New business pitches: does size matter anymore?

Just finished reading a great how-to story by Avi Dan on Ad Age. I’ve silently watched this man for years. He’s got a great backstory – Israeli tank commander turned agency man turned new business man turned search consultant. Or something like that. Looks like he might even be one of the good guys by not accepting money from both clients and agencies. Hip-hip!

Anyway, in his latest Ad Age piece, he’s offering perspective to CMOs on how to search. And says some smart stuff. What was missing, though, was agency size.

Do you think size is important? Well… if you’re a big agency, you might be more inclined to say absolutely. But if you’re small and fiesty, you’re gonna pull out all the typical reasons why it’s not as important. You know the drill – your work is done by small teams anyway, media can’t tell the difference, it’s the idea that matters, you get better service with a small shop, yadda-yadda…

Don’t mean to be the bearer of sad news and reality. But sadly, size still matters.  The saying things like “no one ever got fired for hiring Leo Burnett” still looms in some prospects’ minds. (My apologies, Burnett. You know there’s still love here!)

Size delivers a ton of benefits to a client’s business. They won’t be poured over here.

A rule of thumb I recently read from a search consultant suggests that clients shouldn’t pick agencies where their business is worth something like 25% of the agency’s annual income.

This still doesn’t stop a lot of agencies from pitching. You’re being spared, for now, any preaching about whether or not it’s a good thing. You’re probably gonna pitch anyway.

So, next time you find yourself up against a large competitor, consider a change of focus. Emphasize the people doing the work. What follows are a few bullets. They’re put in order of more interesting and less known to ye olde standbys…

  • Pull together a team reel vs. an agency reel. And call out this distinction! Not the work of someone who may not be working at the agency, but someone who will be on the business. It amazes me how many prospective clients are impressed with work done by people who are now down the street.
  • Emphasize staff credentials vs. the agency. Particularly if the staff and principals got tired of big agency life (but learned there) and wanted better lives. A part of the have the cake, eat it, too strategy.
  • Get your clients talking about you. They are your best advocates.
  • Run some numbers. And share the story if it’s a goo one. Do you keep your clients longer than three years? This is the average nowadays (per Avi and Ad Age). If so, no doubt part of the reason why is your agency’s people.
  • Get personal. Some prospects that will want to know about you as a human being. Your family, your hobbies, your motivations. Agencies of all sizes shouldn’t be afraid to let their personalities shine through. But don’t smaller agencies have more room to play a bit more and reveal themselves.
  • Dimensionalize what improved service means. Faster turnaround. Same-day return phone calls. Less structure.
  • (And, of course, avoiding the bait and switch in pitch situations). Sorry, had to throw in the classic. You saw it coming!

Anywho, hope this helps. We’re just scratching the surface. Please expect some more thoughts around agency size as it relates to new business. But it’ll have to come later, as Papa’s got to get billable. Happy pitching!