A couple of weeks ago I got to speak at The Drum’s Pitch Perfect conference, a one-day event devoted to helping ad agencies sharpen their new business skills.
There was some great content presented, and one of the best sessions featured four client-side marketers who graciously agreed to expose their underbellies to us. It’s always a lucky opportunity when we agency folk can ask clients candid questions about what we’re doing right and what we could do better.
In this case, I learned some new things, but mostly I was struck by how little things seem to change. Clients are trying just as hard as we are to stay on top of the constantly-shifting sands of marketing, not to mention the demands of their jobs.
Agencies are perfectly positioned to be a source of a help. So why do they often end up being more of a hindrance?
When I was on staff leading new business teams at ad agencies, I spent many an August working late nights and weekends in overly air-conditioned offices instead of enjoying the lazy, hazy days of summer.
I attributed this spike in new business activity to summer vacations – not mine but the client’s. I imagined the client realizing somewhere in July that the agency search she’d planned to do that year hadn’t started yet. But if she could rally and send that RFP before her vacation started, the agencies that received it would have a couple of weeks to respond while she enjoyed the beaches of Nantucket.
Maybe you spent your summer pitching a lot of business and not resting too much – and I hope that most of those pitches ended successful—but as we move into Q4, you should be focused on two priorities. Read more.
The other day I got a phone call that made my week.
One of my clients, the CEO of a small ad agency, called to tell me that the agency’s positioning strategy, a strategy that I first suggested more than three years ago and have encouraged (and sometimes cajoled) him to embrace ever since, just won him a major piece of business.
It was gratifying to me, of course, because it validated my business! But I was happier for him.
Committing to that positioning strategy had been a psychological hurdle. It fit like a Savile Row suit, but it required him to put a stake in the ground, and that meant potentially saying “no” to revenue if it meant working with the wrong kinds of clients.
It’s a very emotional decision for some agency owners, and emotion tends to cloud our judgment and compromise our objectivity.
But what if you had a way to test your positioning that puts emotion to the side? Read more.
Stories are engaging, memorable and repeatable—and this has big implications for winning over new clients. Wrapping your sales message in a story not only makes it easy for your prospects to understand your value, they’re also more likely to remember your message and repeat to others what they liked about you and why they want to hire you.
See the video.
Effective salespeople know that a good story is the fastest route between them and winning new business.
This is especially true for ad agencies. Advertising is a craft that relies on abstract thought processes that lead to inspirational ideas like “Just do it.” The problem is, abstract ideas are difficult to describe and even more difficult to value. That’s why it’s so easy to succumb to meaningless, anemic phrases like “fully integrated,” “digital-first” and “consumer at the core” when trying to describe what you do to a prospective client.
Stories, on the other hand, make the intangible tangible. Discover how this technique, as old as humanity itself, is one of the easiest ways to win new business.
See the video
Thanks to Publicis Groupe’s CEO, Arthur Sadoun, it was an especially headlined-filled week at the Cannes Festival of Creativity. Sadoun’s announced that Publicis Groupe would take a one-year hiatus from awards shows and other industry events to focus on building out a network-wide, AI-enabled platform called Marcel. It sparked surprise and skepticism (among other things) from both marketers and agencies (some of them Publicis executives who were as surprised by the announcement as everyone else, apparently).
It got anyone with an opinion about creative awards coming out of the woodwork to express it–including me.
For most of my career, I’ve had mixed feelings about awards shows. Do awards materially affect the ability to win new business? And is it commensurate with the massive investment of time and money that competing for them requires?
I don’t think it is for most agencies. In my latest post, I’ll tell you why and offer a few suggestions for other, more efficient ways to redirect that budget.
Despite extolling the virtues of brand positioning to clients, many agencies fail to properly develop their own brands.
It’s a classic story of the shoemaker’s children who wear no shoes—a tired proverb, to be sure, but perennially appropriate.
But, we never hear how those children turned out. Did they grow up plagued by chronic foot problems? Did they become adults whom you could dress up but never take out?
Or, is it possible they turned out OK?
I’ve met too many agency CEOs, especially of small to mid-sized agencies, who find specialization such a hurdle (mentally, emotionally and operationally) that they end up not doing anything at all.
Rather than let those agencies languish, I’ve started developing alternative methods to at least help them raise their profiles and pursue clients in a consistent, sustainable way.
In this month’s post, I share some of those methods, and offer a way to determine if being a generalist is worth the investment for your agency.
Our complex marketing ecosystem has resulted in a Cheesecake Factory menu of specialist agencies filling every marketing niche imaginable.
As these specialist agencies seek new growth, they’re turning to other agencies.
For example, a social media agency (let’s call it the Selling Agency) might partner with a digital agency (the Customer Agency) to fill a gap in the Customer Agency’s services. The Customer Agency can offer its client what it needs, the Selling Agency gets exposure to more potential clients on the other agency’s roster, and both make money. Hooray!
But there’s a big downside. The Selling Agency will never have as much influence over the client relationship as the Customer Agency will.
That leads to all sorts of hazards. In this post, I’ll tell what those hazards are and give you strategies you can use throughout the sales cycle to hedge against them.
When it comes to pitching for new business, agencies are so accommodating!
They put in late nights and give up holiday weekends. They divert their best teams from paying clients to do spec work. They put up with terrible briefs and minimal information.
Are they too willing to play on the client’s terms for the chance to compete for
I’ve identified four points in the pitch process where agencies should set their own terms, both for the sake of the future client relationship and their ability to pursue new business from other clients.
Whether truth or myth, the story goes that the famous architect Philip Johnson once answered an RFP with the shortest response possible.
His winning proposal simply said, "I'll do it."
Too bad we all can't rely on this simple approach to writing proposals that win new business. But, you can do more to make your investment in time and effort pay off by turning your proposals into the strategic selling tools they're meant to be.
It’s January, a time to stride forth into the new year and activate the plans you've made to grow your ad agency – dust off that prospecting list, revive the agency’s blog, hire a biz dev whiz to steer the efforts.
How’s that going so far?
We're as quick to break resolutions as we are to make them. Psychologists call this “false hope syndrome,” which means our resolutions are unrealistic and out of alignment with our internal view of ourselves.
What's the secret to counteracting this natural tendency?
For a moment, put aside your ambitious plans for 2017 and take a critical look at your team (including yourself) and what it's best equipped to do. See if your agency matches one of these five types. It could unlock the secret to winning more new business this year.
Does the world really need another set of year-end predictions for 2017?
Sure it does! And I’m here to supply it.
My list, a modest but thoughtfully compiled set of five, is partially inspired by a recent conversation over coffee in Boulder, CO with a friend of mine who’s a partner at a small creative agency.
Our wide-ranging conversation touched on a number of influential events that I think are going to have an effect on how ad agencies go about business development in the year to come – from the continued usurpation of ad agency turf by management consultants to the increasing importance of the CEO in all matters related to marketing.
Let me know what you're keeping your eye on with 2017 fast approaching over the horizon.