The Secrets of Advertising Agency Business Development


The Not So Secrets of Advertising Agency Business Development

Do you think that advertising agency business development is hard? Try getting featured on Spotify or on stage at Coachella or Carnegie Hall.

OK, so how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Well, you know the answer: Practice, Practice, Practice.

That really means having objectives, strategies, executions, assigned roles, timetables and analysis. In other words, a plan.

Back to practice because business development is a skill set that gets better over time.

The 10,000-Hour Rule

Here is a definition from Wikipedia of the 10,00-Hour rule as discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers.

A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles’ musical talents and Gates’ computer savvy as examples.

The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent and quotes Beatles’ biographer Phillip Norman as saying, “So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.’

Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.

Is Your Advertising Agency Willing To Work (Hard) At Business Development?

If it isn’t, it will fail.

Try This Agency Road Map

  1. Have a master business plan that is reviewed at least annually. The marketing environment, especially in advertising, is changing on a monthly basis. Know how you will make the big bucks and plan for it.
  2. Have clear business development objectives. Not, “I want to work with Nike or Google.” Be real.
  3. Have an in and outbound marketing plan. It must be an easy plan to follow and run – or you will join the 60% of advertising agencies that do not run their plan.
  4. Your plan must be smart but not too complicated. Process rules here.
  5. Be slavish to your agency’s brand positioning. Make it something clients want.
  6. Have a business development leader that is 100% responsible for making sure the Biz Plan runs like clockwork. I suggest that for at least the first 6 months that it be the CEO or COO. She is a feet-to-the-fire person. If the top person isn’t committed to putting agency time and assets towards business development 24/7 – fuhgeddaboudit.
  7. Biz Dev has to become part of agency culture. And, yes, it can be fun, too. Winning business because your plan is working is super fun.
  8. Biz Dev must a job on your daily project list like every client job. You are your agency’s client. If you don’t support the program, then what you do for paying clients will not matter when you shut down.
  9. If you have a dedicated (or part-time, for that matter) aim her or him at the sales target. Here is how to manage that process.
  10. This is a pan-agency challenge. Distribute the workload to responsible people in the agency. Make it part of their compensation plan. If they don’t do their part – they are not rewarded for their client work. They are not going get a large bonus.
  11. Be everywhere your future client looks for new agencies. This includes agency lists, directories, in web searches, award shows, etc. Where would you look for an advertising agency? Are you there?
  12. Have a marketing calendar and be slavish to it.
  13. And… Whatever you do, make sure it’s Unignorable. Boring sucks.

Go do it. From Mario Andretti: “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”

Don’t Go! Yet…

This article first appeared in

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