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!






Win ad agency new business through 4Ps

The other day Adweek had a revealing story that offers tips on how to win the gigantic Microsoft business. The story features context pulled straight from Microsoft’s RFP.  And while there’s a terrific little nugget or two in there that would help someone win, because the RFP details a few of the brand’s challenges…I suggest that’s only 25% of the winning formula. Today’s post explores the other important bits.

Looking to win ANY ad agency new business pitch, regardless of size? Consider developing strategies that leverage thinking across four areas: the problem; the personalities; the process; and your product.

The Problem: the brand’s challenges

What’s the client’s pickle? What is the problem the prospect is trying to solve? Trying to get new customers? Make existing customers buy more? Is the brand relevant? Is their advertising working? And why not?

Typically, this is the area everyone talks about. This is the prospect’s brief. And your agency will be evaluated on how it solves the problem. But don’t kid yourself. There’s a whole heckuva lot more going on that influences who will win the business…

The Personalities: decision-maker bias

Your prospective clients are human beings making a weighty decision. It impacts their careers. What kinds of people are they? Are they Type A folks? More shiny? Are they relationship-driven? The personalities and culture of the company can drive your new business pitch content and context.

The Process: how the decision is being made

Here, I’m talking about the pitch process. What are the rules of this particular game? How are you being evaluated? Who’s in the pitch, how did they got there, and what are the deliverables (and when do they happen)? Gaining a slight advantage by presenting first or last in a given round, for instance, is an example of leveraging the process to increase your odds of winning.

The Product: your people and your capabilities

Like any professional service, your people are the main driver of client and agency success. But in new business, it’s more than that, which is why this “P” isn’t labeled “People.” Let’s make sure we include other elements of your agency’s offering: positioning, structure, ownership structure, past experience, services/capabilities, access, relationships, location, size, etc. It is another common area that’s easy to discuss and can very quickly eliminate a ton of agencies. Think of this last P as “checkmarks” in the prospect’s mind. Like a giant database. Any one of these can make a difference in winning and losing a new business pitch.

So, next time you’re in a pitch, think about the 4Ps listed above as you work with your team to develop a winning game plan.

Happy pitching!






Finding urgency in agency new business

We’ve all been there. We give a prospective client a terrific proposal. Everyone’s excited. Your prospect is psyched. And you’re thrilled, too. Because this extra little bit of new revenue is coming at a great time for your agency.

But then…nothing. You hear…squat.

Well, clearly something’s happened, right? Maybe there was a shift in prospective client priorities. Or maybe there was a change in client-side staffing. Or maybe one of your competitors entered the picture, a long-lost friend of the prospect’s…

You should find yourself nodding your head to these reasons. And maybe even adding one or two deal-stoppers based on your own experiences. The key challenge: what can you do about it?

In some cases, there may not be much you can do. However, here are a couple of thought-starter questions that can get you thinking about some potential solutions. Things that can get the deal back on ye olde right track…

What is time sensitive?

Think broadly here. Is there anything on the prospect’s side that means they lose something if they don’t act now? Some competitive activity? A personal goal your prospect may have? Some internal resource that may go away? What might be gained? Sometimes that resource may just be the attention of their bosses.

Ask the same kinds of questions about your agency or the work itself. Is there any deadline to consider? A brand partnership? A calendar event? For more writing around this from Thunderclap, check this out.

How can this proposal be aligned to generating revenue?

Here’s a cool article from Forbes that explores the world of sales vs. marketing. I love the author’s perspective that marketing has an opportunity to behave like salespeople. Let’s apply that thinking to your proposal. How does hiring your agency impact revenue? In many recent presentations to both existing and prospective agency clients, I include a “show them the money” visual. Why not reflect this idea in your next proposal. It’s a very handy tool to link your agency’s efforts to corporate goals. And therefore, increase the sense of urgency on your prospect’s to-do list.

What can you follow up on?

And sometimes, you just have to stay on top of the situation. You’d be surprised how many agencies will simply present their wares or thinking, and then walk away, hoping to hear back from the prospect. Well, hope don’t pay the rent. Don’t be a pest. But stay on these guys. You never know. Maybe NOW is a better time to discuss the project than the first time you presented it.

Anywho, hope these questions can get you thinking that all may not be lost the next time you pitch something and find yourself frustrated by the lack of progress.







Adding swagger to your new business development efforts

ad agency new business development strategy football playAgency new business sourcers, unite! Today’s post is about swagger. It has been inspired by characters like Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad. (No spoilers, please. yours truly is in the middle of season four.) Or Jack Sparrow. Heck, even maybe people like Hilary Clinton or Mark Cuban. Yes, there is some douchebaggery when one thinks of swagger. Even the characters mentioned above, while charming, have some negative qualities.

And yet, the word captures some positive traits that are absolutely relevant and necessary in agency new business development. Things like confidence or higher self-worth. And yes, even a little bit of good natured, charismatic theater. So, here are two quick thoughts on how to get a touch of professional swagger in your agency and in your new business efforts.

Say no more often

I know, I know. We all have mortgages. But nothing builds confidence like saying no. Your agency is not right for every pitch that comes your way. Say no. And save your resources for a better fit and better chance at winning.

Or at least negotiate better pitch terms that can help both client and agency. Like more prospective client access, for instance. After all, you can’t do your best work if you don’t get to know the client. And from the prospect’s perspective – which is how you position this to your audience – they get to know more about the agency: how you think, how you work, and how to feels to work with you.

While that’s great and all, you need leads. Which brings us to our next point…

Build a plan

Lots of thinking around how to do that on this blog. Or better yet, hire me to coach you or craft a plan. The simple point here is that by relying too much on your transom, waiting for the phone to ring for pitches that might not be a good fit…you can develop a plan that builds agency awareness and relationships with professionals outside the agency.

The output of a plan? Better-fitting leads for your agency. When you read, “professionals outside the agency” this includes, of course, prospects. But don’t forget the other people that can refer business to you: existing and past clients, suppliers, business partners, and friends of the agency.

These are just two thought-starters. Should you feel that as a professional service provider that “swagger” is a bit beneath you… that’s completely understandable. Your mileage will and should vary.

But I do think there’s an interesting intersection between being billable and having some confidence. And exploring that intersection can make growing your agency and winning new business a bit easier. Fun, too!


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