build that demand with consumers by brand name within the automotive marketplace.”

Meigan Powell Alexander, executive vice president of Powell & Partners, said that a strong background in research is critical to an agency’s work on either side of the consumer/trade equation.

Read the complete article featured in the March issue of SEMA News.