I posted this on our agency new business blog today and thought you might find the perspective (from the agency side) of interest and value.

I had the good fortune of speaking with 15 Omnicom agencies last week in San Francisco.  Most in attendance were the heads of their respective agency’s new business efforts.

I was asked by Mike Goefft of Doremus to offer some perspective on agency new business that could be of benefit to their initiatives. Agencies in attendance were 180LA, Alcone, DDB, Direct Partners, Doremus, EVB, GMR Marketing, Innovyx, Kern Agency, Ketchum, PHD, Rapp, Siegel + Gale , Voce Communications, and Wolff Olins.

San Francisco


I started by talking about the numerous challenges facing agencies and marketers that are putting pressure on agencies to win more and better new business assignments.

Chief among agency new business challenges is a blurring of lines between types of agencies.

Omnicom and other holding companies bought up all these firms for a reason:  They each brought something unique to the party – or they brought a great portfolio of clients to the table.

Problem is many of these firms are starting to look alike.  PR firms are offering traditional agency services.  Direct firms are offering integrated solutions to a client’s business problem.  Even media firms are in the business of helping marketers beyond the four walls of media planning and buying.

So what is an agency to do?

I offered three things that Marketers love and will love if agencies follow this path – regardless of their specialty, or size, or independence:

1. Make Marketers Want You

Starts with a solid positioning and stick to it.  I stole a page from Tim Williams of the Ignition Group and talked about the “WHO”, “WHAT”, and “HOW” approach to positioning.

Tim believes and I support this philosophy, that agencies need to define themselves in one or more of these ways in order to survive.  The “WHO” is the audience or sector that you’re expert in.  The “WHAT” is the competency (like “digital” as an example), and the “HOW” is your approach (like Chiat Day’s “Disruption” or Victor & Spoils “Crowdsourcing”).

You define your space and you live it in everything you do.  How you pitch, how you post, how you take the first meeting – everything.  Make them feel like you are expert in the space you’ve defined and this is what will win the day…(at least one of the ways).

2. Make the Marketer Feel Like You’re Ramping Up

In the last two searches I’ve managed on the RSW/AgencySearch side of our business, the marketer made the selection in part because they felt like the agency was already ramping up on their business.  They did their homework, they tailored the presentation to the client, they showed the client they understood their business, the category, and their challenges.

This isn’t something that you have to save until the final pitch.  This is something you can do as early as your initial outreach and carry all the way through the process.

3. “Check the Boxes”

The last piece of the puzzle is something we preach all the time.  It’s all about thinking about what you want your outcome to be and then working it to help your prospective client come to those conclusions themselves without having to be directly sold.

At the end of the day, you want your prospective client to walk away saying (without you selling):

  • Yes, they have experience in my sector or experience I need
  • Yes, they have dealt with issues similar to mine
  • Yes, they have worked with companies like mine
  • Yes, they listen and ask good questions
  • Yes, they are nice people that I’d like to work with
  • Yes, they value my opinion
  • And yes, they are smart, strategic people

The key is not stating all these things, but rather hearing the prospect respond to your smart questions and sharing examples of things you’ve done for others that parallel their situation.  The goal is getting them to “check the boxes” believing that you’re the right firm.

While some of these things are somewhat fundamental, most in attendance agreed at this gathering that it’s these fundamentals that they often lose sight of.

You get wrapped up in the day to day of running your business or working on the next RFP and you forget what got your agency where it is and don’t stay focused on the things marketers love:  an expert agency, a hard working agency, and partner agency that’s in it to win it just like the marketer.