Monthly Archives: April 2010

New Business, Cold Calling and Golf

I’ve been reading about a recent Business Development Conference sponsored by Adweek in New York. 400 members of the agency new business community convened to learn new trends and tricks for their professional education. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend due to a new business pitch (but I have attended in the past, and learned a bit from the seminars). By all accounts, Lord Bogusky’s keynote on defying convention was uplifting and revelatory (not surprising). Also, it wasn’t unexpected to hear about the overwhelming emphasis placed upon digital/social media outreach in new business prospecting.

It alarms me somewhat that social is being touted as the driver of a new “paradigm” of biz dev prospecting (I’ve been around for countless “new paradigms” in new business — the very phrase is such a cliche that it undercuts the credibility of any new idea or tactic). I am WAY open to any new way of succeeding in business development. But, I am leery of any proposed shortcuts or ABSOLUTES in the discipline. I use social for my clients, and digital…but it augments the program, it doesn’t drive it. I look at digital/social as great ways to pave the road for the driver — the real driver is  your personal ability to establish a business relationship with the prospect.

I read a somewhat disturbing quote from the conference, “Cold calling for new business is terrible. It’s like golf, you stink for 17 holes then hit one good shot and it sucks you back in“. Whoa. To begin with, I don’t stink at golf. I’m a single-digit handicap. I’ve played the best courses in the world. I’ve made holes-in-one. I’ve won tournaments. At one time in my life, I DID stink at golf. (everyone does when they begin).  I didn’t like that. So I decided to do something about it. Golf was important enough to me to want to improve to a level of competitiveness and respectability within my peer group. MY PEER GROUP IS AGENCY PRINCIPALS AND MARKETING DIRECTORS. So I did. I took lessons to learn the proper techniques and I practiced instilling these techniques until I had the confidence to trust my swing. And I began thinking of myself as a good golfer. Therefore, I became one. No shortcuts, no magic potions or miracle equipment. Certainly, like “cold calling”, it has its humbling days. But, that’s what makes incremental success so rewarding.

Why would you think you would NOT stink at golf if you only play a few times a year and consider yourself a terrible golfer? Would you expect to be a good pianist if you played the piano 5 times a year? Or more tellingly, if you practiced the piano 5 times a week but you hit the same wrong keys every  day — would you expect to improve? If you put a enough monkeys in front of enough typewriters would one of them write a Shakespearean sonnet? No.  Seems frustrating for the agency management type who goes out to his client’s fundraiser golf outing a few times a year and hacks it up to the point of embarrassment.

Here’s the one beautiful thought you can take solace in if you do hit that one great shot on 18 and it “sucks you back in”: if you hit that one shot properly, you can do it again, and again. Maybe not every time, but a lot of the time. You just need to find out what you did right and repeat the swing. This takes lessons and practice. Repetition instills confidence.

Now, about cold calls. First of all, a savvy agency biz dev professional doesn’t make “cold” calls. They make two types of calls:

  • a relationship-building business call
  • a professional marketing call with a tangible benefit for the prospect.

This is a big ticket sale with an extended cycle and timeline. If you are calling prospects with the goal of “closing”  them on a pitch meeting in one call, you are in the wrong industry. That happens as often as an Eagle in golf. “Cold” calls are for telemarketers driving small ticket or low interest purchases. They are one-call closers. It takes an array of outreach to our prospects to get a meaningful meeting. And yes, digital/social is part of this mix. It’s not either/or, it’s AND.

The New York conference’s premise of this supposed “new paradigm” of biz dev outreach through social media is that “80% of all transactions begin with an online search”. Really? All transactions?  So we are lumping an agency’s creative product with buying a pair of shoes on zappos? Or are we equating our agency’s strategic offering to illegal viagra from Canada? Same metrics, I guess. I never even considered agency compensation as a “transaction” anyway. It’s a big ticket sale. Hey, do the social media thing, I do. Tweet your brains out. Blog your balls off. And if clients seek you out — take their money. But, don’t count on it.

What I like best about digital/social tools is that they allow us to learn about our prospects and for them to learn about us. We can learn a great deal about the prospects as a people through their social profiles. But, to think someone will cut us monthly checks for huge sums of money because they like our blog is pretty vain. With Linkedin and Facebook, there is really no reason for us to make a truly “cold” call. We don’t have to ask inane questions like “what’s your background?” anymore. And by just being a good guy with a respectful POV on someone’s business or attending trade shows, we can even become Facebook friends or Linkedin connections with our prospects. Then we have a basis for a real connection. When I make a marketing call, my number one goal is to be MEMORABLE. I want that prospect to think, “I’ve never gotten a call like this”.

A memorable professional business marketing call can only be made after doing the necessary homework on the prospect’s business and it needs to be delivered with an unexpected insight into the prospect’s category or customer. This is like practicing putting in golf. You need to put the ball in the hole or all the technique is for naught. Practice is a means to an end — the end is the confidence and expertise you communicate to a prospect. This is an art derived from science. The problem with most cold calls is that they are mindless and lack conviction, like a golfer’s swing who only plays a few times a year.

If you are reading my series, “How to Get One Good Account a Year” — you know that I don’t believe in making ANY call or outreach effort without being qualified to have an educated POV on the prospect’s business, industry or category. So by their very nature, 90% of “cold” calls are nebulous. You have no right calling that prospect. You are wasting HIS time (not yours, you are being paid to be inept). No wonder he screens you out. You deserve it. And that’s the most common complaint from biz dev folks who are “cold” calling — they can’t get their call through. They get their email deleted. They get their voicemail erased. They get screened out by the gatekeeper. You’re a professional salesman, dammit! Act like one. The next excerpt in Take 5! (fourth take) examines ways to overcome these obstacles with an intelligent and creative outreach program. And how to turn your “cold” calls into business calls.

Golf doesn’t teach character or humility, it reveals it. Fear is what sabotages most golf swings and what undermines most biz dev outreach efforts (phone call or otherwise). We’re afraid of hitting a bad shot. We’re afraid of sounding like a fool to the prospect because we haven’t practiced enough, or done our homework. If that’s you, don’t play and expect to be good or cold call and expect results.

Death of a Telephone Salesman


imagesI work with creative advertising agencies. I’m a Rainmaker (new business guy) and Headhunter (recruiter). In the past 20 years, I don’t think anyone has read/watched/listened to more ads. Before this career, I was a college basketball coach. I’ve always approached my recruiting work with the mentality of a college basketball coach, incorporating the same principles of wooing talented student-athletes to recruiting creative & strategic talent. I remember pulling into diners on the New Jersey Turnpike to get to a phone booth so I could call a kid, his father or his coach. I’d sit in the booth for hours building relationships via telephone, sipping black coffee, winking at the waitress.

When I started recruiting advertising talent in 1989, I made hundreds of thousands of phone calls. I had to evaluate talent by resumes, portfolios and strategic marketing plans. But the extra mile was traveled by investing time, energy and emotion in telephone relationships. Hearing clients and candidates describe their goals and dreams provided me with the foundation to build relationships. And as I built relationships, my network and business grew. The mobile phone changed my world, but at first it was more expensive for me to drive and use cell minutes than fly most places.

When I made the move to Agency Business Development in 2002, I applied these same principles to new business. I built relationships on the telephone with marketers. I equated a productive day with telephone “connect time” — the goal was a minimum of 6 hours “connected” on the telephone. How anachronistic. It’s 8 years later and I do less talking. I still build relationships and business via telephone, but, it’s just one of a myriad of communications tools.

Ad Agencies are not in the advertising business, they’re in the communications business. The digital world has not changed them, despite many of their claims. It’s just given them more vehicles to communicate with. It’s changed their tactics, not their skill set. The “revolution” of social media assumes that we are “social” (have the ability to communicate) to begin with. So now we’ve got new ways to build relationships and business. Okay. That is why I’m writing right now and not talking on the telephone. W.H. Auden said, “It is the duty of the writer to make language ‘new'”. I’ll try.

Nine Tips for Any Communications Agency Startup

David Baldwin has been a great friend since I recruited him to replace David Lubars at Leonard/Monahan in Providence. His insights are valuable to any fledgling start-up. Enjoy.

David Baldwin

I’ve been in this business a long time now, but as far as owning my own agency I’m a rookie. I’ve only been at it for just over a year.
When we decided to start the company, the economy was doing just fine. Right before we actually pulled the trigger, the bottom fell out. We had a decision to make. Should we move forward or should we all take the safe route and take gigs at other agencies?

Well, in we dove.

Yes, this has been a challenging time from an economic standpoint, but that’s just an excuse. In tough times great companies succeed.

It’s been interesting to say the least, so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on what we’ve learned in this, our inaugural year of business.

Be creatively relentless. I suppose this isn’t a new lesson or anything but man, is it truer than ever. You have to come into any situation guns blazing at all times and not let anything throw you. When you’re new you have to prove yourself every minute of every day. There’s no safety net, no other group to go to if you need to get it done. When you’re small, you’re it. There are no parachutes and how cool is that?

Navigate by your values. You will be tempted by market forces to do things you don’t want to do. If you navigate by your values you’ll always know where you are and where you should go.

The fish bowl theory. When you first start out, you have to decide whether you want to work from your garage or get your own office space. Economically, of course, it makes sense to not start out with any overhead. But our feeling was to start with a physical space. The idea is to get a fishbowl and grow into it. This was a piece of advice from Bob Barrie and it was a smart piece of thinking. For one thing you can’t invite a client over to your house for a meeting and you can only meet at a Starbucks so many times. A space says you’re real from day one.

Think like a band. A company isn’t a building; it’s made of people. It’s so important to work with people you care about and who share your values. A new company is a lot like a band. Play your instrument, carry your own equipment and always make sure the entire band sounds great. Got a free hand? Carry the drummer’s snare.

Make sure you’re passionate about what you’re pitching. It’s also important to believe in what you’re pitching. Especially with what it takes to pitch a piece of business these days. A small company almost always has to compete with big ones, but remember: It’s not the size of the company that matters, it’s the size of the ideas you bring.

Pitch to win or don’t pitch. With what it takes to pitch these days, you literally can’t afford tonot win. So do everything, give everything you have. We had the opportunity to pitch for a Burt’s Bees project last year and we decided we were going to win it well before we pitched it. All that was left was the pitch itself. We also pitched a furniture account and we made the cardinal mistake of using the pitch to see whether it was the right fit. Whether it was or it wasn’t, we didn’t win it because we just didn’t want it enough. Dumb, dumb, dumb!

Don’t think like an ad agency. We’re doing mostly everything but advertising right now. We’re definitely doing a bit of traditional work, but spend most of our time delivering ideas in every media. (It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have legacy departments to support.) Many people start companies and base the business model on the bigger company they just came from. That’s a mistake. Instead, think of things they did and do the opposite. For instance, we don’t have a creative department. The whole company is the creative department; if you touch it you’re creative. It frees everyone up to focus on the work.

Don’t work for free. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but no one wants to pay anything to anybody. It could just be a sign of the economy, but I think there’s something more going on. Clients have more pressure on them, so we as an industry have more pressure on us. Now, in some ways, this plays right into our sweet spot because as a small company we don’t have a lot of overhead and we’re hungry. Interestingly, though, many clients seem to think that because we’re new, we’ll do lots of stuff for free. We are running a business, so that obviously isn’t the case. We talk about ourselves as being a less expensive alternative to a bigger shop, but not cheap. Our industry has done this to itself, turned what we all do into a commodity by giving it away. And we’ve noticed that there’s always someone willing to do it for cheaper.

Underpromise/Overdeliver. Blow them away with your work, not your promises.

There have been other lessons — watch scope-creep, live and die by your craft and ideas — but these listed are the standouts for us as a startup. And as we steer through year number two, I find I learn a new lesson every day. Like, that trash isn’t going take itself out.

Ah, living the dream.

Thanks, David.

michael palma

841 inman village pkwy
atlanta, ga 30307

Testing the New Business Boundaries of Social Media by Gregory Pruitt

I just read on Adweek that fellow Rainmaker Gregory Pruitt died. I am saddened. To commemorate his spirit , I am re-printing one of his blogs from last year.  It addresses the basic concerns of social media as it applies to agency new business. Gregory, we will miss you.

“OK, I’m talking about Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. I’m not including Flickr which is a picture sharing site, or Myspace which seems to have shrunk–at least for now–to a music sharing site. Who knows, either could be the last one standing. But right now, there clearly is a big three, call it FLiT.

Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter, right?

OK, so when it comes to to these platforms, what are the social conventions? What’s considered polite? What’s aggressive but tolerable? And what crosses the line? When are you being gregarious and where to you cross into boorish?

I think Twitter is all about self-promotion and almost anything goes. That said, it feels like there are a lot more people talking than listening. I have definitely enjoyed building up my followers. And I try to scan the the percolating column of Tweets on my TweetDeck. But it’s a lot; and most of it is shameless self-promotion with more volume than content. It’s a noisy channel where some standout, but many more are drowned out in a sea of others’ self- aggrandizement.

What about Linkedin and Facebook?

Unlike Facebook, Linkedin has always been about business. A place to post a CV and build a professional profile where old colleagues and potential new employers alike can check you out without having to contact you directly.

Accordingly, it should be OK, to reach out through its “back-channel” email function, right? A business channel should allow a certain degree of selling. Yes?

Maybe, maybe not.

Linkedin qualifies connections, and if you haven’t worked with/or for somebody, it doesn’t encourage direct contact. And of course people can choose whose correspondence to accept as well as reject.

Facebook shields users in a similar way. You have to be accepted before there’s a conversation beyond the initial query.

In both cases, there’s a bias towards people you used to know.

So if you’re going to introduce yourself to “someone’s friend”, your motives should at-least appear to be social and not directly work related.

This of course gets to the root of Facebook’s problem with monetization. While everybody wants to use it, nobody wants to be directly marketed to. The little ads on the side are OK. But how effective are they?

Early on, I linked this blog (business-oriented) to my Facebook account. I got some cool responses. (cool like bordering on cold). There was a fair amount of push-back, as though I was talking business at a party where you’re not supposed to talk about business. Say a church social versus a cocktail party.

I’ve since gotten rid of the link and people have warmed up again. On the other hand, I link to Twitter and that’s where most of my visitors have come from.

Net take-away: OK to self-promote on Twitter, go easy on Facebook or you’ll start getting dropped as a friend.

What about Linkedin?

Over the past year we’ve reached out to new business prospects through Linkedin. The results have been mixed. For every “tell me more”, we seem to average two “thanks, but no thanks”. And on a few occasions we’ve even gotten the automated “decline to accept” response.

So it’s OK to connect with old colleagues, but be careful about how you reach out to new prospects. People seem to consider it only a semi-public forum and don’t want to be sold to.

It gets back to the fundamental difference between old media and new media–between old ways of selling and new ways.

The old way is one message for everybody (or at least groups sorted by demographic), and not customized messages for individuals. Even if you make it personal, if your reputation hasn’t preceded you, then there’s a good chance your message will be rejected.

It’s still early days for social media. But the cultural “rules of engagement” are already being defined.

One thing is clear, while all are good places to network, it’s not clear yet which of these new platforms represent a lucrative channel for marketers.

Of course, there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to keep trying new approaches.”

Thank you, Mr. Pruitt.

SECOND LIFE, ANYONE? Random Thoughts on the Digital “Revolution”

Doesn’t it seem like so much digital content today is produced for nothing more than the sake of just producing it? Is “ready, fire, aim” the way most people surf the web? Digital is everywhere, and yet nowhere. It is the Emperor’s New Clothes. Put someone in a room to talk about Twitter and neophytes are sure to follow. Social Media? Sure. I’m a believer. Yes. Media has become social. 95% of what people call “social media” is Facebook. 3% is LinkedIn, the other 2% is Twitter. Pardon the rough estimates, but it just seems that way to me. Why do you think Facebook is so popular? BECAUSE IT’S FREE! Good luck monetizing it. “The web is dead”…I mean a dead experience when it comes to memorable content. I’ve been online 10 hours a day for 15 years and I can’t remember one ad I’ve seen there. I can’t even remember sitting all the way through one. And I’m a good target — I buy all kinds of stuff: Golf stuff, cigars, guitars, Scotch Whisky.

Whenever I hear about a new digital revolutionary gimmick, I think about the Second Life (that was just 3 years ago, but seems so “last decade”).

From my friend Clason:

“I was reading an article in Wired magazine about the colossal failure that was Second Life … according to the article, many brands had spent millions of dollars developing branded properties in this alternate world that at the time was reported to have a “population” of several million. Upon closer examination, it was discovered that these numbers had been grossly overstated as the majority of registered users had as many as four accounts. Even more users had signed in once or twice and never returned. The number of regular users was quite low … in North America, something like 10,000. Digging deeper, they discovered that “members” in the regular visitor population were not visiting the extravagant properties that the brands had built for them … they were all going to the same place … a lollapalooza-sized orgy at a nude beach. The total brand investment exceeded something like $100 million. The brands that had blindly jumped on the Second Life bandwagon had basically spent roughly $10K per interaction collectively to market themselves to what was, for lack of a better term … a cyber pervert convention.”

Maybe our industry as a whole needs to concentrate less on producing “digital content”, and focus more on creating content that people won’t delete on contact. It’s troubling that something like “Second Life” can even happen — like some Madoff Pyramid scheme. I remember (just 3 years ago) — digital “prophets” were telling everyone that life without “Second Life” was not worth living. They’re the same folks who are preoccupied with the next “big thing” in Social Media. It reminds me of Robert Preston in “The Music Man”.

As Clason reminds me, this business is and always has been about one thing … great ideas that generate sales. Granted with the advent of the digital age we now have an overwhelming number of entry points into consumers’ lives but the basic fundamentals have not changed.

michael palma

841 inman village pkwy
atlanta, ga 30307



Ok, you have a job to fill. For most mid-sized regional agencies, any hire is an important hire. Most agencies follow this path:

  • a) look inside their agency first to see if someone can change seats on the agency bus.
  • b) Call around to agency people they know to see if anyone has recently seen any available talent.
  • c) Post jobs online hoping to get lucky (this is the I’m feeling lucky”… I mean, Digital Age)
  • d) Contact a recruiter when all other paths are exhausted

Let’s explore these steps:

1. Conducting an Internal Search

Agencies that train and groom young talent and program them to grow professionally should expect to sometimes fill their needs internally. The best way to go about this is to first ask the employee in a confidential setting if he or she would be interested in making a change and switching responsibilities. The biggest potential problem in many of these cases is that the particular job you are looking to fill comes with a subset of new challenges – and most people are creatures of habit, despite what they say.

In the event of a raise or promotion or added decision-making opportunities, it is important to gauge if the employee is interested in adding responsibility and not just adding income or a new title. The best internal searches are confidential and narrow, only consider one or two of your current staff – more than that and you are asking for trouble as employees invariably talk to each other – and very often away from the agency. If you decide not to promote one or all – it’s likely to leave a trail of disappointment, akin to losing a new business pitch. Be decisive, stick to deadlines – if you’ve decided to “open up the search” communicate this to the staffer you have interviewed. The last thing you want is for them to hear this from elsewhere. Don’t leave your better people twisting in the wind. It may motivate them to look outside for a similar opportunity as they now are emotionally driven by a promotion or opportunity.

2. Open Searches and Confidential Searches

The difference appears obvious but let’s look at them:

An open search is when the job is open, or soon to be vacated and it’s common knowledge between employee and employer. If you choose, you can ask for referrals, post jobs online and engage recruiters. This is the case with most agency openings.

But, a confidential search is usually far more critical to the agency. It usually involves:

  • A key position to replace an underperforming key employee
  • A key employee for a new piece of business that you can’t announce
  • A key position to replace an employee that has confidentially resigned
  • Adding a key person to save or shore up an existing account
  • A senior management team member

In these cases, due to the competitive nature of the agency business, it is always best to conduct a confidential search.

3. Handling Employee Referrals

Many agencies today have a policy of offering a financial reward to employees if they refer a candidate that is hired by agency. I’m told by the 4A’s that this is popular with agencies and HR types. I guess they believe that they are saving the agency money by not having to pay outside fees. Sometimes, agencies may get lucky this way. In most cases, they are opening a can of worms that come back to haunt them. What if you don’t hire a referred candidate by one of your employees? What if you don’t even interview them? What kind of message are you sending? What if you hire them and have to pay them more money than the referrer? What if you hire them and it doesn’t work out? How do you subvert the feeling that “I got so-and so his job here and now look…”? You can get lucky, after all, but this policy invariably creates unforeseen problems down the road.

The best way to handle internal referrals is to have your employees forward names on a quarterly basis to your Recruiting Director as potential “fits” for the agency. If you want to offer a financial reward, then reward the employees that refer the best potential “fits”, regardless if you hire them or not. Keep these potential “fits” in an active database. They will come in handy.

4. Networking

It’s all about the network. Right? Well, not always. Owners of mid-sized, regional agencies know a lot of connected people. You can often solve a recruiting dilemma by picking up the phone and calling former colleagues and friends. Sometimes, a former colleague or friend will call and make an unsolicited referral. This is recruiting “over the transom”. Sometimes these referrals work out, more times they do not. The worst thing you can do is count on them to consistently find your “fits”. And, obviously, be careful about sending needy messages into the advertising community. Before picking up the phone to make a networking recruiting call make sure the call doesn’t expose a vulnerable account or another potential vulnerability at the agency. The odds on networking referrals are long – proceed accordingly.

5. Working With a Recruiter

As a recruiter, I’d like to try to remove partisanship from this section. While recruiting top talent exclusively for advertising agencies for 20 years, I hope I’ve gained some insights that can help you recruit more effectively. I’m aware of the perception of recruiters, not only in our industry, but recruiters in general. While we are paid to create win-win situations and solve business problem, we are often viewed as a necessary evil. There are good recruiters, and there are probably bad recruiters. Tip #4 is find the good recruiters.

How? Take some time and talk to them. It’s not that hard to find out who they are. If you don’t know who they are, then ask your best people – I guarantee you they know. Talk to them and invite a couple to visit you at the agency. The biggest misconception in the universe of agency/recruiter relationships is that recruiters represent candidates, that they are the candidates’ agents. This is simply wrong. The recruiter’s client is the agency. The agency pays the recruiter. In all cases this is true. Both agencies and candidates propagate this myth. Candidates sometimes say to me, “I already have a headhunter”. It always makes me laugh when I hear that. HR types often ask me, “are you repping this candidate?” Recruiters don’t represent anyone except their client agencies. If this series accomplishes anything, let’s at least dispel the myth that recruiters “work” with candidates. They work with agencies to recruit candidates.

This knowledge and mindset empowers you to enlist the top recruiters on your behalf. You may even want to make one your assistant Recruiting Director. It allows you to better understand and control your relationship with recruiters and it allows you to develop your recruiting strategies with your chosen recruiter(s).

There are two ways of working with recruiters:

  • a) Contingency – the most common way of doing business. Fees usually range between 15%-30% of candidate’s first year salary paid upon start date. You only pay if you hire their candidate. The most common rate in our industry is 20% or what you’d pay a good server in a restaurant. Some recruiters charge 25% and some others charge 30%.
  • b) Retainer – This method is usually for a very key position, a creative director or a management supervisor. It is also common for a confidential search to be handled by retainer, one where you don’t want a lot of recruiters calling a lot of candidates. A retainer is a down payment to the recruiter to buy his time and commitment to the search. It is credited against the overall fee.

6. How It Works Best

In filling a key or senior position, it usually works better on retainer. You may get lucky on contingency, but you may wind up paying more in time and money. The best candidates are not looking for a job. They are not surfing the job boards. The top talent is very busy at their jobs, almost impervious to the agency world around them. The best candidates need to be recruited. The right person and best “fits” for your agency are driving to work this morning with absolutely no inkling of an impending career opportunity. It is the recruiter’s job to know this person and know exactly what his “triggers” are. The best recruiters are like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man”. They know who the best people are and that they are originally from a particular city where one of their fledgling client agencies are based. They know what the perfect opportunity is for the ideal candidate. Then they sell both sides on the potential fit. To do this correctly, this requires time, energy and a lot of breath. You may find a recruiter qualified and savvy enough to pull this off for you on a contingency basis. But be prepared to seek out an expert and pay them for their time to handle a thorough and professional search. It will be worth it to land the right person.

In filling junior to mid level positions – go with the scattershot approach. Engage several recruiters. Play the numbers game. There is strength in numbers but always stay connected to your lead recruiters and your Recruiting Director. They should have a freezer-full of fledgling junior-to-mid level candidates. And for these positions, posting jobs online may be an effective approach. Again, I wouldn’t count on the internet to solve all your recruiting problems, but maybe a potential “fit” may also be “feeling lucky”.

How to Engage a Recruiter:

  • a) do your homework – discover recruiters who have track records in your universe
  • b) talk to them, meet them, educate them about your agency and agency “fits”
  • c) get fee agreements in writing
  • d) set realistic criteria for the search
  • e) establish a search strategy and process
  • f) stick to it

How NOT to Engage a Recruiter:

  • a) have your part-time HR person email them titles and specs
  • b) assume he knows the difference between your agency and all others
  • c) fight them on fees
  • d) ask them to email resumes first

Remember, the best candidates DON’T EVEN HAVE A RESUME. They’re working!

How to Win One Good Account a Year: THIRD TAKE

3. Develop a POV on their business, their customers, their communications, their internal culture.

This is the rubber that needs to meet the road. Once again, It’s funny how everyone at the agency has an opinion until you really need a good one. I often hear speakers at New Business conferences and seminars talk about POV’s. Consultants, clients, new biz gurus frequently pepper this into their presentations.  You know, the requisite powerpoint slide that mentions POV and it’s relative importance to the new business process. But, I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about how to develop one. We know a point of view can germinate from insights gleaned from basic research. But, many of these appear superficial to the savvy marketer. If, as Auden said, it is the duty of the writer to make language “new”, then it is the duty of the agency to gather and refine unexpected insights.

Bogusky is speaking about the power of the unexpected, and how it will save our industry next month. I’m interested in hearing his take. Mine is this, clients respect agencies that tell them what they DON’T know. We’ll dive deeper into this in the Fifth Take, but the worst meeting in the world starts with an agency asking the prospect, “Tell us about your business”. I know, they think they are being such good listeners by making the meeting ‘about the client’s business”, and not spending 55 minutes on their creds and awards, but that question is so last decade (what do we call it — the “Zeroes”?). It only amplifies the fact that you haven’t done your homework. and makes the subsequent slides appear contradictory when you break out that online poll, or Snippets video. Today’s best meetings start with, “Here’s what we know about your business” and naturally transition into “here’s what we think about your business” and then convert into “here is something you can do” and finish with here’s how we would do it”. Then close like a motherfucker.

An informed, credible opinion is what differentiates agencies in the eyes of client prospects. Matchy-matchy category experience is not enough. Great creative is not enough. A credible opinion is hard to establish in an hour. It takes months of intelligent, respectful outreach to establish true credibility in the eyes of prospective clients. It takes the discipline to stay with the binders, and add topical, relevant content — research that is gleanable for unexpected insights. I’ve worked with agencies where much of the senior staff believes clients should pay for such thinking up front. They’re right, usually. But we’re talking about your Top 5 prospects. You’ve got to give them a taste. And then be prepared to close on the idea with an actionable plan.
What makes a client a client? I often ask these kinds of questions. I like to play Columbo, with the rumpled raincoat and the cigar. Well, the biggest difference I’ve noticed between agency people and clients is that most clients have advanced degrees while most agency folks don’t (no knock on the Portfolio schools, and I’m aware VCU Adcenter is changing that somewhat). So, what’s the real difference between a Bachelor’s Degree and an Advanced Degree (another Columbo question)? Answer: A THESIS! This is the way clients are trained to think — in terms of theses.
So approach your POV exercises with your Monday morning new business council as a professor would with their grad students. Try to get the teams to formulate their POV’s by using a thesis guideline. What IS a thesis, Columbo?


What is a thesis?

A thesis statement declares what you believe and what you intend to prove. A good thesis statement makes the difference between thoughtful research and a simple retelling of facts.

A good tentative thesis will help you focus your search for information. But don’t rush! You must do a lot of background reading before you know enough about a subject to identify key or essential questions. You may not know how you stand on an issue until you have examined the evidence. You will likely begin your research with a working, preliminary or tentative thesis which you will continue to refine until you are certain of where the evidence leads.

Remember, your prospect will be looking for your thesis. Make it clear, strong, and easy to find.

  • It should be contestable, proposing an arguable point with which people could reasonably disagree. A strong thesis is provocative; it takes a stand and justifies the discussion you will present. (An UNEXPECTED insight is most likely to come from a controversial or debatable thesis).
  • It tackles a subject that could be adequately covered in the format of the project assigned (or sought).
  • It is specific and focused. A strong thesis proves a point without discussing “everything about …” Instead of music, think “American jazz in the 1930s” and your thesis about it.
  • It clearly asserts your own conclusion based on evidence. !
  • It provides the prospect with a map to guide him/her through your work.
  • It anticipates and refutes the counter-arguments
  • It avoids vague language (like “it seems”).
  • It must first pass the So what? or Who cares? test (and “but everyone knows that“)
With a good thesis and an unexpected insight, you can address any one (or all) of the 4 key POV client issues:

1. Their business model and brand
2. Their customers
3. Their communications.
4. Their internal culture.
Next:  Fourth Take: Creating an outreach program that is consistent, non-threatening, polite and professional.