The Cost Of Ad Agency Business Development

Ad Agency Business Development. What Does It Actually Cost?Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 9.53.38 AM

Simple answer? Ad agency business development costs… a lot. A more detailed answer follows.

I recently spoke about ad agency business development (essentially the art of Account Based Marketing) at Hanapin Marketing’s PPC Hero conference in L.A. and did a day long ‘how to pitch’ workshop for a major agency network at their annual meeting in Miami. I came away from both sessions thinking about the high cost of business development.

The True Cost Of Business Development

Since there is no one size fits all answer to what BD costs, I am going to illustrate the cost for a typical medium sized agency. Based on many conversations with agency leadership and the research done for my book on pitching (see the top of this page or just go here to buy it), the cost of participating in a serious pitch can cost close to $100,000. Sounds high, right? But, here is my math.

I am making the assumption that a typical medium size agency responds to 10 RFP’s and participates in 6 serious pitches per year. Of course, your mileage may vary.

RFP’s cost $15,000 to write and produce. This includes both hard and soft costs as in labor and overhead. At 10 RFP’s per year, that’s $150,000.

Pitches are more expensive.  Lets go with $35,000 per pitch. If you are an active agency, you’ll do 6 per year at a total cost of $210,000. FYI, I’ve run pitches at Saatchi & Saatchi that cost over $100,000. Not at all happy about that but that is a fact at the huge agencies pitching for huge pieces of business.

OK, back to the mid-size agency. The annual agency cost for RFP’s and pitching is $360,000.

But, there is more and I am going to be very conservative here. I am going with $200,00 per year for the cost of an active business development program itself. That’s the hard costs and the cost of a BD director and significant management time.

The total… $360,000 plus $200,000 = $560,000 or $56,000 per RFP and $93,333 per pitch.


Business Development – A Cost Center Or Opportunity?

The big question at many client companies is whether or not marketing is a cost or a business opportunity. Of course, you tell your clients that it is an opportunity that pays for itself. No marketing, no sales. Well, this is the case at many agencies. They simply do not spend the effort (as in time, investment and planning – oh, and execution) to run smart aggressive business development programs. As both an ex-Saatchi guy and small Oregon agency owner, I am blown away by this.

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How Do Clients Choose An Advertising Agency?

How Do Clients Choose An Advertising Agency?

choiceAh, let me count the ways clients decide which advertising agency to contact when they need to dial up their marketing. But, let’s just keep this blog post real simple. They choose them based on what they do.

The “Data” Agency.

I am going to Miami next week to do an all-day workshop on business development pitching (plus agency sales in general and negotiating) for a large data marketing firm. While prepping for a discussion on how to sound unique, I took a look at how many of the top data oriented agencies talk about themselves. So, just to demonstrate what I call sameness vs. distinction, I offer their descriptions. These come from their websites. I’ve kept their names off to protect the innocent.

Note: I know that it is very difficult to find the words that deliver distinction when you need to start with a very clear definition of what you do. However, I think the following, at least, demonstrates that an advertising agency has to think hard about their words.

But, you know this. Therefore, this is just food for thought. I suggest that you take a hard look at your own descriptive words vs. your direct competitors. Since most clients are making a high percentage of their decisions about your agency before they ever call you (an understatement), this is a rather smart analysis that I recommend you do every six months given the speed of change.

The Agencies…

ABC. Make lifetime connections with the industry’s most advanced data-driven marketing.

DEF is a premier digital data analytics firm that works with the world’s leading brands to create, implement and action advanced analytics. 

GHI. We use data, technology, intuition and creativity to connect people to brands in a meaningful way.

JKL. We’re a data-driven marketing agency. We build individual relationships at scale using sophisticated data platforms and the same technologies that are disrupting the media environment.

MNO is a technology and services company that provides the data foundation for the world’s best marketers.

PQR is a global data-driven, technology-enabled performance-marketing agency.

STU is the leading global information services company, providing data and analytical tools to clients around the world.

Write Your Advertising Book

Write Your Advertising Agency Book

I’ve written and presented at conferences about writing an advertising agency book. It could be a book book, a digital book or even a zine. Just write it and benefit.

The benefits? People will buy it. You will look like an expert. You could make a few bucks. You will get more incoming leads. Actually, it should be about getting more leads.

The Levitan Pitch — My Sales

The sales of my book The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book. Win More Pitches. (look at the top of this page) are still growing. And, I keep getting leads from people that read it. This is all good. While not a goal, I even make some bucks (for me and Jeff Bezos). See a decent the two month period below. Hey, book sales are buying me my trip to this summer’s Hungarian Grand Prix (that’s Formula 1 for you NASCAR fans.)


My Two-Month Amazon Book Sales

How Digital Agencies Win Clients

How Digital Agencies Find (and Keep) Clients

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 8.56.39 AMI was interviewed for the DM News article, “How Digital Agencies Find (and Keep) Clients”. Were my comments brilliant? Well, brilliant might be a stretch. But here are my key points.

Referrals – The Default Business Development Tool

Where do clients come from?

“The traditional rules of marketing have not changed,” says Peter Levitan, former agency executive and owner, now a self-employed strategist. “The primary way, the default, is referrals.” Levitan says. “Who doesn’t like referrals?”

So why is it that word of mouth is the way agencies get business? “They do not have an active business development program,” Levitan says. About 60% of all agencies have no business development plan. “That is the problem of being in a low-margin industry….finding the manpower to run  business development when you spend 10 hours a day taking care of the client.”

Takeaway. I love referrals and have a master plan for how to actually manage a referral program, Too many agencies are passive about getting referrals from friends, family and current and past clients. Hey, ask people to refer you. Have a plan.

However, the issue with referrals is that mot agencies rely on them to get new business because they do not have a proactive 24/7 business development plan. Referrals become the default new business tool.

The Power of Insights

“I suggest providing an insight the client does not have,” Levitan says. Google Survey is a good place to start looking for those insights, he noted. Finding that insight “will get you new business,” he says.

Levitan gave one example from personal experience. While trying to get a non-profit to sign on, he pitched this insight: the public perceived the organization as one of the five most well known, but least in need of donations.

Pitching the crucial insight harkens back to the Mad Men era of advertising in the 1960s, when ad agencies pitched on the basis of the “one big idea”. Levitan explains that today, “ad tech rules. The Mad Men days of the big idea have been pushed to the back burner.” Digital firms lead with technology, but “forget they are dealing with humans.” he added.

Actually, the non-profit story is about an agency that hired me to help them win more new business. I’ve helped them achieve their goal. One piece of advice I gave them was to lead every pitch with a very compelling insight. I bet that sounds easy. It isn’t. It can’t be just any insight. It has to be an insight that the client never thought of.  But, you know that.

A great insight tool is Google Consumer Surveys. Try it out.

Or, just go to my Let’s Talk page and I’ll help you out.



The Art Of Personal Branding

A How To – Personal Branding Is A Fine Art

28905-poster-10-toc-posterWarning, it will take you close to 500 words to actually get to my main point about the art of personal branding and a great example of How To. So, if you want, skip ahead. However, if you need a bit of branding history, don’t scroll yet.

A Definition

Today, everyone (well, OK, not everyone, but it sure seems like everyone) from high school students developing their college resumes to job seekers to ad agency owners like you to consultants like me, use personal branding to create their very own brand. What is a personal brand? A definition from our friends at Wikipedia…

Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands While previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal-branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging. The term is thought to have been first used and discussed in a 1997 article by Tom Peters.

Do you know Tom Peters? I bet many of you don’t. Back in the 90’s Tom was a major marketing influencer and as you can see from this 1997 Fast Company article, “The Brand Called You. Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. Here’s what it takes to be the CEO of Me Inc.”, he laid it all out. FYI: 1997 was twenty years ago. Side note, I kinda laughed when I read how Tom boldly referred to himself at the close of the article…

“Tom Peters ( is the world’s leading brand when it comes to writing, speaking, or thinking about the new economy. He has just released a CD-ROM, “Tom Peters’ Career Survival Guide.”

Tom states (Tom!)…. Tom Peters ( is the world’s leading brand…” Cool. You know, most people don’t really have time to figure you out so go ahead and tell them that you are the guru. It works. Here is what I say (I say!) on my (as in this) website: I Am The Most Experienced Business Development Consultant.” It works (and it is true.) There…. I just personal branded. Back in the day, I studied Tom peters, read his books and watched his presentations. Look him up, you’ll see what I mean.

Oh, just in case you don’t remember 1997, note in the statment that Tom had an AOL email address and created CD-ROM’s.

Back To Personal Branding – Actually, The Art Of Personal Branding

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 8.25.25 AMI will not get too deep into the concept of how to do the nuts & bolts of personal branding because there is a very good chance that you do that and Google will return 11 million results on the subject. Plus, you probably already use one or more of the following tools to get your brand out there. Or, should.

  • A blog (if you know how to use keywords, have something to add to the conversation and write decent English)
  • LinkedIn (your profile, groups, and publishing)
  • Facebook (your profile and advertising)
  • Instagram (image marketing)
  • Twitter (yes, it still works)
  • Snapchat (people won’t remember your inanity)
  • Pinterest (amazing what people search on)
  • Medium (borrowed reach)
  • Slideshare (an underused platform)
  • Commenting (presence)
  • Guest posting (seriously borrowed reach)
  • Recommendations and referrals (ask for them)
  • Awards (third party endorsement)
  • Buffer (efficiency)
  • Buzzsumo (more efficiency)
  • Word of mouth (yup, that old thing works too)

Margo: The Art Of Her Branding Is In The Execution – Not Just The Tools

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 9.00.10 AMAll of these tools are nice. But, as is always the case, the devil is in the details. Here are the details of a personal brand I found (actually it found me) yesterday.

I have some bad habits. Instead of waking up and immediately studying Spanish (I now live in Mexico), I turn on my iPad and read my business email. So there I am in my bed (too much info?) with my iPad and I see an email from Medium that points me to… “How The Best Marketers Read Minds. How to hear the unspoken stories your customers tell themselves.” I read it. It’s an excellent take on marketing and messaging. It is very current. You should read it.

I then go, “Huh, who wrote this?” I click on Margo Aaron’s byline, I see this: “I write about the dubious underbelly of marketing and other lighthearted topics at” I like the name of the website. I like the idea of reading about the “dubious underbelly.” I like Margo’s attitude.

I then go to Margo’s That Seems Important website. I find the following:

She points out that she is a ginger and is cute (my interpretation.) Just to be clear, I would have also thought that if it had been a cute guy like Domhnall Gleeson.

She has a sense of humor: The top of the home page visual says, They say if I have a photo here it will increase my conversion rates.” Take that SEO / SEM folks.

She asks me to join her email list via this, “Please join this list so it’s not just my mom.” More humor.

I go to the About page and read her bio. Nice track.

Then I take her up on this… “If you’d like to “pick my brain” you can do so here.” Of course, I go. “Pick my brain” kinda reminds me of my Corleone Offer.

I arrive at a Clarity page where I can buy her time for $4.17 / minute. I see a couple of reviews like this…

Margo is a rock star. I gained more insights from a one-hour conversation with her than I would have in weeks of fumbling around with the marketing for my coaching service.

She has a rare acumen for asking the right questions to understand you and your offer and then translating that into a captivating marketing strategy.

The value I received from the call far exceeds her rate. If she’s amenable to helping you, don’t hesitate to work with her.

I think, sure I’ll call her.

My Point? Margo Seriously Branded Herself.


Marketing  – Margo introduced me to her via a broad reach vehicle – Medium. Somehow she got Medium to get her into my email.

Persona – Her branding delivered a smart, funny persona. Not a me-to list of attributes. She is likeable.

Smart  – She writes very well on subject that should be of interest to you.

Sales funnel – She funneled me to her bio.

Sold  – She further funneled me to her advice site.

Margot did all of this in a way I call – Unignorable.


ask_garyvee_template_Podcast_copy-1You can do this too. This is particularly important if you run an ad agency. Here’s an example…

Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary has done a masterful job of self-branding. I am sure you know his story. From wine shop to YouTube star to building the fastest growing ad agency in the universe (Gary’s words thought.)

His secret… He used marketing; a unique compelling persona; he’s smart and makes damn sure you know it; he funnels you into his books and speeches and if you are a client, into his agency. He is not timid. He has sold you. His brand sold you.

Does your brand sell your agency?