What Babies Can Teach Ad Agency New Business Executives About Prospecting.

September 1, 2009

Lisa Back2Back Head Shot

Guest post by Lisa Colantuono, Managing Partner, AAR Partners & Co-Founder, Access Confidential. “Cracking The Clutter”, what babies can teach ad agency new business executives about prospecting.

 Many new business executives in the industry know that I’m in love with a two-foot, 26lb little guy…yes, my nephew.  And if you want to see my little love, every Saturday I post a new photo of him on Facebook.  So besides getting a real work-out once a week during my babysitting session with him, I realized he also exemplified how new business executives should think about prospecting.  How?  Let me explain.

 There isn’t an agency that meets with AAR Partners that doesn’t start or end with one of the following questions, “What are successful agencies doing to crack the clutter or how do agencies attract clients’ attention?”  We often hear their answer is strictly setting objectives, developing pitch lists, determining goals and being extremely focused on categories or target markets where the agency has knee-deep experience.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inaccurate with this approach but the value of exemplifying unexpected results is often forgotten!

 Babies (like my favorites nephew) are captivated by the most unexpected results.  Adults, on the other hand, focus on the outcomes that are the most relevant to their goals.  They focus on objects and objectives that will be most useful to them.  But babies play with objects that will teach them the most!  The key…they draw on anything new, unexpected or informative.

 At AAR Partners, we receive hundreds of letters, mailers, emails, credential and collateral pieces that seem well…rather programmed, “more about me and less about you” and simply expected.  The element of surprise (or the value of exemplifying unexpected results), isn’t usually communicated.  Agencies fall into the same pattern of churning out information about the agency and often forget to be informative.  They forget to teach their prospect something of value

 Babies are captivated by unexpected results…just like CMO’s!  They need to see the value, something new or be surprised by unexpected results.  They need to know that their brand is going to attract consumers by pulling them, rather than pushing them along.  Crystallize how your agency has demonstrated unexpected and exceptional results for clients’ business, make it relevant to the specific advertiser you’re speaking to and in turn, captivate the prospect. 

 So the next time you see a baby captivated by something unexpected (or informative), remember, that’s the concept of how an agency could crack the clutter.  And the results can be rewarding for everyone.

 (AAR Partners has been managing agency reviews for the past three decades.  Access Confidential is the comprehensive new business database, putting science behind the art of new business.)





Words of Wisdom from The Ad Agency Pitch Consultants

August 12, 2009

words of wisdom 2

The other day, I came across a collection of notes I had taken during various presentations, given by some of the top names amongst pitch consultants. The tips contained in them are as pertinent today as they were then, so I decided to aggregate a selection of them in one post and share them with all of you.

  • Think very carefully before deciding to defend when your client decides to put their account up for review. On average you have only a 1/18 chance of winning, so the odds are heavily weighted against you. (Dave Beals – Jones, Lundin, Beals)
  • If you believe that the client RFP is requesting excessive information, go ahead and push back, and submit what you are comfortable with. The most important thing you can do is look at the issues within the questions and adequately address them. ( Ann Billock – Ark Advisors)
  • Does size matter? It all depends. If the business being awarded is likely to overwhelm your agency, then yes it does. If the client needs an international network, yes. It’s about horses for courses. In some instances smaller can compete with big if they are able to leverage strategic partnerships. (Hasan Ramusevic – Hasan & Co.)
  • Every agency claims to have a proprietary process or philosophy. Bottom line is that there is just too much BS out there, as the agency world drinks its own Kool-Aid. Show them ideas backed by research and validate how you intend to produce results. (Lisa Colantuono – AAR Partners)
  • Do clients who ask for it really want and buy cutting edge work? Seldom does a counter a culture approach prevail. Ask more questions and try to validate their requests. If you are still unsure, then give them one of each so you are covered. (Ann Billock – Ark Advisors)
  •  Never stretch the truth when answering an RFP. If you feel that you have to in order to be competitive then pull out. Define what you cannot answer truthfully and ask the client or consultant why you were included on the list. It might be something specific you have that interests them, in which case focus there and leave out answers where you have to. (Lorraine Rojek – RCG Consulting)
  • How do we crack the clutter with our new business prospecting? The letter should address a specific challenge or opportunity. The supporting materials should do exactly that. Support the letter with a clear and consistent message based on actionable insights. The materials should also effectively differentiate your agency brand. Simple, easy to read and direct. No coffee table books, gimmicks or tchotchke! (Leslie Winthrop – AAR Partners)
  • Never include the prospects title in your new business materials unless you know it to be accurate. Titles change all the time and often many of the compiled lists are already out of date when you use them. (Cleve Langton – New Business 3.0)

Rocket science…No. Worth remembering…Yes





THE Two Sources of Ad-Agency New Business

July 3, 2009

ApprovedI was once told by Lisa Colantuono of AAR Partners, that there were really only two sources of agency new business. The first, a personal referral or recommendation. The second, the timely approach by an agency. (Right client, right time, right message!).

I happen to believe that she is correct in what she said. When I thought about our conversation and began to consider why this might be the case, I discovered some key attributes that were consistent across the two sources. Interestingly, the common attributes are also synonymous with what the new business guru’s are currently espousing as the best practices of agency new business development.

It’s all about the client. It’s not about the agency and how great they are or what capabilities they may have. It’s about the client and the value proposition that the agency offers that client. Todd Knutson covered this point very well in his recent blog posting titled, ad-agency new business, first build a relationship.

Both sources help solve the client’s business/marketing problems. In each case, both sources have demonstrated either through the work they have done or the solutions they have suggested, that they have the insights, the ideas and the ability to help solve the client’s problems.

Results and performance. In the case of the referral, the recommended agency has obviously demonstrated the ability to deliver results in a current or past relationship. I am certain that the recommendation would not be forthcoming should this not be the case. For the timely approach, the agency must have adequately demonstrated or convinced the client that they have the track record and ability to deliver.

Relationship.   Obviously, the individual providing the referral has, or has had, a positive relationship with the recommended agency. Inherent in a referral or recommendation is an element of trust and confidence. Conversely, when an agency makes the right approach to the right person with the right message, during the process they develop a confidence and a relationship with the prospective client, albeit still new and untested.

Agency/client relationships that ultimately lead to referrals develop over a period of time. Successful new business prospecting is also developed over time. It is seldom that an opportunistic, once off client solicitation will deliver a meaningful result or client opportunity.

It takes consistent effort, guided by a targeted and insight driven new business outreach program, combined with perseverance to ultimately succeed. This type of approach produces both great future referrals as well as successful proactive new business growth.


Negotiating agency compensation in a “pay for performance” environment!

February 18, 2009

092Agency compensation, or perceived lack thereof, is a hot topic with most if not all agency executives. Add to this the growing momentum towards “pay for performance’ compensation and the increased involvement of purchasing departments, and the result is a flurry of activity ranging from panic to total frustration.

The agency compensation issue has for years now been a source of friction within the client – agency relationship. Each side being just as guilty as the other in compounding it. In my experience ,most of this can be attributed to a lack of alignment on the subject between the two parties, which in turn has created a noticeable lack of trust.

Agency compensation is currently based on a cost per hour system that rewards the agency for man hours expended against the account. It does not reward:

  • Great work  versus average
  • Breakthrough ideas and concepts
  • Completing the work in less time than expected
  • Increased efficiency in negotiating and buying media etc
  • Increased customer traffic and sales
  • Increased customer value

In essence, it is budgeted by the client and treated as an expense, as opposed to an investment. The client sees the agency being paid no matter whether they succeed or not, hence they cannot help but begrudge it. I was recently talking to Lisa Colantuono from AAR Partners, and she told me that one of the key reasons for a client putting their business up for review was a feeling on their part, that the agency did not care whether they succeeded of not. I have no doubt that our compensation basis helps fuel this perception.

Now in this post I am not going to go into all the types of compensation and their pro’s and con’s as that on its own deserves another posting. What I am going to suggest is that you consider these issues when you look to negotiate next time.

  • How can you better align your compensation to reflect the same measures that your client’s is being rewarded on?
  • Can you consider a mix between fee and performance based compensation?
  • Are you assigning resources to areas that are valued by the client or are you doing it based on your perceptions of value?
  • Is all your work on behalf of the client based on sound business objectives and have you done your part to prove that out? If it was your money would you risk it?

A close long term client – agency relationship is based upon trust and the knowledge that you win and lose together.  Are there some clients who believe in a win/lose approach? Sure there are. The only question in this case is do you want them as a client badly enough to accept that type of relationship?