Over my two decades in this business, I’ve learned there are basically four levels of marketing partners.
The Order-Taker: This media partner isn’t so much a partner as a waiter. Lacking in practical expertise and knowledge of sound marketing fundamentals, they’ll pretty much say “yes” to anything because they want your money, and they want to please you, and they don’t know any better.
The Yes-Man: This partner begins to know better through accumulated knowledge – whether through study, training, or practical experience, but they put their own interests ahead of your yours. While they often position themselves as consultants, they have no bones about allegiances when their interests run counter to yours, and they do know better.
The Genius: If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a lot of knowledge can be downright insufferable. This person is a genius. Just ask him. Actually, you probably won’t have to ask him… given a few minutes, he’ll surely tell you. You may also need to watch your toes as geniuses regularly drop big, heavy names throughout each conversation. Long on talk and short on listen, they know what you need to do well before they know you. Whatever the outcome, it will be pretty, it will win awards, it may or may not fit your goals and values.
The Partner: As well-schooled in marketing strategies, study, and practical applications as the adman, these folks are confident enough in their experiences and continuing education in marketing that they’re able to meet you half-way and build an effective campaign your way. These people tend to have happy, long-term clients and when asked why you should consider hiring them, they’re likely as not to refer you to their other happy clients. They’re likely to do far more listening than talking in your first few meetings. They’re highly unlikely to mention awards because they know awards are a rather ridiculous metric for marketing effectiveness. If you find such a team, I highly suggest paying them what they’re worth and enjoying the long, fruitful friendship that will develop. If you’re really lucky, your kids will be around the same age, and they’ll enjoy working together, too.