Does Cold Calling Work for Advertising Agencies?


I was having lunch with a client friend the other day.  He bought.  He works for a well-known National company.  The talk turned to advertising agencies as it often does.  He had been at his position for almost a year.  I played a small role in helping him get his current job. An introduction was all that it was and then his merits and experience landed him the gig.

Like most clients he is overtasked.  Lots to do with the often challenging resources of the New Normal.

He shared a story about all the people that called him when he got the job.  People that he never heard from when he was looking for a job.  He said he doesn’t even return their calls.  Yes insincerity is a thin veneer in the New Normal.

I’ve had many people think of me when they were looking for work because of my network.  Once they landed I went into the forgotten or too busy pile. No worries.  Those people come and go in life.

He asked me if every agency these days has a New Business person.  He said he was overwhelmed with calls from agencies constantly.  He message on his voice mail says that the best way to reach me is by e mail yet agencies left voice mails for him.  “I hate voice mails,” is what he said.

He shared that these cold calls and unsolicited e mails have become more creative and somewhat more desperate.  Click on this link and watch this video and we will tell you in 60 seconds why we would be perfect for you.

What some agencies don’t understand that clients today are trying to implement the highest return projects most efficiently. They don’t want to talk to agencies with solutions looking for problems that don’t align.  Like two ships passing through the night. Yet agencies call away.

Oh sure sometimes an agency will actually talk to a prospect and get some work.  Just like somebody will get a job off Monster or a job posted on a website but these are rare.  Most clients aren’t sitting around in offices with tidy desks with nothing to do that day but answer the phone.

I am helping an agency find some people to help grow.  They are successful.  They are expanding.  They don’t use New Business people.  No frisky puppies for them.  Instead they hire senior people in strategy, creative and account service and entrust them with agency growth.  You do that by knowing the business and talking client challenges and building relationships.  It is about alignment not misguided selling.

In the depths of the great recession and yes it was a deep crevice I wrote an article called why I Network with People in Transition.  It shared some stories on how I was able to develop business not by chasing people but by helping people.  How many agencies include helping marketing people in transition as part of their new business plan?  I wonder what would pay more dividends in the end.  Random phone calls or helping a person with a great track record that is bound to land?  You make the call.

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Watch a video on When Is It Time to Fire Your Agency

You may also enjoy these articles:

The Most Powerful Word in Agency New Business is NO.

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It’s Time for Clients to Change the RFP Process.


14 thoughts on “Does Cold Calling Work for Advertising Agencies?

  1. Amen, Hank. When I was a newly minted client after spending more than a decade on the agency side I felt sorry for cold callers and answered every voice mail. No more. (See why here if you want: You’re 100% right that strategic relationship trumps robo dialing. Helping people in transition is a great way to build those relationships. Rock on . . .

    • I’ll bet this is a lively conversation. Having split my career between agency and client, I always appreciated a ‘heads up’ before getting a phone call. So for agency biz dev, I always wrote a personal letter to the CMO indicating relevant category or problem solving experience, and specifically when I would call. Tuesday the 3rd at 10:00am. And then I gave them a chance to let me know if some other means (email) was more convenient. This proved far more effective than true cold calls.

      Anyone else have thoughts?

  2. Lending a hand to those in transition works – even if you don’t land the account of the company where the helpee lands, you have a person on the client side who has industry contacts and will go out of his/her way to recommend your agency.
    Cold calling can work, too, if you do it the right way: 1) Cull your list to specific targets 2) Research each company and its competition 3) You and your team turn on the analytic creative juices come up with an actual idea – your website needs a call to action; here’s a promotion concept that help you with younger buyers; try using “three good reasons” in your social media posting. 4) Let the prospect know you have a bonafide proposal and you need 20 minutes to present. (If you have someone who can get you past the gatekeeper,
    How well does it work? 1) If you have a real proposal, you are much more likely to get the guy/gal on the phone and in an appointment. Of course, if you have someone who can get you past the gatekeeper -like that fella you helped out- your chances improve immensely 2) your great idea is unlikely to be spot-on, but if you’ve done an impressive job, the prospect will ask you to come back with a second proposal – for the problem that keeps him up at night.
    Worst case? The prospect says thanks, but no. Which means that you have improved brand awareness and value for your agency. The important thing -as noted in your posting- is to have the goal of actually helping someone.

  3. So agree. It is exactly what we tell agencies participating in one of our reviews. Clients don’t want to see a laundry list of disciplines or your agency positioning. They want to know what you’ve done relative to their business challenges.

  4. You are write Hank. It never worked for me and I used to get disappointed with not returning call attitude.But as you said ‘insincerity is a thinveneer in the new normal.’ . Well said.

  5. In my opinion, with biz dev experience going back to pre-9/11 (and then some), this has nothing to do with “new normal”. Nobody ever responds favorably (or at all), now or 20+ years ago, to a call which for all intents reduces to “We do XXX, tell us how to sell you something.” I marvel at those who behave as though it’s a prospective client’s job (actually true of *existing* client relationships as well) to tell the agency how to sell themselves to them. And that stems from some agency leadership who do not get the concept of investing in getting smart about targets of interest and pursuing them based on knowing what’s going on in their market, among consumers, among retailers, etc. Patiently building credibility over time and as a reward for that, being considered when the opportunities arise. To some looking from the outside, seems simple: “hey, you sent an email and got us a meeting, so send more emails”. With expectations of instant hits and criticism for continuing contact with those who won’t immediately see us. Those who aren’t actually carrying the bizdev burden don’t see (experience!) the need for the buildup along the way, the persistence required, the frustration to be managed. Which is why I hated some of my more egotistical colleagues who claimed they were the reason for a successful meeting and a first assignment! Sorry, that just blurted out… 😉 Eric said it well: “strategic consultative outreach” is the way to go. And being as smart, perhaps even smarter, about a prospect’s challenges means I never made a cold call.

  6. Good article Hank. Cold calling and selling your agency’s abundant services, is looking for a needle in a haystack. But that doesn’t mean the phone is the wrong tool. The key is to be smart in developing potential solutions to a brand’s probable challenges. Brand marketers don’t have the time to align what an agency does, with how that helps them. That’s the agency’s job (and new business person’s job). Agency management needs to invest in creating the intelligence (intellectual property) to have a strategic conversation with the “right” targets. Agencies are so behind the times when it comes to biz dev. But there are resources out there designed to help.

  7. Hi Hank, I’m run a small video agency and I’d love to pick your brain about new business development. I really like what you have to say…you’re smart and accurate with lots of common sense when it comes to growing business. Well done.

  8. Michelle

    Its funny, Ive had a really amazing career in Business Development and worked with some of the worlds largest brands and agencies. Ive read numerous articles that “cold calling” is dead and that “business development” is as good as a cuss word. What is interesting is Ive never met a client whose told me ” I wish you never called” in fact quite the opposite, many of these same clients are now friends and peers. I believe if you do your research, are aligning your product/service and are truly trying to help, knowing the landscape of their particular challenges and offering personal and professional value as a business consultant then you are good 🙂 No complaints on my end.. which is why I call it ” intelligent, research based prospecting” . We are all selling something, wether we hire a sales person or not 🙂

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