Business Opinion

How the Best Agency is like a Professional Poker Player


Placing a bet on an effective advertising campaign.

I’m often asked, “How do you know what will make an impactful advertising or marketing campaign?” Like anything in a creative space, there is no set formula, but a great agency partner can help remove the majority of the guess work and help ensure success.

Trying to guess what will resonate with a consumer, and drive home the desired behaviour a brand is looking for, is a little like guessing what’s in the hands of the people at a poker table with you.

For most of us, poker is just that: a guessing game. But, if that was true, how can the same seven or eight players continue to win the World Series of Poker? Because, they do everything they can to minimize their reliance on luck.

That’s kind of how an impactful campaign works. There is less luck and more understanding, but because we all see TV commercials and billboards…we all have an opinion.

An agency is a lot like a professional poker player. They have spent years honing their respective disciplines to make luck the least relied upon part of success.

In poker there are multiple opportunities for increased risk and increased winnings, just like the stages in any successful campaign.

Let’s take a closer look.

Recognizing your opportunity early, leads to big money.

Your business/product/brand are your first two cards to “play with” and you need to honestly and accurately make some judgements and recognize your opportunity. The better your understanding, the better chance you will have for your business to succeed. An agency can help with that success, using their ability to gauge other businesses in your category, just like a professional player has a better idea of what other players have in their hands. Right from the beginning your agency partner helps.

You can’t change what they are doing, until you understand why they are doing it.

The Flop: the moment the dealer flips over three cards for everyone to see. These cards represent the three general foundations of a successful campaign: Category, Consumer and Media Insights.

If these cards line up nicely with your hand, great. But that’s only half the challenge, you also have to gauge the other players around the table. That’s where your agency partner can help. They can “count cards” and inform you on what the competition will be doing, how they will do it and most importantly…why. They dig deeper into how and why people are doing what they are doing. Like a pro player, they see things happening around the table, you wouldn’t even notice.

Creativity wins. Every time.

Our bets have been placed and a fourth card is being shown. For our example, this is the creative executions, the idea itself and how well it is being executed and crafted. The tagline, the call to action, the imagery, the casting and ultimately the quality of the message you will put out into the marketplace.

It should improve your “hand,” it should make you feel like you’re going in the right direction and allow you to bet even more. Your agency partners thrive with this ‘card’. It’s the primary output of their thinking and process. It’s the “card” most responsible for turning the perception of your business in the direction you need it to be. It’s also the most tangible step in the process, the one your consumer and press sees, the one that truly drives a reaction.

Let’s go all in.

The final card to be shown to the table is aptly named the “River.” This card represents the reactions to your campaign, both by your consumers and by the zeitgeist (press, pop culture, internet critics).

I’ve always believed that advertising doesn’t really sell things, people talking/reacting/sharing your advertising sells everything! Not unlike a poker game, things can completely change during the reveal of this final card. The same way a well thought out campaign can be dramatically amplified or fail, based on these reactions.

A great agency partner should wow you with their uncovered insights, challenge you with their strategic acumen and scare you with their creativity, they should make you feel the possibility of the win. And the right agency partner lives and dies with you, their client partners, because your success is directly tied to theirs…and if you feel like it isn’t, it’s time to find a new partner.

Poker is fun, but it’s also easy to lose money. So, learn the game as best you can, but don’t bet big stakes without having an “ace” in your corner. Find the right partner, trust them and place the right bets…chances are when you go all in, your business will walk away with more than when it started.

About the author: Matt Litzinger is the President and Chief Creative Officer at The Local Collective.

window.addEventListener('hashchange', function() { console.log('The hash has changed!') }, false);