Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is David Caruso. I am the principal and Creative Director of Agent C Advertising, a full-service ad agency emphasizing content creation for print ads, social media, and video productions.
We identify and develop marketing programs and ad campaigns based on our customers’ communications objectives and other strategies to reach out to their customers in a positive manner.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The reason I was drawn to advertising is that I enjoy the challenge of connecting with people and helping to change their perceptions of a business or product in a fun and positive way. The clients we work with are truly great companies with positive messages to share but just had the wrong “messengers” working for them before Agent C.
My motivation for starting Agent C is to be more in tune with our customers by developing better relationships with them. As a partner in a previous ad agency, I found I disagreed with the way the other partners ran the business in terms of how they dealt with the clients. To me, it seemed the motivation there was to just do work that could win awards, rather than creating work that would benefit the client the most.
Surround yourself with the best people who share your vision and work ethic and just have fun. No one wants to work in a toxic environment.
While winning awards is exciting, doing work just to win awards marginalizes the client, who is the primary reason for doing the work in the first place. I’ve seen it before and I’ve learned that getting arguments with the client over creativity they feel isn’t working for them or meeting their objectives is not how to run a creative agency. Further berating clients by accusing them of not knowing what was good for them and other such nonsense kills trust and lack of trust destroys relationships. Loss of trust can create a very toxic environment that ruins good relationships with good clients over such a selfish motivation.
Relationships are really everything about this business. The relationships between you and your clients, their relationships with their clients, your relationships between vendors. It’s important because if you have a bad relationship, no one is going to trust you or want to work with you.
After I realized that those partners didn’t value the customer relationships as much as I did, I felt I had to do something about it. I started a new agency, Agent C, that is still able to create and has been creating award-winning work, yet at the same time have that work solve the problems the client needs to have solved.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Starting a project for a client is basically “Marketing 101”. We begin with a creative brief, which is much like an interview where we work with the client to identify what the project is and what their communication objectives are for it and what outcome the client would like. We also include some other metrics and background in the creative brief that helps further define the project. All advertising is based on an advertiser’s desire to make or maintain a positive change in the perception of their business or product or to influence their customers to act and react favorably. The creative brief puts down on paper what the creative is expected to achieve.
Advertising and marketing are not exact sciences. That’s where the relationship part comes in. At this stage, the creative is totally abstract and intangible and the client is trusting you to do something that is going to give them results. You simply cannot ask them to spend potentially tens of thousands of dollars on a campaign without having the trust that only comes from having a solid relationship. The creative brief helps to keep both us and the client on track and is constantly referred back to as the creative itself evolves.
As for the creative process itself, how do you describe how to catch lightning in a bottle? I’m fortunate enough to work with very creative people, writers, designers, web developers, who also understand that the client's need is first. Sometimes, the best ideas are well outside of the client’s comfort zone, and we need to remind ourselves of that and help the client become comfortable with new ideas. The balance in creative is capturing customer attention while still getting the client’s message through. We all want to win awards because it validates our work among our peers, but it can’t be the only motivation. Positive outcomes for the client are what drives Agent C’s work. To the client, winning an award has a different meaning than it does for us. To the client, winning an award is a way of reassuring themselves they were right to trust our creative brief. It also gives them some bragging rights among their family, friends, and competitors, too!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The quality of our relationships is what has helped Agent C to grow. Our business right now is 100% referrals, and we appreciate the confidence our customers have in us to be confident enough to recommend us to their own clients, vendors, and colleagues. When we started in 2018, there were just two clients. Today, in 2020, we have more than 35 clients who are active at least quarterly. Referral clients are really good for us because they come to us eager to experience for themselves the successes they’ve seen in the clients that referred them to us.
Our clients trust us to do good work and to take chances creatively. We’ve done some really exciting things ad wise, with big budgets that push the creative boundaries. We also do simpler and more restrained projects as well. In either case, we are just as dedicated to the project and the client. People often ask what is the best ad we’ve done and I always say the best ads we do are the ones that pull for the client, meet their objectives, and keep them coming back for more.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As I’ve mentioned here before, the most important thing I’ve learned since even before I started this Agent C is that relationships are key. I think it’s probably true of any business, really, but I think it’s especially true in this kind of business. If you don’t have a good relationship, no one is going to trust you or want to work with you.
When they look at you, customers are going to want to see themselves in the vendors they trust and work with. It’s something I think about every day: if I were the client, would I want to work with you? My staff and I make sure the answer is always “yes.”
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our go-to software is like every other creative agency’s, which is Adobe Creative Suite. Anybody can learn to use the tools it provides; our difference is how we use them to do what we do. Put the right tools in the hands of the right creative people and amazing things happen. We have very creative people working with us who are eager to see the client succeed. The work we produce is recognized as being innovative, bold, and effective for our clients.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I keep track of the magazines we place ads in, of course, because they help us keep in touch with what our clients’ customers value. It’s like taking the pulse of their market and keeping in step with it.
Referral clients are really good for us because they come to us eager to experience for themselves the successes they’ve seen in the clients that referred them to us.
We also subscribe to various trade magazines and association publications, such as Communication Arts, Print Manager, American Advertiser, and the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). We also visit design websites, like Ads of The World, where we were selected for their Ad of The Day for an anniversary ad we did for our client, LCI Workers Comp. That was exciting to get international recognition for LCI and ourselves, too.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Do your best, surround yourself with the best people who share your vision and work ethic, and just have fun. No one wants to work in a toxic environment. I’ve been there before, which is why I started Agent C. The creative people I work with now enjoy working with each other and act as a team to bring the creative to life for our customers.
We’ll meet frequently with our clients away from their offices to discuss plans and projects or just enjoy being out of the office for a minute. Our office is a block away from the French Quarter and most Fridays we’ll take the time as a teambuilder to get out and walk around in the Quarter, relax and recharge, talk about projects or just talk about the things we’ll see in the Quarter. Maybe even sip a cocktail or two.
Where can we go to learn more?
Our ad for LCI Workers Comp ad featured on Ads of The World can be seen here.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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