How Small Advertising Agencies Can Win Big Clients


A recent interview in Ad Age’s Ad Lib podcast reveals the insight that even large clients are now very attracted to small agencies. I’d imagine that this might not be a big surprise to you. Expert smaller agencies that deliver specialized services have been on the radar for a few years.

However, you might not know about serious client angst that comes along with working with specialists.

Take a read – in a new window: Ad Age Small Agency Conference Podcast.

A Bit Of Set Up To “How Small Advertising Agencies Can Win Big Clients”

The book, “What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire” by Daniel Bergner is a best-seller.

The title and reviews like this from The Atlantic, “…Shatters many of our most cherished myths about desire” got me thinking about what the new clients you want desire from an agency. Understanding this can help small agencies win big clients.

So… What do the big clients want to see from smaller agencies and is your agency set up to deliver it?

Mondelez-ImageHuge Client Mondelez And Small Agencies

Maureen Morrison’s AdvertisingAge article, “How a Small Agency Can land A Big Client Like Mondelez” sheds some light on this universal question. The article is an interview with Mondelez International’s agency scout Deb Giampoli. Deb shares her tips on the do’s and dont’s of how to get her attention.

The Truth: Small Advertising Agencies Can Win Big

Here are Deb’s tips and my take on her perspective.  

Do have a story to tell. Make sure your shop has a compelling story about who you are and what you do. If you want to punch above your weight, have more than a capabilities deck to show.

PL: This seems obvious. Right? Well, it must not be to thousands of agencies because most do not have what I would consider a compelling agency story (or a compelling positioning for that matter.) I know this because agencies open their kimonos to me all the time (I mean that are honest) and a cursory perusal of most agency websites will deliver a landscape bereft of any storytelling. Considering that brand storytelling is one of the things that advertising agencies preach to their clients, I’d have to say that the missing agency story is mind-blowing.

Do know how to articulate your strategy and talk about your work. “The bar is just as high for small agencies as it is for big ones,” Ms. Giampoli said. Great work is every agency’s best calling card, she added.

PL: I think that most agencies actually get this. However, to see how some agencies get it “better” than others, go look at a few case histories on your competitor agency websites. Some cases are concise and some are, well, a bit unwieldy, wordy and don’t really sell how the agency got from the strategic thinking to the creative mojo. I guess this point gets us back to Deb’s use of the word “articulate.”

Do invite prospective clients to your office. Ms. Giampoli said she likely wouldn’t work with an agency whose space she hasn’t visited.

PL: Many (most) advertising agencies have spent eternities designing and building their offices to create a creative environment for their staff and as proof of their 3D creativity to prospective clients. Clearly Deb recognizes that how agencies present themselves is a great indicator of their overall creativity (I wish I had another word for this.) One of my favorite agency office designs belongs to Seattle’s Wexley School For Girls. There is no question that they are creative. In fact, that’s their story. But… It is amazing to me how many prospective clients do not want to visit the agency. I’m even talking about clients that have invited agencies to pitch their business but want the agencies to come to their offices.

Do make yourself visible. Approach marketing executives through mutual connections, conferences or writing white papers on interesting topics. “If you’re really good at what you do, I will find you… When you do get found, have a great story to tell” about who you are and what you do.

PL: Think and act social. It works. That’s probably how you got to this website.

Don’t cold call potential clients without doing your homework. Ms. Giampoli said she won’t work with an agency that hasn’t researched her role and what she values in agencies. If you are going to cold call, she said, the only chance you have is if you’ve done your homework.

PL: Interesting point. Are there agencies that actually call prospective clients without doing their homework? Based on this comment, I guess so. Crazy, right? Here are to prior posts on this subject. Here some free big data tools that can start to get your pre-call insights going. And, it sure sounds like Deb is willing to accept what I call warm calls. You should never call anyone cold.

Don’t send out LinkedIn invites if you haven’t met. Ms. Giampoli said she guards her LinkedIn connections closely and only accepts requests from people she knows personally.

PL: Again, you’d think that this is obvious. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool. But, before you act foolish, go out on Google and search on how to use LinkedIn for business development prospecting. LinkedIn works.

Don’t bother with newsletters. Ms. Giampoli said she rarely reads agency newsletters, even from shops she loves.

PL: I kinda agree. However, I BET that she would read the world’s BEST written, designed and relevant agency newsletter. That is your challenge.

Don’t expect a meeting to lead to an immediate assignment. “I don’t believe in love at first sight,” said Ms. Giampoli, likening her process to dating in that she usually doesn’t have a project in mind when contacting an agency. “I might meet you and like you a lot, but that doesn’t mean that something’s going to happen quickly.”

PL: Patience rocks. But, stay gently in touch. The operative word is: gently.

Don’t be a general agency with a mediocre offering. Ms. Giampoli said it’s far better to be a shop with a smaller, more specialized offering than a jack-of-all-trades without anything compelling.

PL: A pitch consultant friend of mine once told me about the amazing number of calls he got from small-mediocre-full-service agencies from around the country after a pitch was announced in AdvertisingAge. Full-service works if you have an incredible creative product, or the right number of offices. If not, specialization is the keyword to get the attention of big clients. My positive poster child here is the agency JESS3 that says, “JESS3 is a creative agency that specializes in social media strategy and data visualization.” Now, that is something that Mondelez could sink their teeth into. Take a look at JESS3″s client list. Small can be beautiful baby.

But even if Ms. Giampoli – or other executives like her — doesn’t know much about your agency, don’t feel like being small is too big a hurdle to working with a large client. “I get emails from small agencies all the time apologizing for being small…Don’t apologize for being small.”

PL: As I said, small is beautiful. Smart is nice too.

This article first appeared in

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