What George Costanza can teach us in ad agency new business development

So, George Costanza really wasn’t the inspiration for this little bit of ad agency new business inspiration. But I fell in love with the headline and thought it would draw you in. Rather, this morsel of business development thinking comes from a smart movie called Locke.

To me, the film is attractive because it’s makers reinvent the standard movie format. In some cases, they actually DO pull a George Costanza. They do the opposite.

In Locke, you see only ONE actor on the screen for the entire movie. And he’s driving and having different hands-free cell phone conversations to move the story along. So, the movie takes place in just ONE setting.

Listed in absolutely no particular order, here are a few quick thoughts that upend standard agency positioning, new business and growth practices.

  • Never doing spec work
  • ONLY pitching if invited
  • Create an agency that ONLY does execution and NO strategy
  • Become an agency that ONLY hires people above the age of 35
  • Hire no one over 30
  • Never using powerpoint, keynote or prezi in your new business presentations
  • Turn down a pitch opportunity and recommend another agency
  • Make your office a digital destination vs. a physical one
  • (Admobile, anyone?)
  • Calling yourself a consulting firm vs. an agency
  • Sell yourself to a client, technology company or consultancy vs. an agency holding company or roll-up
  • Hire out-of-work client CMOs instead of agency new business people
  • Specialize in only ONE old-school medium
  • Double your rates
  • Ignore the competition in your next pitch
  • Bring only two people to your next new business meeting
  • Add a strong call to action to your website
  • Present initial prospect thinking in a capabilities presentation
  • Turn in your RFP response one day early
  • Ask your existing clients for names to add to your email newsletter list

This is just a starter list. Doing the opposite works for Locke. And for George. So, how about you? What could work at your agency? Take a look at the existing structure of an agency. Pull apart different elements like what, who, where, how, when and why. And consider changing things up a bit to become more marketable.

Should you know of any good examples of agencies doing the opposite, feel free to share them below or drop me a line.

Happy George Costanza-ing!






Innovation in ad agency business development through other professions

Are you looking for new thinking to find and win more ad agency business? Trying to do something new and engaging that will differentiate you from agency competitors? Perhaps you will find value in this idea: adopting lessons learned from other professional service industries.

Earlier this year, I was a guest judge for the Legal Marketing Association’s Your Honor Award Program. The awards recognize the best in legal industry business development practices. Every year, they elect someone who has relevant, but indirect experience. It was a pleasure to judge. And I picked up a thing or two that could be applied to the ad agency new business function. Here are just three quick thought-starters:

Leverage the power of the alumni network

This seems to be a much bigger new business tool in the legal profession than in agency life. I personally have very fond memories of my experiences with places like Ogilvy and Foote, Cone & Belding.

The legal business celebrates their alumni, treating them like university alumni. Think about what that could mean for your agency. And to me, agency size doesn’t matter. Perhaps it is as simple as a little “where are they now” snippet on a newsletter or blog. Or, if you’re driving the agency business development efforts one of those great big alphabet soup agencies, perhaps you take lessons from university fundraising, and create a magazine that lets former alumni see the latest agency news, work and accomplishments. Just don’t forget the bits at the end that update fellow alumni.

How might LinkedIN and other social media relate to this concept? While groups exist of agency alumni, I think there’s opportunity to do something different. And, the more positive, warm relationships your agency has with people outside the firm, the more pitches you’ll hear about.

Consider specializing. In a target, or a category or situation, or…

Seems like the legal profession is more crowded than the marketing communication industry. There’s a lot more specialization where you find more Latin being used. (Although this isn’t cause and effect. I just felt the need to shoehorn “ipso facto” into this post.) The legal business applies the concept to not only how they market themselves, but how they’re structured, and in some cases, where they’re located.

Heed the words of terrific consultants out there like Michael Gass, Tim Williams or a host of others. And make new business development easier, more efficient and more fun. Specialize.

Re-define and leverage “alerts”

Legal alerts are announcements of legal changes and are a very common business development practice in that business.  They are the perfect opportunity for a legal professional to add a quick bit of smart commentary to demonstrate expertise. I wonder if you couldn’t do this with content related to your agency specialization. Or, maybe this be a branding opportunity for you.

Why, Thunderclap’s own pitch predictions are an example of a relevant alert. You’re looking for more new business pitches. And Pitch Predictors and Thunderclap supplies them – free of charge.

Anywho, hope the inspires you to find new ways of pursuing your next agency new business prospect or winning more pitches. As always, you are welcome to give me a phone call to discuss what’s shared here. As well as talk about your agency’s new business challenges.


Changing jobs and moving to the client side

ad agency new business strategySome dear friends of mine are now looking for senior-level, client-side gigs. So, I thought it might be worth a few hundred words to explore the advantages agency professionals might have vs. client-only candidates.

You are not stuck to one industry

You, the seasoned agency veteran, have probably worked on a variety of brands and categories. Which means your past experience can work across multiple categories, potentially offering you more jobs for which you qualify.

You have seen more

You’ve been in “the shit” more than client-side only counterparts. You have helped brands solve a wide variety of marketing problems. Which again means you might be a fit for more jobs. The benefit to employers? You can help them solve the current challenges more quickly, but continue to be helpful moving forward. You’re an experience utility player.

Your network of contacts might be broader and larger than a typical client’s

This is an added benefit of working across multiple businesses. Your network will be made up of both agency folks and client-side associates. The more people know you are looking for a job, the greater the chance you will hear about a job that’s a good fit for you.

You can bring innovation to a given job

The thinking, strategies and execution you did in one category could be refreshing and therefore very valuable in a new one. This angle can be particularly helpful should you be angling for a job in which you have no prior direct category experience.

You just might be more up to date than your competitors

Some folks with client-side experience might be behind the times a bit. Successful agency people have to stay a little more intellectually nimble. Your mileage will vary of course. And naturally, fans of this particular blog are a little more savvy than the average bear!

You may be a better communicator, too

As a senior-level professional, you are used to presenting and writing decks, internal memos and using the intrapersonal skills your Mama gave you. This can provide you a valuable advantage throughout the search process.

All of this, of course, does not suggest you are inherently better than someone with strictly a client-side marketing background. But it’s my hope the above can give you a bit more hope that your agency experience can prove to be valuable as you search for client-side gigs.


Being sneaky with testimonials in agency new business

ad agency new business strategyToday’s few hundred about ad agency new business is inspired by a recent commercial for the University of Phoenix. The spot opens on a portrait of a professional-looking woman working at Red Cross. The camera pulls out. She’s one of many portraits hanging on the wall. The camera pans left, moving over another person working at Red Cross, and settles on a man working at Yahoo.

Sneaky, huh? The camera moving past the other Red Cross leader helped reinforce the idea that there’s a big fat network of U of P grads out there. Willing to put your resume at the top o’ the pile due to the alumni factor.

Lemme get to the point, and share a couple of potentially sneaky ways you can use other clients in your new business efforts. These can be particularly effective for clients who have more relationship-based personalities:

Personal client testimonials

It’s a given that a testimonial can describe things like the work, qualities of the relationship or results of the client / agency partnership. But how about including other milestones that send a slightly different message. That your agency can help clients be more personally successful when they hire you. Consider:

  • Worked with client since 19xx
  • Celebrated three promotions
  • Helped client through two layoffs

Sharing testimonials in unusual ways

Here are some sneaky thought starters beyond putting testimonials on your website or in other capabilities pieces. By the way, you don’t really see that many testimonials on agency websites. Which seems like a missed agency new business opportunity.

  • In emails between RFP and capabilities round
  • On walls or easels in your office or in conference room
  • In RFPs to add personal context to references or case study questions
  • On LinkedIN company pages

Interested in this topic? Check out these other posts, lovingly hand-crafted by yours truly to get you thinking a bit more about how existing clients can help grow your agency:

How to use testimonials in agency new business

How a Chief Experience Officer can improve the client / agency partnership

How to grow your ad agency beyond new business

new business development ad agency spyglass announcement pitchI don’t know about you, ad agency new business buff, but I pay attention to agencies that grow very quickly. How did they do it? What can we learn from that? I’m not talking about the fact an agency has added new business and then new staff. But the stuff that happens BEFORE those blessed events. The cause for all the new business.

Which is why this story caught my eye. It’s about a digital agency that has grown from a staff of 2 people to over 65 people in three offices. The company is BMI Elite. Here are three things that immediately caught my eye, and might offer a fellow agency new business tip-seeker an idea or two that will grow your agency…

Service is critical to this agency’s success

Their own CEO says this best. From the story: “There’s business out there to get if you’re paying attention to the client,” said Rosen. “It’s about giving the best customer service possible. We’re accessible. We answer the phone. We provide quick turnaround and our clients get results.”

This agency’s focus on service is not unlike another Florida-based agency, Zimmerman. Jordan Zimmerman is infamous for being available at any and all points through the day and night.

They don’t smell like a traditional agency

They scream “we create business and leads for you” vs. the high falutin’ brand and digital positioning that comes out of many agencies. It’s almost…what’s the word I’m looking for…refreshing? Unique. Smart. Profitable.

They may offer services you don’t

Spend just two minutes on their website and you will find out they offer call center support. And they have access to over 150 million opt-in emails through their own database. They are looking for sales executives, not account management or new business people. Maybe these are some of the reasons they don’t smell like a traditional agency. Because they’re not.

Anywho, thought you might appreciate learning a bit more about how one agency is growing. In a very real sense, it’s because they don’t act like an agency.


Some recent posts that are related to this one:

 How a chief experience officer can make your agency more efficient

How service can differentiate your agency

How the Apple experience might translate to your client / agency experience