How Advertising Agencies Can Get More New Business.


I think I have a unique perspective on New Business Development because I have walked both sides of the street. I have been a successful new business hunter and have conducted agency searches for companies such as Jenny Craig, Raley’s Supermarkets and  Jacuzzi North America.

Here are some thoughts on how your advertising, public relations or digital firm can get more new business based on some observations during a couple of recent reviews.

First, it is time for agencies to stop schmoozing. Every time I do an agency review I get a call from my new best friend. “Hi Hank. I just wanted to tell you that I now work at the agency you just contacted.  I have been meaning to call you.” Sure. I have not heard from them in years and don’t remember them. I may have met them once briefly. Only contacting people when you want something from them is not relationship building. It is disingenuous and makes me think they are an empty suit.

Stop saying your agency is different because you have an integrated marketing approach. I first heard the term integrated marketing when I was 28 years old and that was more than a couple of years ago. Try holistic, ecosystem, core, native, or anything else a little more au courant. Integrated marketing often translates to we want to maximize our revenue by doing as many things as possible for you.

Make yourself easier to connect with. I have blogged in the past on Why Agencies Don’t Want to Connect. This is the age of smart phones but many New Business people and Senior Management at agencies live in the past. Few have salutations and even fewer have their cell phone number hyperlinked in their salutations or the agency’s website. Not even the agency name.  I have multiple agencies to deal with and I will always respond first to the ones that are easiest to deal with. If I see your email response on my iPhone make it is easier for me to call you. Not everybody gets to come to the party.

If your contact info on your site is info@your agency or fill out a form you are so out of touch I don’t even want to try.

The other thing that agency need to do is stop making mistakes.  Yes simple mistakes that shoot you in the foot. Proof your presentations. Every copy you send out. I can’t tell you how many presentations I have seen with copy upside down, missed collated pages, and other mistakes. I am not joking. Happens on numerous occasions. Just think you spent hours on your initial submission but you didn’t spend 30 minutes reviewing your work. The client happens to get the messed up copy and turns and says to me, “What does that tell you if they don’t check their work?” Then they put their presentation to the side.

I received a call on Saturday from the agency President who told me that he was reviewing their presentation and found a couple of typos and wanted to see if it was OK if he sent out two fresh copies that same day. On Saturday. It arrived in the late afternoon. The agency was in LA and I live in the OC, sixty miles away. What did that tell me? Well in the email that I forwarded to the client I said that it told me that the Principal of the agency would be involved in their business and would be accessible on the weekends and had high standards.

It is not what you say in New Business, it is how you act.

Stop trying to buy me. On occasion I have actually received e mails telling me that if I would connect them with my clients they would make sure they would take care of me. How sweet. What does that tell me about their value system? No wonder clients don’t trust agencies. Would you trust that the billing from such an agency would be accurate? Sorry I am not that easy.

In the end New Business takes smart work but it also takes the simple basics of blocking and tackling.

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24 thoughts on “How Advertising Agencies Can Get More New Business.

  1. Brian

    Great article, Hank. Bang on. Clearly you have dealt with the Devil on numerous occasions. I will say this about “Integrated Marketing”: There are two kinds these days. There is the one that was bastardized by SEO-buzz-word-driven suits – which basically translates into making sure the colours and logos and message are consistent across all platforms (duh?). There is the more technical version that takes all these elements into account (though with more flexibility) plus, it uses the physical/tech interaction of various media to engage the target with the brand. Media working with media to empower the message. No, this is not “new” but I am working on a new word for it that salesmen don’t know yet so we can differentiate this. But I encourage people to not so much avoid “integrated marketing” promises, but to challenge the term.

  2. This was a great read thanks Hank! I’ve always loved your approach. Now that I’ve moved over the AE side of things it’s so helpful to see things from your point of view. No “integrated marketing” here! Spend less and get higher response.

  3. Having been a marketing director, a business-development guy for an ad agency and spent the lions’ share of my career years selling newspaper, then magazine, and now radio, I benefit from a similar experience Hank. The best advice I ever received was more than 20 years ago from a veteran newspaper rep, “Don’t worry about the money. Worry about the client’s best interest and the money will come.” It was great advice then and it’s great advice today. Not coincidentally, I’ve been the top revenue producer at every stop along the way.

  4. Thanks, Hank – everyone appreciates your admonitions on what not to do.

    At our agency, all of us work around the clock (including Saturdays) to anticipate our client’s needs – so your example is fairly normal in our case.

    Can you give us some new information on other things we should be doing to bring in new business?

    Thanks again!

  5. Being on the agency side, I have to say that being prepared is absolutely key. You have to know who you’re pitching to, why they should want to hear from you, and what you have to offer. Sending a one-sheet in an e-mail is lazy and won’t get you anywhere, in most cases. Do some background research and tell them with what you bring to the table that will impact them. Obviously if you are offered the opportunity to pitch, go in prepared to the hilt – don’t let an opportunity go to waste. To me, that’s had a big impact.

    • rgripp2013

      Nice article Hank.

      You and your commenters triggered some personal thoughts, so here goes…

      I have been in corporate, consultancy level sales and agency business development work for most of my 35 year career. Over these years, I have come to the simple conclusion that nobody (including ourselves) wants to be sold anything. What we do want is trusted advocates providing smarts, insights and help in solving our needs or in helping us reach our goals and objectives.

      Unfortunately, having heart issues, I have also found myself a “professional patient”, experiencing lots of new docs over the years. I discovered that the very best ones provide an excellent consultancy sales model for new business development in the business and agency world. This doctor’s approach has served me well.

      Here is how I see the best doctors approach their new patients:

      1)The good ones do their homework first by studying the patient’s tests results, charts and history before they walk through the door into that examination room. I can tell when a doctor is seeing my charts (which is a book) for the first time as they are just coming through the door. Not a good thing.
      2)They effectively, quickly and sincerely establish relationship rapport, credentials and trust with the patient.
      3) They continue to refine and formulate an accurate diagnosis of the situation with intentional, caring questions and responsive listening.
      4) Pulling from all of their expertise and experience, they empathetically communicate the various options available to address the patients needs (and opportunities).
      5) Then they offer their professional counsel as to which option they think is in the patient’s best interest with supporting rationale as to why they believe that it is… delivered in a way that is easy to understand and with care.
      6) Finally, they become that patient’s long-term advocate, helping them all of the way through the process to successfully accomplish their goal.

      From the patient’s (or prospect’s) perspective, this is what they want to happen:
      Number 1… Fix the problem. As a patient I will go through some discomfort (even surgery if I must) in order to treat the problem or accomplish the goal.
      Number 2…. Don’t hurt the patient any more than is absolutely necessary (if a pill will do the job as well as the surgery, which am I choosing?)
      Number 3…. Don’t hurt the patient’s pocketbook any more than is necessary (have my best interests at heart)

      Funny thing. I have found that those physicians who do the best job of becoming their patient’s advocates also seem to be the most successful and prosperous.

  6. Hi Hank! I see that this post is more about what NOT to do, but can’t agree with you more. Some good reminders to agencies here Hank. What I hear from my clients are reliability, responsiveness, results. How about that…the 3Rs! Regards, Christel

  7. Hank, Wonderful and insightful post. As a new business professional of 25 years +, I have seen and unfortunately been in pitches that covered all the mistakes you stated above. I have learned that if we truly care about what we do as agencies and are good, we should serve the prospects/clients that we are pitching, be real and focused on our our GOD given talents can help them. Our industry seems to have gotten away from strong use of ethics and morals just to win the might dollar of the moment. We should be focusing on knowing what the needs and goals are for the CMO and his/her company and not thinking about how much money we can get out of them before they leave and go to another agency, rather, think about how we can use our GOD given talents at our agency to help them reach and exceed their goals. Sad, I have asked many agencies to answer the WHY US question, most agencies can’t answer this, the typical answer is we can help anyone. NO You Can’t. Be great at something and help those who need the skills you have, in the industries and markets they live.

    Bless you

  8. Wendy Englehart

    As a copywriter and editor who is new to the world of business development, I appreciate this information! Great advice, thank you! Although, I have to note that I did find a typo or two. Specifically, in the paragraph regarding typos. Was this a test?

  9. Tim Woods

    Hi Hank,

    I enjoyed your piece, thank you for writing. Regarding the part on contact forms and such being a no-no. What is your own preferred method of contact instead? I hazard a guess at Instant Chat. Maybe I am out of touch – I have just started an independent copywriter website and I have exactly that – a contact form. I guess this is different to an agency as it is just me but it would be good to hear your thoughts nevertheless.

    All the best and happy New Year,
    Timothy Woods

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