local media insider

Top lessons for starting an high-end in-house ad agency

Kingsport Times-News publisher weighs in on how to do it

Alisa Cromer

Keith Wilson, VP and publisher of The Kingsport Times-News in Kingsport, Tennessee, launched an inhouse agency, Times Digital Group, down the street with a separate management team. While there are many varieties of inhouse agencies on this site, Wilson summed up his thoughts - and lessons learned - at the 2012 Key Executives Mega-Conference. These notes are from his talk and subsequent interviews.

1. Leverage deep relationships of top management. Generals call on generals. "You can't have a new sales rep get an audience with the president of company," Wison says. But a publisher or general management may already know these people, especially in a small market where managers have longevity.

2. Don't quote fixed rates, if you can avoid it. Especially when dealing with programing, bids don't take into account the changes that always come up.

3. Don’t host websites on your own servers. Are you in the agency business or the server business? Unless hosting is considered a strength and separate business, this is better handled elsewhere.

4. A three minute video takes four hours to edit. Most of the videography expense is not in the videography but the editing, so build this into the sale.

5. You’re selling ideas – not production. This is the difference between becoming the back end production shop for an agency and being the agency. Control the client by selling great campaigns.

6. When estimating a job, double the time your designer tells you. Bright positive designers will give you bright, positive, unrealistic answers.

7. When the programmer tells you it will take about two weeks, that means he hasn’t looked at the job yet. Trust us.

8. Every website you design should include a marketing campaign. If it doesn't, not only are you leaving money on the table, but also risk an unhappy client whose next question will be, why isn't anything happening? And blame you.

9. The competition is fierce – you have to get close with a client to earn their trust. Agency relationships are partnerships that extend well beyond sales of products and services.  The upside is that these clients make a lot of referrals.

10. The best leads for your agency will come from the work of your original, legacy staff. The strength is the credibility of the core business - even if the agency division is separate. The first job of the new agency is to identify what relationships can be leveraged.

11. The only thing you have to sell is the creative talent of your staff – so hire talent. You will have to provide the structure and business principles. Don’t expect liberal arts majors to have them. 

For more case studies on agencies: The small market model, White Paper on How to create an inhouse agency,  and how 1100 Broadway bills $2.6 million

Many thanks to Keith Wilson, VP and publisher of the Kingsport Times-News for sharing these tips at the 2012 Key Executives Mega-Conference. 

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.


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