Is social media killing ad agency new business?

This will be a quickie. Only because I’ll be the first to admit social media isn’t #1 on my list of ways to grow an agency. There are experts in our space that know it well, and I’d actually encourage you to learn more about ’em. They seem to know what the heck they’re talking about. And, of course, social media should be part of a balanced breakfast, er, new business plan. More thoughts around that for paying Thunderclap agencies! 😉

But this morning over my Caribou coffee, I began wondering a bit about… this latest social media activity. It’s easy to understand why agencies love it – social media can increase the number of transom opportunities you get. Welcome, incoming phone calls from interested prospects that need to be qualified. And then, if it’s a good fit, pitched. But at least the phone rings. Which is sweet about social media, right?

There is, though, a potentially long-term negative side to the way many use social media today. Are we giving away the milk for free? Is this yet another trend in our business that leads to more commoditization and lowering of fees?

Uh, maybe?!

Don’t get me wrong. Social media, when done the right way, can be a helpful addition to your new business efforts. But it’s got to be done right. And is very easy to screw up.

If there was time, lessons on how to do it right might be found by studying the other professions and social media. There might be value in exploring a range of strategy vs. execution businesses. From straight strategic consulting (the McKinseys of the world) to the businesses that combine strategy and execution (for instance, architecture, engineering and construction businesses).

Good stuff to think about. And great stuff to actually do. But unfortunately, Papa’s got to get billable today. And later, after doing client work, finish up some stuff that will help get more hours. (Exciting things in the making. And yes, they build from this three month-old social media platform.)

This topic, though, is worth much more thinking over time. So, come on back. And, as always, should anything in this post inspire a comment or question, feel free. Ciao!


  1. Hey Steve,

    Long time reader, first time writer, how’s it going.

    I am intrigued by this latest post (as I am by the rest of your insights), and totally agree. Especially with the phrase, “…it’s got to be done right. And is very easy to screw up.”

    I, and I may be totally naive here, look at the social arena as a way to deepen one’s understanding and connection to a brand. It’s a great way to strengthen brand loyalty and it does increase a brands ability to touch it’s existing customer more directly, but am not yet convinced of how much it directly affect sales. As you said it may get the phone to ring, but does it bring business in the door?

    You posed the question of, “Are we giving away the milk for free?” Don’t you think that in almost every pitch you have to give away some milk? Crowdsourcing gives away everything, but spec pitches have done this for years. Heck, filling out an RFP gives away a lot of info for, generally, no return.

    A thought just crossed my mind, “Can social media eliminate the need for and RFP?” If a new client can get enough information and develop a connection to your agency through it’s social aspects could it lead to less intense pitches? Could a client eliminate the need for a search consultant?

    So, I guess my question(s) for you and anyone reading this post is this: How are you utilizing social media to get that phone ringing? And once it rings are you using social media to deepen your relationships with those customers or do you switch automatically to a more traditional method.

    Are you using Facebook to keep them updated? Does your company blog? If it does how “free” is the rein given to your topics? Do you “Tweet”? I’ve always wondered how the owner of an agency “tweeting” will get a phone to ring? What the heck are you tweeting about?

    I have so many questions on this subject from all sides, but will leave it there for now and see how the discussion grows. Maybe I’ll blog about it?


  2. MngDirector says:

    Good thoughts, Michael. Lots to talk about.

    You’re right, ultimately this crazy social media thing needs to make some benjamins.

    In my experience, the phone rings more due to awareness related to a need. Agencies can’t create the need. But they can create more awareness. Enter social media. (And lots of other things, natch.)

    Sure, there’s some relationship building with social media. And, I think that social media can help both agency and prospect move from the beginning of that spectrum, “no relationship / strangers,” to a bit further up the ladder.

    You raise a terrific point about how how and when to use social media. To me, it seems like there’s definitely a switch that needs to happen in the sales cycle – from social media lead gen and introductory relationship-starting to a move to classic, consultative sales-type model (for instance). The relationship between the parties, of course, gets more intimate with quality time. And as you get permission to move beyond tweets to email and phone. And in person (crazy, I know!)

    Seems like agencies need to have a clear understanding of expectations of their social media programs. Kind of a “duh.” But important to now what it can and can’t do.

    And yeah, all pitches nowadays give away some thinking. This is become a standard, unfortunately. And the further you get in the process, the more thinking you give away.

    While it would be awesome to get completely away from RFPs, I think that might be asking a bit too much.

    Social media can provide a client an oppty to check chemistry, get a sense for thinking, etc. And, if the agency remembers what it writes about, there’s copy fodder there that can simply be dropped into an RFP.

    It can, though, alter the way clients go about finding partners. The more I think about it, the more I feel social media’s best value for agencies is early in the new business hunt.

    So, it ain’t gonna make money all by itself. But can help start the process!

    Thanks for your perspective, Michael. And yes, absolutely worth more blogging about!