By Category: New Business Strategies

» What Clients Want From Agencies

Relationship-building advice
by Todd Knutson  |   published on April 09, 2012

ROIWhat's most important to CMOs according to four senior marketers? Return On Investment. If you're in charge of new business at your ad agency, your opportunity is to demonstrate that your agency will grow your prospect's brand and generate significant ROI.

That's what representatives from American Express, Travelocity, E*Trade, and Empire Blue Cross told a packed audience at the recent Mirren New Business Conference.

Biggest challenges for marketers in 2011: accurate metrics

The biggest challenge for digital marketers is to carefully set up campaign goals in order to accurately measure results. Equally challenging is that we still can't measure the results of TV, print, or outdoor with much accuracy.

These four marketers concluded that just about the only accurate measurement in aggregate is the number of new customers. If it's up, you're probably okay.

Tables Stakes for Agencies in 2011

  • Analytics
  • A big idea
  • Good creative

What Separates Agencies

  • When an agency clearly knows what it's really good at, it separates itself from the pack. Do you know where your agency can add real value?
  • Where's your passion? Too many agencies don't have it, and marketers can immediately see  that it's missing.
  • The ability to ask a lot of smart questions. If you show up and talk, you've lost.

Recommendation to get in the door: a unique idea or perspective on your target's business. It must be something that can ultimately increase revenue and provide ROI.

Turnoffs - What NOT To Do in a Pitch

  • Ignore the rules
  • Show up with less people than the client
  • Show a lack of respect for the client's time


» Small Touches Create “Wow” The First Time Your Prospect Visits Your Agency

Be the guest
by Todd Knutson  |   published on November 16, 2011

fruit basketYou fly into a strange city. Your flight is delayed. It's raining. You manage to find a cab that takes you to the hotel in a car that's sorely in need of new shock absorbers. The hotel restaurant is closed and there's nothing open nearby. It's midnight, so that's no surprise. You're irritated and tired. What a great way to start your trip to visit a prospective ad agency whose work you really like. Strike one.

In the morning, you find that the "continental breakfast" is hard boiled eggs, over-ripe bananas, mealy apples, and tepid coffee. Cabs are nowhere to be found, but the front desk person manages to call's 20 minutes late. Strike two.

You arrive at the agency, only to find that no one's at the front desk. The meeting is scheduled for 8:30 am. In fact, there aren't many people around at all. Is this the right day, you ask yourself? You walk around the office and find someone back in a corner, ear buds in place. They have no idea you're there until you touch them on the shoulder and scare them half to death. They have no idea what to do with you. Strike three.

Sound far-fetched?

Contrast that hands-off approach to this one, using the same storyline:

  • The agency has arranged for a car service to take you, comfortably, to your hotel.
  • Knowing the potential for a late arrival, they've provided you with a basket of food. There's a hand-written note inside welcoming you and saying how much everyone is looking forward to meeting you in the morning.
  • One of the agency principals picks you up for breakfast at 7:15 am. She's taking you to the best breakfast spot in town.
  • The front desk person is at his desk when you arrive, and has been on the lookout for you ever since he got a text saying that you were 5 minutes away.
  • Lots of employees are around when you arrive; there's a buzz of activity.
  • Before the meeting, as the principal told you would happen over breakfast, you're taken on a brief agency tour with a really fun, effervescent employee who makes you feel completely welcome. In fact, you start thinking to yourself, "This is a fun place to work - I'd like to work with these people." She makes a point to introduce you to the creative team, since that's the reason you're there in the first place.

Home run? Maybe not, but at least you're still in the game.

Followed up with a thank you note...priceless.


» Innovation to Drive Ad Agency New Business

Break the mold
by Todd Knutson  |   published on July 14, 2011

One of the most thought-provoking and mindset-challenging sessions at the 2011 Mirren New Business Conference was "The Innovators Panel." Why? Because all organizations, including agencies, must innovate to remain relevant.

The chart, below, gives you a simple way to visualize the transformation that needs to take place for real innovation.

Innovator's Quadrant

Same Services for New Clients

New Services for New Clients, with Different People
Same Services for Same Clients

 New Services for Existing Clients


Most businesses and agencies strive to achieve either "same services for new clients" OR "new services for existing clients." The most difficult, risky, and potentially rewarding move, however, is to provide "new services for new clients, with different people." However, to accomplish this transformation you will, over time, have to radically change your business model.

How to Blow Up Your Agency

Here are some of the ideas offered by the panel, which included Ed Boches from Mullen, Winston Binch from Crispin, Aaron Shapiro from HUGE, and Tony Signore from Taylor:

  • Stay in tune with start-ups and trends - Listen (see below)
  • Host weekly tech "meet-ups" in your office(s)
  • Recruit from the hacker community
  • Develop an internship program to attract the best and brightest talent

Develop a "Listening Culture"

It's critical that your organization pay attention to what's going on in technology and marketing. Here are 9 ways the panelists suggests you stay current:

  1. Attend tech panels
  2. Host tech meet-ups
  3. Read Wired magazine
  4. Get outside your industry
  5. Attend SXSW
  6. Attend TED
  7. Teach a class on a college campus (innovation is taking place by those in their twenties; you'll learn from your students)
  8. Hire a strategy firm like Jump Associates to help you
  9. Read Tim Brown's Change by Design; and, keep in eye on what his company, IDEO, is doing

As you develop new talent, new ideas, and new services, here are a couple of ways to start getting traction with your existing or new clients:

  • Bring new technology in a "lab format" to your clients every month. Teach them. Let them play with it. Experiment. See what happens.
  • When you recommend new technology or new services, be sure to explain why it's a good idea to try it out. Most importantly, before deploying it, establish metrics - how you're going to evaluate the experiment.

Lastly, make sure your website matches your capabilities. For example, if you're really good at social media or developing apps, don't tell. Show. Show your capabilities via video. Hire a young film student to tell your story for you. All you need is a 2-3 minute video.


» Refine Your New Client’s Conflicts Clause to Really Win New Business

Knowledge is strength
by Todd Knutson  |   published on April 29, 2011


You've just received word that you've won the pitch. The new client you've been nurturing for years is nearly yours. And then you receive their contract, which includes a strict conflicts clause. Now what?

When you need a real estate lawyer, do you choose from the best divorce lawyers? If your CPG client wants a management consultant, would you recommend that they choose one who only works with non-profit organizations? Would you rather hire an accountant who handles ad agency clients, or one who knows nothing about the business? Naturally, the answer to these questions is "of course not".

So, why do ad agencies accept conflicts clauses that restrict them from working with clients in the same industry - clients that will help build their expertise and make them more knowledgeable marketing partners?

Think about it: what are a few of the benefits of deep industry knowledge? Certainly, a faster ramp up time because you know the:

  • Industry vernacular
  • Key players, influencers
  • Regulatory environment
  • Revenue models
  • Suppliers, vendors
  • Successful marketing strategies

Keep adding to the list!

So, why do clients even include a conflicts clause? What are they afraid of? How do you find out? The key - and this is a common theme in ad agency new business - is to ask good questions. You need to uncover what's at the root of their fears.

Two likely possibilities...

  • Fear that proprietary information will be passed to their competition
  • Fear that you'll use successful marketing strategies that they've paid you for to help their competition

The only way to find out is to probe - question them to gain the insights you need to structure an agreement. Once you've uncovered their pain points, you should be able to come up with creative ways to work with them. For example, you might significantly refine the conflicts clause by agreeing to:

  • Narrow it to a small geographic territory
  • Focus it on a single agency office (assuming you have multiple offices)
  • Make it specific to a couple of named competitors
  • Create "Chinese walls" in your agency to protect their proprietary information

With this information in hand, don't miss the opportunity to have a professional discussion around the significant benefits they will receive from working with a marketing partner with deep industry experience - just as they do with their other consultants, lawyers, accountants, IT professionals, etc. This is a conversation that should help your agency, help agencies that follow you, and help the industry - as those you educate move to other companies and spread the word.

Lastly, keep in mind The Power of "No". If their conflicts clause is too onerous, you may need to walk away from the relationship.

Does this help? Is it practical?





» What is Your Ad Agency’s Talent Risk?

Are you training?
by Todd Knutson  |   published on April 27, 2011

developing talentMcKinsey & Co. managers spend thirty days per year training and evaluating their people. In contrast, agency managers spend two. Given that consulting companies like McKinsey are encroaching on turf that has historically been the purview of ad agencies, what does that say about the future...?

We use the excuse that we don't have time.

The reality is, we aren't taking our own advice - the advice we give to clients every day, said Andrew Benett, Global CEO of Arnold Worldwide at the recent 4As Transformation conference. He conducted a survey of 3,000 people at all levels in all types of agencies. This is what he found:

  • 30% of employees said they'll be gone in 12 months
  • 70% will call a recruiter back
  • 96% are confident that they could easily get a new job

"We accept that an employee will be with us for just a few years." 

  • 30% think they'll be with your agency for < 1 year
  • 37% think for between 1-5 years
  • 35% for > 5 years

Other alarming statistics:

  • 70% believe they need to take care of their own careers
  • 60% would leave for better compensation
  • 43% answered that "employees" are most important in their agency.
  • 50% feel there is no career path

This latter point is critical. Employees want the ability to learn, and the ability to be creative. If your agency can't give them this, they will move on.

It's not a factory, it's a garden. Adjust your paradigm.

Less than 10% of new employees come from referrals. In other industries, it's 50-60%. Bottom line, says Benett, the ad industry is not promoting itself. For example, "We are no-shows on college campuses."

Five steps to get the ad industry moving on talent:

1. Go back to school.

  • Commit senior management time to train
  • Partner with universities; go beyond career services

2. Promote cross-training

  • Share training sessions
  • Encourage reverse mentoring
  • Offer employee exchanges

3. Introduce new incentives

  • Offer paid sabbaticals; education reimbursement; relocation
  • Offer support to families

4. Fix performance management

  • Just do it.

5. Engage employees in the conversation

  • Solicit ideas; listen
  • In the decision-making process


What do you think? Will these ideas work?








» Unilever Global CMO: Digital Agencies are the Creative Agencies of the Past

Thoughts on the agency-client relationship
by Todd Knutson  |   published on April 21, 2011


Keith Weed is Unilever's Global CMO, and so one of the most influential marketers in the world. He shared his views on marketing, brands, procurement, and ad agency new business in a recent talk.

On new business: the best way to engage is to embrace change. Stay on top of all the opportunities out there: tablets, smart phones, apps, integrating with TV, social, geo-locators, gaming, etc. There is so much complexity, fragmentation and choice. An agency's opportunity is to make it come together in an organized manner.

On brands: In a fragmented world, brands are the vehicle. Engagement with the brand is critical - in every way possible. Brands help you simplify life. Brands need to be media properties in their own right.

On long-term agency-client relationships: AOR vs. Agency Of Collaboration vs. Agency Of the Moment? Clients want innovation and insights. Long-term relationships happen with people you connect with. It's all about the people. Conflict is healthy: it drives innovation and good work.

Digital vs. traditional agencies: Digital agencies are the creative agencies of the past for very long-term relationships.

On procurement: Too many marketers are hiding behind procurement. They're getting efficiency at the expense of creativity and innovation. They want the best for the least cost, but creativity is not a commodity.

On technology: How does your agency meld technology and marketing? At Caan, we created an interactive ice cream machine. You smiled into a camera built into the machine. If your smile was genuine enough (determined by software), you got a free ice cream, and your photo was uploaded to the Web. 6,000 people did it!


» Razorfish: How to Win a Formal Agency Review

Christian Juhl on ad agency new business
by Todd Knutson  |   published on April 19, 2011


Razorfish has won some of the most desirable interactive clients in the world. Christian Juhl is the president, and knows a thing or two about how to win. At the recent Mirren New Business Conference he shared five key things he's learned over the years.

1.  The best idea loses all the time. Do you know what it takes to win? What's the criteria? It's never really about the assignment. It's about how you think, and are you good people.

2.  A pitch is an invitation to begin a relationship you should have already started. You can't begin a relationship during a review. You must have done it beforehand, so start early.

3.  Respect procurement, but be bold and do what's right for the brand. Think of procurement as one point on a triangle, your agency as another, and the marketing department as the third. Deal with procurement as a partner. Teach them about your agency. Ask them what success looks like in five years? If you have relevant questions you can often go against the brief and meet with the client.

4. Walk away if it's not right. If you have to pitch what the agency doesn't want, don't do it. You'll never get the team behind you. Creative will do lousy work, and you'll lose credibility.

5. Love what you do and let it free, or don't bother. Passion is essential - all the time. Attitude based on passion is a good thing.


What do you think?



» Run Towards Your Greatest Fear for Ad Agency New Business Success

Run To The Roar
by Todd Knutson  |   published on January 05, 2011

run to the roar

Over the millennia on the African savanna, lions have developed a hunting technique. The oldest lion in the pride is often infirm. She is a great-grandmother. She has lame legs, rotten teeth, a scabby coat. She cannot hunt. But she still has lungs and can still give a deep-throated, primeval roar.

When the pride spots a herd of antelope, she heads into the tall grass while the rest of the pride spreads out in the bush in the opposite direction. The old lion roars. The antelope instinctively gallop away from the roar and slam right into the string of younger lions.

The antelope should have run toward the roar. To survive this kind of attack, they would have to confront the instinct to flee from their worst enemy. They would have to confront their fears head-on.

Coach Paul Assaiante is the winningest coach in the history of college sports. His teams have won 12 straight national championships. In intercollegiate match play, they are 224-0. That's right, zero losses. Undefeated. Coach, as he's known, clearly knows something about helping his players overcome their fears - and the best efforts of their opponents to defeat them.

What do you fear?

Not closing enough new business? Losing your job? Making cold calls? Making a mistake that damages a client relationship? Doing something embarrassing in a pitch? Damaging your reputation?

As this in the time of year when New Year's resolutions are made (and hopefully not forgotten too quickly), it's a great time to consider what you fear most. And work to overcome it.

The normal reaction of people on an off the athletic field is to fear matches, contests, performances. Practices are easy. It is the public recital that is unpleasant. They turn from the challenge and thereby run into the proverbial young lions of mediocrity, underachievement, and, ultimately, failure. My biggest challenge as an educator is helping my athletes conquer their fears, their anxieties, and their worst nightmares. In moments of tension and crisis - when the lion roars - I teach them to understand that safety is actually found in moving forward. There is just an old lion lying in the grass, familiar, toothless, and unthreatening.

I recall a former sales person who worked for me years ago. As a single person caring for her elderly mother, she feared not being able to pay her mother's medical bills. Once this fear was revealed in a one-on-one meeting, we were able to boil her average day down to one number: three. She needed just three substantive conversations with prospects a day and her fear would be gone. She could then work worry-free: her sales funnel would be full, sales would result over time, and she'd earn the money she needed. Rather than run away from the lion, she faced it, embraced it. And became one of the top three sales people in a 200-person sales organization.

Our fears - our lions - can be overcome!


» Learning From RFP Responses That Don’t Make the Cut

Some clients provide candid feedback
by Todd Knutson  |   published on October 26, 2010

sawDoes your ad agency's new business team learn something every time an RFP submission doesn't get you to the next round? Is every RFP better than the one before? Some rejection letters provide insightful feedback that an agency can use to improve future RFP responses and make it to the finals more often.

Here's the second sentence of a rejection letter that I recently read: "Reading through the submitted RFPs compelled our team to hold significant internal conversations surrounding the importance and priority of agency capabilities."

You might read this and conclude that the client's marketing team was relatively inexperienced with the agency selection process, and you'd be correct (the letter came from a client with a large budget that selected an agency using the Marketing Mine platform). At the same time, if you were the agency president, you should feel proud that you took their conversation to a higher level.

In the second paragraph, the SVP Marketing details how they selected the agency finalists. He begins by saying that it was a quantitative-based decision process, so you know they assigned a numerical score to each RFP in the following categories:

  • Brand strategy
  • CPG experience demonstrated by client list
  • Case studies
  • Processes
  • Proposed strategies
  • Experience of the agency team
  • References
  • Office locations
  • Scope of capabilities

He then praises the agency for the areas where they shined. Finally, he points out two significant areas where they fell short:

  1. "Client base not quite as relevant to our needs as other agencies." In other words, this agency did not have significant enough CPG experience.
  2. "Strategies proposed...were not pulled through to the solve in a linear fashion." Wow, that's a nugget! 

If you were the agency president, this would be a tremendous opportunity to bring your new business team together to do an RFP debrief. First, to dissect the strategy you proposed to this client: map it out step-by-step to see if it really hung together. The key is to figure out where it fell short.

And then, as a way to forever improve future RFP responses, create a process or check-list to ensure that each future strategy flows from beginning to end. When you propose a strategy it needs to be easy for the client's senior marketing team to follow - and quickly conclude that it will solve their marketing problem.

Three cheers to this client for taking the time to provide such insightful feedback. And, hats-off to the agency(s) that use rejection letters to improve future RFP responses.


» Getting Ahead by Becoming a T-Shaped Ad Agency New Business Exec

It's not just your performance that matters
by Todd Knutson  |   published on June 10, 2010

t-shapedSome new business execs shine in their role, but fail to contribute across the agency. In decades past, this "lone star" trait could lead to a successful career as "chief rainmaker", but nowadays it can lead to a dead-end job.

Morten Hansen, professor at U.C. Berkley and at INSEAD, France reports in a recent article that companies today require:

...a T-shaped manager that delivers excellent performance in his unit (the vertical part of the T) and contributes across the company (the horizontal part of the T).

In order to excel at T-shaped management you need to:

  • Believe that you have two responsibilities: achieve high performance in your own department/function, and contribute to the performances of other departments. For example, strong new business performance while also helping account execs grow existing clients.
  • Be an expert in your area: "Think of the vertical part of the T as your area of deep expertise" - it takes hard work to become an expert.
  • Know about other areas: know about all the areas of the agency so you can contribute effectively. Strive for what Morten describes as "modestly adept expertise" in the other departments. The more you know, the better able you'll be at collaborating and forging effective partnerships. This is the horizontal part of the T.
  • Have the right network: Build contacts within and without your agency. Offer your help to others and deliver on your promises. This will create power and influence without needing to have rank or power.When you need them you'll be able to call in favors.

How do you do this and still ensure high new business performance? It takes very effective time management, delegation, and "saying "no" to questionable cross-unit activities."

We've probably all witnessed examples of the person who always performs above expectations and is almost always available to help others be successful. I'm with Morten on this - it takes very good time management, delegation, and saying no. Which is easier said than done, but well worth shooting for.


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