A Peter Levitan production …
Is your advertising agency ready for the next recession? Have you been thinking that the current sweet economy that has helped the small and medium-sized advertising agency market to prosper in the past couple of years was going to last forever?
Well, the time has come to fuhgedaboudit.
Early last week a smart agency client of mine asked me about the current volatility of the stock market that is driven by increasingly inept and ill-timed trade war announcements. He mentioned that his clients are getting skittish because they do not have a clear view of the future. Uncertantude is not a harbinger of growth in client marketing, advertising spending and therefore agency security.
Yesterday the stock market dropped 3% on thinking that a global recession is coming. Does this make you feel secure? Even if the market continues its up and down ride, clients will be spooked for awhile.
Recessions breed fear and loathing within client ranks. I know this having gone through some major recessions where worried clients lower budgets, stop programs and begin to fire and change agencies. You do not need to hear my personal history. But you should remember the ‘great recession’ of December 2007 through June 2009. The USA GDP dropped by 5.1%.
To be direct, that recession fucked the advertising industry and I am not sure that the industry, as in what it can charge clients, has ever recovered. I won’t go into detail about the recession. But, if you need a memory nudge, watch these two movies again: The Big Short and The Queen Of Versaille.
You know what happens to client spending and loyalty during an advertising recession. What can you do about it other the tried and mostly failed attempts of trying to convince clients that recessions are exactly the time to increase advertising branding and spending.
Well, you should now up your agency to prospect B2B marketing and spending. Get that account-based marketing program off the shelf. That means it is time to market your agency because:
The recession is coming. Tomorrow? Next year? Who knows. But, I do know it is coming. (Editor – It’s also time to be sure you have a profile here at AgencyFinder – cheap insurance when you will need it!)
It is time to up your advertising agency marketing game. By the way, this is not my first rodeo. Here is an older blog post on recessions.
Prologue: The majority of agency new business authors are of the “How To” variety. They volunteer pleasant, positive but not necessarily tried & true, battle- proven kinda stuff, but it’s the “makes sense, sounds good” kinda stuff. Not here. We’re an agency search consultant (match-maker) and get to hear from clients about all that How to stuff that didn’t work. And I’m here to report it to you now. And since the new business game has a client and agency players, this article is for both.
Hack 1: As a new business tool, the telephone is failing. Time was, when a courageous young man (in difference to women, back then it was men) saw his desk phone as his connection to agency prospects. Following a regimen that consisted of preparing compelling print collateral meant to be mailed to a prospect list of 500 carefully chosen prospects, then mailing them on a consistent schedule and then, with courage and commitment, that young man would follow by phone and ask – “Did you get the rubber chicken I sent?” (Yes, in those days he actually got through) Didn’t matter if he mentioned Rubber Chicken or industry study, the whole idea was to strike up a conversation that could lead to a relationship. And “yes Virginia” (see Wikipedia), agency success does depend on relationships.
But within the industry, there’s been a change of heart. Not sure who or where it started, but the notion spread that proactive outreach and rubber chickens were no longer in vogue. The new mantra? Content. Yes content is now king. It’s the politically correct way to clap your hands, wave your arms, whistle, beat the conga drums and blow smoke in their direction. The idea is to make as much Internet social media noise as you legally can so you draw them magnetically to your agency website. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news – it drew them to your website.
Hack 2: Agency websites; let me digress – I could write a book. Admittedly they’re getting much better, but by example, when their agency prepared the “walk-about” home page video, they apparently missed their agency’s young couple in deep embrace in the back corner. Maybe it’s rehearsal for a client video; I would have cut it! Let’s move on to About Us. Do Not, I shout, write no-interest paragraphs about starting in your basement or how your un-named team has vast experience covering 89 years. And don’t fail to identify at least one person who works there, and that leads me to The Team tab.
Hack 3: Chemistry Wins New Business; Not Creative! That’s what the Guru of Growth taught for years and its truer now than ever. That’s why your Team tab can make or break your firm with the visitor. Here’s where you can let the prospect see the people behind the curtain. The smiling faces and interesting beards (men only please); the interesting location and hobby shots. If you’re all “suits” as they say and pictured in suit and tie, that sends a nice business impression; yet if the prospect company is led by millennials, that buttoned-up look may cost you. On the other hand, if you’re a young agency with Millennial management, that might off-put some dinosaurs. You can’t win them all but this level of openness and honesty may prompt that desired prospect call regardless.
Hack 4: Staff Characteurs? So your Director of Business Development is a Pit Bull? Cute sketch. Good inside joke but not appreciated by the prospects you chase that are dog lovers. What about those multi-frame serious-to-goofy shots? Some are really funny and clever. But their value is offset when others fall flat. Has anyone thought of blank squares with titles for everyone? Group shots show your camaraderie but when you don’t or can’t identify them, it loses value. (I often enjoy trying to identify the CEO in a group shot; only to be surprised by who really is). On posted CV’s, use caution. Some folks have such intimidating credentials that it’s possible some prospects could be reluctant to engage!
Hack 5: Back to the telephone. One quick thought just came to mind. If you want to make a call to a new prospect (as in one that is not yet a great friend) DO NOT CALL FROM YOUR CELLPHONE! Cellphone quality is erratic, inconsistent and picks up ambient sounds. Do not expect a first-time prospect to be patient with all that. Call from a land-line in your quiet office.
Now, after all the research, content and key words you’ve invested, let’s talk about the horrors experienced by prospects calling your agency. Having called thousands of agencies, I speak as an authority and say agency new business telephone protocol is atrocious! Beginning with the universal agency announcement – “Thanks for calling Blander Agency; if you know the extension of the party you’re trying to reach, enter that now. For the agency name directory press 2. For the Operator press O.” What should the first-time prospect do that was guided in by your content or Contact Us page? What name do they enter? In most cases, that name is nowhere on your Contact Us page; matter of fact, neither is your agency location. Why not another option – “To speak with us about handing your account, Press 1. Move frequent callers to 2 or 3.
Hack 6: Now let’s talk about the Operator option. It’s a joke! You might get an announcement that the call is being transferred to the Operator (please wait), the eventual answer says “Hi, this is Janice. I’m away from my phone at the moment; please leave your name and message and I will call your shortly!” What is that job other than answering the phone? Such incompetent BS! I’ve even had the “being transferred” message just repeat and repeat; never offering a chance to leave your message!
Hack 7: Finally there’s the “I don’t care” mentality. I’ve had situations where, no matter how I tried or what tricks I employed, I COULD NOT raise a living soul at the agency. One such time I was calling an agency with world-wide offices. I couldn’t raise anyone or the Operator in their New York office, so I called Chicago, thinking if it was a weather issue they would know. I failed to raise a soul in Chicago so I called San Fran. Finally found someone but that party had no idea what was happening in Chicago or New York, and didn’t seem to be concerned or looking to report that which might be broken. Talk about dinosaurs.
In Closing: Dear New Business Professional. Whomever made the decision to register your firm did the right thing. But if your profile is incomplete, out-of-date or still at the free Iridium level, you ain’t going nowhere. Pre-AgencyFinder we taught agency new business, so we’re familiar with what you do and what you spend. For starters many have tried outsourcing “dialing-for-dollars” at $3,000 – $5,000 Per Month! Please don’t suggest we’re expensive.
Guest Contributor – John Heenan, ad agency growth consultant, speaker, raconteur
The economy is up. Businesses are expanding. Marketing spending is on the rise. If you do not see an increasing number of leads, it may be time to pivot toward the sectors that are driving the economic boom. Not every industry is feeling confident yet. But many are. You should think about how your agency, given its experience and capabilities, can get in on the action of a booming economy today before the spoils are all divided. All the prospects aren’t gone. They’ve just shifted with the economy, at least until the robots take over. Ever wonder how you’ll pitch a robot? That’s a topic for another post.
Let’s face it. There is a bit of trepidation in the market right now, a feeling that stems from the tough years behind us. Perhaps a political bias. Skepticism whether this current economic growth is sustainable; things are going to crash sooner or later, maybe sooner, so I better remain cautious. A recent roundtable of top-tier company CMOs echoed this cautious sentiment. Every day you read some economic pundit warn of an imminent collapse. Your prospects read the same news and aren’t sure whether to spend or hold. But not everyone.
Consumers aren’t fooled. They are spending on both B2B and B2C. Personal income has been increasing for months as wages and salaries continue to rise. Business is benefiting as well. Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis and has been steadily increasing month after month. U.S. manufacturing is forecast to rise even faster than the general economy. The MAPI Foundation predicts production will grow by 3.9% in 2019. Despite some naysayers, the circumstances that drive marketing budgets are booming.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to take a serious look at your new business strategy. The data confirms that markets are growing, ad budgets are increasing, and companies are spending. There are three things you should do right now to take advantage of this new economy. Pivoting does have its challenges like a lack of specific experience. When considering a new vertical without direct experience, look at work you’ve done in peripheral categories, for the same kind of audience, and for the same kinds of challenges using as similar a category or product as you can. Snack cakes might be a stretch for the real estate category unless its millennial Moms as first-time home buyers that you can relate to family snacks.
Focus on the right markets
Not everyone feels this way. While some sectors are booming, others are still struggling. According to Investopedia, the five key industries that are driving the economy are Healthcare, Technology, Construction, Retail, and Non-durable Manufacturing. According to The Motley Fool, Beverages, Mining, Civil Engineering, DTC, E-commerce, Real Estate, are others. Each of these has enormous ecosystems supporting them which are growing as well. I’m sure you can find others with a little research. Like any marketplace, even in the best of times, some are doing well and others not so much. If your agency isn’t aiming your business development efforts on these sectors, you may be missing out.
Focus on the right prospects
In any industry, you have the leaders and the challengers. In this economy, the leaders are likely to be more cautious while the challengers are focused on exploiting the growth. Look at industry reports to find those who are aggressive, who are challenging the leaders, announcing new plans, or reporting industry-beating forecasts. These companies likely have agency resources but are always looking for better solutions and better results. Focus your business development on the companies where you can demonstrate experience and knowledge of their business, their customers, and their challenges. You can be confident they are spending and on the lookout for new ideas and innovative ways to gain share and customers while their market grows.
Communicate the right message
Is your message about services and capabilities? Your prospects are trying to capture more significant share as their competitors remain cautious. They are looking for solutions, not capabilities, results, not processes, new ideas, and old ideas that drive results fast to take advantage of their agility and initiative. Messages about growth, customer acquisition, beating competitors, and novel ways to gain share are more appealing. Innovation, new ideas, unexpected tactics, better positioning, are the solutions aggressive challengers are seeking. If you can get their attention to things that will help them grow, your services and capabilities will be a foregone conclusion.
While you pivot, don’t abandon your core markets. It is likely that all markets will become more aggressive as the economic boom continues. Stay vigilant. Look for news and other indicators that may signal new spending and strategy shifts from those companies. As an expert in those core categories, you and the agency should brainstorm on new ideas and approaches that will capture the attention of those companies that wake up to the new potential.
I’ve got a lot of advice on how to make your business development efforts more effective and would enjoy sharing what I know. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know and then sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please share your new business advice, successes, and failures.#LetsGrow!
Back on May 14th Peter Levitan stated: “Google is going to screw your ad agency. Or better said, they are going to mess with your organic listing. Which means, that your ad agency will be harder to find. And, therefore screwed. Many of the ad, digital, etc. agencies I talk with tell me that their SEO is not delivering the power that it once did.” And he went on in case you didn’t see it. That raised the question – with more than 40,000 “agencies” (some even suggest more than 100,000) they’re all building and tweaking their SEO to try to make themselves stand out in a considereable sea of sameness. At this point and under the Google umbrella, the only real distinction one-to-another can be location, even down to street number. I don’t write code but believe that Google’s cataloging of agency particulars is not yet deep enough to discriminate what clients would wish, since agency websites are themselves lacking in more than cursory attribute content. That makes Google just a giant Yellow Pages. We had that years ago.
Add curated alpha sort agency directories to the mix and this conglomeration is now forcing things back in the direction from whence we came. Back apparently to what Dave Currie with The List refers to as “proactive prospecting apps like Winmo.” Take a tour of the roster of agency search consultants as I did and you’ll note many are no longer in business. Scarcity and dilution takes its toll.
Realistically – how can 40,000 agencies, even half that number differentiate themselves one from another? Maybe it makes sense to resort back to techniques and programs en vogue before the Internet. Food for thought – invent something new (Yes Virginia, we know about LinkedIn).
Long gone are the days when agency business development was just the combination of a prospect database, an automated direct mail program and a tenacious new business “Hawk.” Ask most anyone today charged with reeling in client prospects how they do it and they speak to the vast array of present options. All said, all things work or nothing seems to work from within the choices now on the table.
Consider the obvious. Your agency has a website with as much SEO as your IT staffers swear they know. By hook, crook or accident your site is getting traffic. Do you know what kind and by whom? Three services that can help answer that question are www.kickfire.com, www.clickback.com and www.leadforensics.com. But they all suffer the same drawback – they can’t identify precisely who the visitor was because that’s against the “rules.” However, those programs do have value. Those prospect visits are gold in the making. Let me introduce 5 easy agency hacks for new business development that spring from those visits.
An unofficial and unscientific survey suggests that more than 50% of agency websites fail to identify where they are – as in city, street, State, then zip, phone, fax and email. The ruinous but narrow minority resort to fill-in-the-blanks forms – “tell us visitor who you are, where you are, and then adding insult to injury, tell us what you want!” Client visitors know the Worldwide Internet is “worldwide” and most know where they want their new agency to be. If you were selling an “item” maybe China is acceptable, but as a service, they want close if not closer. Golden rule – show them where you are and how to get in touch in proud glorious detail.
Along with location, clients want to know who they will work with. Agency veterans admit when all else is essentially equal, chemistry wins! Sanders Consulting Group and Stuart Sanders the “Guru of Growth,” for years taught hundreds of agency business leaders that “Chemistry not Creative Wins new Business! Translation – chemistry is likeability and most people are pretty good making judgment once they get face-to-face. Clear the path for a face-to-face visit with photos, even caricatures can do the trick. Include an interesting but short non-cv story to embellish the visual.
There ought to be a law with penalties for any agency that uses a robot service to answer the phone. Back to chemistry – people like people but not all people, so in this instance, whoever answers the phone needs to be pleasant, mature, intelligent and quite familiar with who works at the agency. The automated directory is a bust. Frequently it fails to find long-time employee. There are times when one can’t type fast enough and the line gets dropped. If you insist on the robot attendant, change the sequent the caller hears. Begin with “If you’d like to speak with us about handing your account dial #1.” No first-time caller knows your extensions.
Designate who should answer an incoming call. Just because one is ringing, not just anyone should answer. Transgressions are moderately acceptable if the caller is selling something, is a wrong number, or wants your services for free. But if it’s anyone who could legitimately hire your agency or pass their experience to someone who could, those calls are gold. Even a crank call deserves proper handling. Forward that call to your best defender; just to be certain it isn’t simply an unusual inquiry in disguise! BTW, test your own system from time to time by calling (you or a trusted business associate) from an outside line. Test to see how and who handles the call.
Finally, if the call or prospect has any potential value, return that call without fail immediately or no later than within 24 hours.
Your posted client list serves many purposes. First, it probably shows your current clients. A prospective client can run a quick conflict check to clear you. That list also shows the categories of business you’re handling as well as their calibers. If that’s the extent of your posts, then the value of legacy clients is lost. Those deserve a listing as well. You can never tell or predict what a prospect is looking for or will use to judge you. If you get an AgencyFinder invitation, your legacy experience may be the reason for your invite. Be sure they can find that.
Make logos large enough to read. If the general public wouldn’t recognize the logo or name, a hot link to that site is a good idea. Same is true for all of them. The same rule applies here – show current AND legacy clients. Some agencies group clients by type or vertical market. The choice is yours.
These 5 hacks can be addressed immediately, no waiting required. Install and active to grease the skids in your direction! Happy New Business.
Traditional media has met its match with the advent of digital, and the advertisers have been weighing out the pros and cons for each medium to make spending decisions ever since. Media players however, are now saying the debate should stop because at the end of the day, content is king.
Havas Group Singapore’s chief executive officer, Jacqui Lim said that contrary to popular beliefs, the first steps for her team after receiving a brief and budget from the client is not to build a media plan and decide which channels. Instead, a lot of planning goes into optimising metrics and understanding what hits the right key performance indicators. This is driven by clients’ expectation for the agency to look at things in an integrated, platform-agnostic and audience-centric fashion.
To decide on the right medium, there are several dimensions to consider, Lim said. For example,
Clients believe in a much more trackable and attributable kind of platforms, but the traditional or broadcast media comes in to help us amplify.
Rather that choosing traditional “or” digital, general manager of Unilever Singapore Banjo Castillo advises that advertisers shift their mindsets to “and”, and move the conversation towards how they can make the best use of finite resources.
With consumer journeys crossing not just media platforms but different screens as well, Castillo said that the company is focused on building its data-driven capabilities to boost campaign efficiency. This includes precision and performance marketing.
Havas’ Lim suggested a more unified currency for traditional and digital media buys, where television goes programmatic, and measurement and targeting are as transparent as that of digital. She added that making interaction and engagement metrics possible will also assure clients that they are making meaningful connections with their customers.
Additionally, the panellists at the event hosted by Mediacorp urged marketers to focus on effective storytelling as content is what matters to people and catches their attention. Ajay Vidyasagar, regional director, YouTube partnerships, who had previously also spent almost two decades in the television industry, said that digital has not only changed the way viewers consume, but allowed people to create content as well. This was what led to a surge of users on YouTube. He added,
“The walls between digital and traditional media are truly breaking. Consumers want content when they want it, in a form that they are able to consume, on a device they are comfortable reaching out to at that moment.”
Meanwhile, Castillo said that marketers can leverage digital to craft messages and develop products tailored to customers’ wants and needs. Digital has for instance, changed the way Unilever gets to know its customers.
He added, “When we do consumer research, it takes three to six months to come in, before we even get to analyse it. Now, through the power of digital, we can actually do social listening, and learn about consumers on the fly.”
by Avelyn Ng Courtesy the MARKETER
Having played a pivotal role in hundreds of ad agency searches over our 20-years, we’ve witnessed surprise and disappointment. And the elephant isn’t always in the room. Whether you’re an agency or a client planning to search for an agency, it’s important to stress that there are no hard and fast rules for running an agency search, nor are there any laws on the books that dictate the “process” or penalties for non-compliance. It’s not unusual for a non C-Suite individual to take the helm, to engage a consultant or search service, or to begin a Google search to do-it-themselves. In all cases they represent to the invited agencies, and truly believe themselves that they are “authorized” to be running the review.
Agencies-in-the-know have learned to ask questions; many questions. Like “What’s your process?” “What other individuals will be involved in the decision-making?” “Do you have an incumbent and will they be asked to participate?” Some clients will hedge answering, so based on experience a wise agency would choose to withdraw. That is, unless the agency is seriously pressed for new business and associated revenue.
So a review process might proceed with telephone interviews, an orderly examination of candidates, often agency site visits that progress to the identification of “finalists.” Finalists make final presentations, the work product of substantial agency time, creativity, expense and lost sleep. Then the process stalls. The original announced decision date comes and goes. The once-dependable review manager isn’t returning calls or emails. Then comes surprise and disappointment – even those led to believe they had the “inside track” and that they were favored, receive their “Dear John” email and little more. Not who was selected and why; not how or who made the decision, not why they weren’t the favorite.
We sometimes manage to discover the Elephant. Might turn out the CEO worked with an agency elsewhere before, and happened to tell them earlier they were running a review. The “ringer agency” pitched the CEO privately and the CEO pulled rank. Sorry! No apologies or explanation. We know of one review manager who resigned in protest.
The Lesson? Everything is fair in love, war and agency search! Be advised.
#adagencysearch #agencysearch #
Business development is the toughest job in advertising and no wonder it is the shortest. On average, a BD person lasts about 18 months. The challenge of marshaling all agency resources to a pitched frenzy in between the daily client demands is no easy task. The insane deadlines to turn around a pitch or RFP that should normally take months is high stress. While the average success rate is only 1 in 4, a real confidence killer. Who would want to do such work? Better yet, if you found someone who does, why give up on them so easily?
I’ve been fired, reorganized out, earned too much commission, a casualty of market collapses and even the victim of the CEO’s mistress. In most cases, it’s very hard to understand except in the case of the CEO’s lust. If a small to mid-size agency, on average, loses three accounts or projects each year (that average is increasing as a result of the accelerated change across the industry) they have to gain three to stay merely even. If an agency wants to grow, they have to have a focused, aggressive effort in place to simply beat the odds. But so often, just as things get started, they fire their BD person.
I’ve had lots of conversation about this, and the reasons are pretty common. First, the pool of good candidates is actually very small. Just ask the recruiters. The people who “say” they can or who have some “sales” experience is quite large. Finding a good fit for the unique nature of an agency BD person is really really tough. Second, creating a good environment for a business development person to be successful is so often misunderstood, misinformed, or missed altogether. Finally, expectations are often not aligned with the realities of how agency new business happens. Think about any position within your agency and how any other staff would fare under these conditions – ill-equipped, unsupported and misaligned expectations. It is no wonder BD people don’t last
First, you have to find the right person.
There are abundant opinions about the best qualities of an ad agency business development person. A hunter? A farmer? A hunter- farmer? None of the above? What are the best qualities of a person who can successfully match a good client with a deserving agency like yours? It is someone who can strategically communicate what you do, can uncover the prospect’s real needs and then translate your services into the best solution, all while establishing trust and collegiality. To be successful that person has to know how clients think, how they think about agencies (not always good), what they think they need from an agency and how they evaluate such services in the context of their role in the corporate world. Above all, they must be iron-willed to preserver rejection, disappointment, and failure – in between the wins.
I’ve seen agency owners fall for someone who is good at making cold calls (something every agency owner hates), is great at starting a conversation with anybody and is effervescent at a meeting. Too seldom do they focus on whether that person has the right qualities to close business. I’ve also seen great account directors cast in the role and quickly become demoralized and dispirited. Talking to strangers and carrying a conversation are a good start but far short of the skills necessary to move from talk to action. The best BD people can develop a respectful relationship, build agency brand value and differentiation before a conversation is even had. A great BD person makes it look effortless – which is why so “accidental” BD people think they can do it.
Home security systems and used car warranties are best sold by cold calling. The most current statistics affirm this. Long term business building relationships require a much different approach that reflects the changing behaviors of the very people you seek to connect with and the trends of the empowered consumer. You are not in a commodity business. You aren’t selling hourly services. You are selling what your people, your strategy and your expertise can do to solve a market’s needs. Sadly too many agencies try to take shortcuts like grabbing phone numbers from gigantic databases of marketing executives that every other desperate agency subscribes to, too. Believe me. I know that feeding frenzy all to well.
Second, you have to provide the right support.
I am surprised by the number of agencies who say they want to but are not prepared to grow. Agency new business is a team effort, and when you aren’t set up internally to handle the process or don’t have a process at all, you will not succeed. As an agency owner, you have to know when to get involved and when to step back. A good BD person will free up your time but also knows when to bring you into the mix to help develop a strategy or close a new client. The key is to have a well-defined process in place so that your time isn’t wasted on unqualified prospects or micromanaging every lead. Your BD person will know when to keep moving the prospect further down the funnel and when to call in the cavalry. When agencies look to cheat the process by generating volumes of leads, the time burden on the owner and all the resources in the agency becomes extreme, disruptive and puts your employees and current clients at great risk.
Many agencies say they want to grow and do a good job getting the effort rolling but fail in the follow through. Again, the agency is not committed to growing – no teamwork, no training, no optimization, no introspection. To be successful, the BD person must be an integral part of the agency, tied into the project management system, financial health and culture. He or she should be included in happy hour, agency retreats, team building efforts and production meetings. They must be aware how busy the agency is, and whether or not to ramp up or down the process. And they should share the new business activity with the whole agency, so everyone knows what projects are coming down the pike.
Third, you have to set the right expectations.
So often the expectations are wrong from the start. Agency owners want immediate impact. But it doesn’t happen overnight. The average client-agency relationship is three years. That is a long sales cycle. Sure, there are clients in the market right now looking for help. Finding them, warming them up and building trust that enables a new business win is a long process. My last cold caller hadn’t scored a win in 18 months. There is that magic number. The odds of catching someone with a need and willingness to talk from a chance interaction is greater than being hit by lightning. Success comes from the right person working a proper strategy so that when a need arises that marketer already knows you, knows what you offer and will be more likely open to the conversation.
Don’t fire your BD person.
As the agency owner, you are always going to be the chief growth officer and you should be spending a reasonable portion of your time making sure your agency is on track. Hiring a good BD person can be a force-multiplier by channeling your vision, working a consistent pipeline and developing relationships that result in more new clients coming over time – but only if you make sure you are committed to long-term growth. Of course, there are always going to be legitimate reasons to fire new biz people. Too often agency owners do so for the wrong reasons, and that is costing them success.
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Guest Author – the Famous John Heenan #LetsGrow!
I recently heard two pitching/procurement stories in two days, each from a different agency president in a different market, and each with a different outcome.
In the first story, the president of a large ad agency (I’ll call him agency president #1) told me about a significant, highly coveted pitch his firm had “nailed.” After it appeared they were the ordained firm they then had to meet with procurement. Procurement delivered the bad news. “If you want the business you’ll have to accept that we’re not paying you for any work you’ve done to date.” (The agency had already done rounds of revisions and had understood they would be paid if they won.) The agency was then told the fees on offer were one third of what they had proposed. But it got worse. “There’s no negotiating,” the procurement person explained while showing the agency president what he said were the lower fees proposed by their competitors. “You can take it or leave it.”
“Of course, we had to take it,” he explained to me.
The next day I met with another agency president (let’s call him #2)–this time of a smaller but still substantial performance marketing firm who didn’t have too much experience in dealing with procurement. He told me about his first time. His agency was convinced by a sizeable client to do a small digital pilot project on spec with the lure of winning a $500,000 annual retainer. Their pilot performed well and they were awarded the business. Then they too were told they had to meet with procurement who said, “We’re not paying you $500k. The fees on offer are $300k. Take it or leave it.” Indignant, agency president #2 walked away. A few days later the client came back and gave them the business on the original terms–a $500k annual retainer. That was two years ago, president #2 told me, and the account has grown significantly since. “They pay us fairly and they hold us to really high standards,” he said. “It’s how we like it.”
I told him the contrasting story I had heard the day before and I remarked that if he had caved on that first experience instead of walking away he would have begun to hardwire the belief that “Of course, we had to take it.”
Why do agencies get themselves into these situations where they feel they have to take work on onerous terms, where they have to put up with procurement’s powerplay moves and where they have no power to affect price? I’ll explain below a few of the things president #1 could have done differently before, during and after the selection process to ensure a better outcome, but let’s go back to agency president #2 who walked away, only to get the account on the originally agreed upon terms. I remarked to him that if it were me in that moment I would have wanted to know which of the two people on the client side had lied to me. Was it the marketing exec who said the budget was $500k, or the procurement person who said it was $300K? (Of course it was procurement. Procurement is one of the only professions where it is universally taught that it’s okay to lie.) But I would have asked each individual to their face, “Which one of you lied to me?”
These are the direct conversations we need to be having. Why does this behaviour get a free pass? Would you accept such behaviour from your team members, partners, vendors or children? Why is it okay to accept such lies and strong-arm tactics from a client–someone you’re proposing to “partner” with? Is that how partners treat each other?
I spend a lot of time delivering workshops on these principles to agency owners and executives. After one such event, the finance department of the organizing body ignored their contractually-agreed obligation to pay the final instalment of my workshop fee. On enquiry, we were told, “We have a payment run on [11 days away] – I will include the invoice as a proposal for payment.”
So, a well-intentioned organization that wants its members to change how they sell has its own embedded bias against any other organization selling them anything. The goodwill between the buyer and seller gets eroded by established procurement processes that seek to optimize financial efficiency.
A tenet of systems thinking is any attempt to optimize a subsystem will have a sub-optimizing effect on the greater system. A finance department allowed to operate with too much independence will see pushing average supplier terms from 45 days to 60 days as a victory. A procurement department that cuts its marketing company’s fees by 40% thinks they’ve won. Both of these “wins” have a negative effect on the quality of what it is they are buying and the relationship between the two organizations, but these departments are rarely held accountable for the costly impairment to the greater system–the client company.
When such practices are employed, somebody has to be the adult in the room. Somebody has to call people out on poor behaviour or deleterious practices–even if those practices are codified in policy. Ideally, that someone is the client, but don’t hold your breath, it’s almost always going to have to be you.
If you want financial success then you are going to have to accept that these conversations are almost always going to fall to you, and you have a responsibility—to everyone on both sides of the table—to do the right thing and speak up when nobody else will. The alternative is you resign yourself to a low-margin career of “having to take it.”
We got paid within 60 minutes of me calling out bad behaviour. Agency president #2 got his originally-agreed upon terms by walking away. Let’s explore what agency president #1 could have done instead of just taking it.
There are many things agency president #1 and his team could have done differently. Setting aside some of the more strident Win Without Pitching approaches that would see the firm trying to fully derail the pitch, they could have:
None of the above are Win Without Pitching judo moves that require any sort of skilled practice to pull off, they’re just common sense approaches available to anyone who is ready to accept the responsibility of being the adult in the room. You can do this.
Agency president #2 found it easy to walk away from a bad deal because he is the majority owner of the firm and an entrepreneur who has a strong sense of being able to control his and his firm’s future. Agency president #1 is in a different boat. He has to report to global, who reports to the holding company, whose CEO reports to shareholders. And these shareholders are increasingly unhappy. In such an environment the pressure not to lose is immense.
For agency president #1 to push back, the battle he would have to fight with the client is nothing compared to the internal battle he would have to wage. In a multi-layered firm like his, for every brave soul willing to push back and have the adult conversation, there are many more who would prefer not to rock the boat, even if it’s exactly what’s required to save the boat from sinking.
I guess my question is, who are you? Are you the progressive force for change in your agency, having the adult conversations and leading your entire team by your example, or are you the one signalling to others that “we just have to take it”?
Another Great Piece by Visiting Author Blain Enns, CEO Win Without Pitching