Photo: Ewen Roberts

Q4 often brings a flurry of pitch activity, known to ruin many a Thanksgiving or Christmas for the new business professional. (My theory for this? Post-Labor Day, marketers suddenly realize that they have only so many months left to check “hire new ad agency” off their to-do lists for the year.) And while all this activity helps to fill the pipeline, the timing is unfortunate because it distracts you from the type of reflection and planning that are so important this time of year.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started, so I’m going to get the ball rolling for you by giving you a basic outline to follow.

It’s tough to add another project to your already overwhelming to-do list, but I urge you to make time to figure out your new business and marketing strategy for 2015. Here are some reasons why it’s well worth squeezing it into your 12+ hour days:

  • It’s the best way to measure your success. And I’m referring to the collective “you” here because it takes the whole agency to make new business efforts effective. An annual plan not only sets expectations for you, but also for others at the agency who need to contribute to make the year a success.
  • You’ll learn a lot! It gives you an opportunity to reflect on the year that’s past and accurately set projections for the year ahead.
  • It sheds some light on what the heck you do at your agency. For those who are not routinely involved in new business, it can seem like a black hole of mystery. Sharing your plan – whether to an executive committee, the department heads, or even the whole agency – adds clarity and gives everyone something to aim for.
  • Your boss will be impressed. Don’t wait to be asked. Get on your CEO’s schedule to review your outline and discuss your intentions for putting this plan together.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started, so I’m going to get the ball rolling for you by giving you a basic outline to follow.

  1. Executive summary – This has to be written last but it should always come first. By starting with a smart, concise summary, you’re showing the same kind of respect for your audience’s time and attention as you would if this were an RFP response.
  2. Your team – Define the new business and marketing ecosystem at your agency. Who’s on your team and what do they do? How did you grow this year and how are you planning to grow next year? What kind of operational efficiencies did you introduce? 
  3. Performance – Analyzing the past year will help you better forecast the year ahead. Where are your opportunities coming from? How many pitches did you participate in? Were they the right ones (revenue, cultural fit, creative opportunity)? Did you wait for requests to cross over the transom or were you more proactive? As you answer these, you’ll start to see a profile emerge that will help you make better decisions about what to pursue and what to decline.
  4. The marketplace – What kinds of trends are you seeing? Think about things like the trend towards project work versus AOR assignments. How does your agency need to adjust to stay competitive? Who are your competitors now? Who do you want to be competing against a year from now?
  5. Revenue goals – Crunch the numbers. Based on your historical win rate, how many pitches do you need to be in to meet your numbers? How much can you rely on organic growth? How much do you need to focus on proactive prospecting? Don’t do this in a vacuum – spend time with your CFO and CEO to make sure your managing their expectations as well as integrating corporate financial goals.
  6. Meeting those goals - This is a biggie and probably where you’ll need to sink most of your time. Dust off your selection criteria, sign up for a great info source like Access Confidential or The List and start doing your research. Frankly, I could write an entire post just on this – and maybe I will (stay tuned!). But the big things you want to hit are the categories you’re best suited to pursue (and why) and a super-targeted list of prospects. Another important point to include in this section is the level of support you expect from your colleagues – strategy, research, creative, design – to put make your pitch. 
  7. New biz tools – What tools are you lacking to meet you goals? If you’re planning on doing a ton of personal outreach, you’ll want a to invest in a good contact management database like Salesforce.com or SugarCRM (and here’s an excellent article by Jami Oetting in Agency Post on why this is a good investment); an email program like Mail Chimp or maybe even a more robust content marketing tool like HubSpot. Maybe this is the year for a website redesign. Or, if you’re getting invited to the pitch but not making it past the first round, maybe you need to tell your story better and invest in rewriting your case studies and credentials. 
  8. PR and Marketing – How will your agency’s positioning serve you? Is it strong enough to differentiate you from your competition? Is it meaningful enough to inform your messaging? What kind of events should you attend? Speak at? Or do you create for your own event? What kind of awards shows should you enter? Besides getting you mentioned in the usual suspects like Ad Age and Adweek, what can your PR team do to get you exposure in vertical trade pubs or conferences?  

This may seem like a daunting amount of work, which is why it makes so much sense to start planning it out now. It’s even more daunting if this is the first time you’ve ever done a plan like this, but I can promise you it gets easier and easier each year.

Still feel overwhelmed? You can also avail yourself of me or one of the many other excellent new business consultants out there who can help you get organized, wrangle your content and create a motivating plan.  

I can't promise a last-minute RFP won't ruin your holiday season, but now it's a lot less likely that your new business plan will.