Ad Age Small Agency Conference Podcast


The Ad Age Ad Lib podcast recently interviewed Sunday Dinner’s Lindsey Slaby just ahead of her appearance at the 2019 Ad Age Small Agency Conference. Since many of you did not attend the conference or religiously listen to the Ad Age podcast (sooo, much to do!), I thought I’d share a few of Lindsey’s insider gems to give her perspective on the advertising industry and what clients want.

From Lindsey’s Twitter account: Founder of Sunday Dinner. Helping brands navigate how to work with the best and brightest agencies through consulting, workshops & partnership search. … Made In Brooklyn Summit speaker, Lindsey Slaby @lasslaby, is the founder of groundbreaking brand consultancy firm, Sunday Dinner.

Lindsey works with a wide range of well-known clients including Diageo, Target, Union Pacific, NBCU, Microsoft, Nickelodeon, Kate Spade, & MassMutual and sits with dozens of advertising agencies a year (she mentions that she had sat through over thirty pitches in a recent month.) Her perspective offers a deep inside look at today’s advertising industry – what it gets right and wrong.

To help isolate Lindsey’s golden nuggets, I transcribed the podcast interview and pulled out a few of the shiny bits. I’ve edited some of the copy for clarity and brevity. I also offer some of my own thoughts… Of course.

Lindsey Slaby’s Ad Age Golden Nuggets

Small Agencies Are Doing Well, But

Lindsey: There’s so much appeal right now to work with the smaller agencies. They’re incredibly busy, incredibly busy.They’re building these businesses. My fear is sometimes that they are, they started, they got a client, they got going, they got a lot of momentum, they have relationships, and they’re just going to keep driving towards revenue, versus actually figuring out, what’s the business model we want to have internally? How are we attracting and retaining great talent?

How do you scale the right way? And how do you make sure you really deliver for those clients? Because one of the things I guess I say a lot is, if you get an A in client service, you’re going to keep my business and earn my business, even if you get a C in creative. If we’re hiring, especially if you’re a brand that’s taking a risk to hire a new agency, which is essentially working with a startup, you need them to deliver for you, keep you informed, and have amazing client service.

PL Thoughts: Yes, small agencies are doing well. Bravo. This is typically what happens when the economy is rocking (well, a bit) and, concurrently, clients have become disillusioned with larger agency service models. It is a homerun environment for savvy smaller agencies.

However, you have to be thinking long term. What happens to revenues when things inevitably slow down? I don’t want to rain on the parade, but the rain will inevitably come (remember 2008?) and the only umbrella you have is your new business outreach and lead pipeline. Slowing down your sales program when things are going well is a big mistake that too many agencies make. Take a read of this: Advertising Agency Recession Freakout

Service, service, service. Finally, I agree completely with Lindsey that account management can build and retain happy clients. Service organizations like advertising agencies are, no surprise, service companies. Great service, aware service, passionate well-trained account people can, as Lindsey says, overcome C-level creative.

Clients Are Confused

Lindsey: Okay. So a lot of clients right now are really trying to figure out who their right partners are, and the market is completely fragmented. It is really confusing. On the marketer side, I think building out your ecosystem of partners has never been more challenging. And oftentimes, I don’t think agencies understand how much work and effort is put into designing really what I would call creative services.

PL Thoughts: I spend a fair amount of time with my agency clients discussing the need for understanding and addressing prospective client pain points. Digging into client goals and their emotional psychology is critical to winning new accounts.

BIG pain point: Confusion about how to manage agencies and the ever-increasing plethora of media options breeds confusion and fear. Leverage this confusion/fear/loathing pain point in your marketing. 

How does your agency mange complexity? How does it work with other agencies? How could it help a client manage the process?

It is imperative that agencies understand all of the pain points that confront today’s marketers when they think about their marketing goals and agency requirements. Intelligent empathy, I’ll call it ‘IE’, is critical to crafting advertising agency sales messages – that get read.

Many Agencies Pitch And Present Poorly

Lindsey: If I were to talk about some of the things I might say on (the conference) stage, it’s small agencies in terms of how they show up through from chemistry meeting to a capabilities presentation to an actual pitch, there are a lot of missteps.

I think the first thing is that first meeting you have with a new client. They know that you’re… They’re there, so you don’t need to explain to them why you started your business, why you left big agencies, and be negative about things. Let’s just be positive and optimistic about what you’re building now, and have a really clear point of view on what that is.

I’ll sit through maybe 10 to 20 slides that I just want to go swipe, swipe, swipe. It’s like brand boards, and why we did this, and what’s going on in the industry, and all of these things. And I really want to just know what’s your point of view? How are you doing things differently? And differently, to me, is how you’re retaining talent? How you’re operating as a business? What are fun, interesting new ways that we’re going to work together?

PL Thoughts: It’s 2019. Advertising agencies have been pitching clients for one hundred years. You’ve sat in winning and losing pitches. You know that pitching is like a date – don’t bore the client with an all-about-you presentation. A pitch must meet client needs. A pitch should be compelling and entertaining.

It baffles that many small agencies want to describe their perspective on the advertising universe and their me-too agency history (“we are from big agencies, have mega-brand experience, but we know how to run lean and mean and are so efficient”) before they ever get to the sales propositions that truly differentiate their unique POV and thoughts on how to meet a client’s objectives.

We all know this, right? HOWEVER, Lindsey echos what I hear from all pitch consultants – agencies still do not get it. WTF?

By the way, you’ve read my best-selling book on pitching, right? If you haven’t read it yet, go to the top of this page, click on the banner and order it. Every once and awhile I see that I have multiple book borders from one buyer. Christmas season is coming. Buy a bunch for your staff. LOL, it is a gift that will keep on giving.

Love Conquers All

Lindsey: And then, do I like you? Do we get along? Are we going to want to move forward on this? Which means, are you reading the room? Are you paying attention to how the meeting is going? What the energy flow is? Reading the room and not having a room reader is probably one of the biggest missteps that I think a lot of small businesses do.

PL Thoughts: Since most agencies are kinda all alike (in many cases they certainly are by the time they get into a short-list pitch ), you need to know that clients buy people as well as past work and skills.

Make that client like you – you are on that first date. Bring on the love. Be lovable. Pay attention to the dynamics. Read the client’s body language, read the room.

As Lindsay says, have a room reader to act as a pitch director. Side story. I was once in a rather serious pitch meeting with the CMO of Northwest Airlines and after some lengthy agency pontificating, the CEO leaned over to me and said, “please shut ‘him’ up”. The ‘him‘ was Saatchi’s president. I did as instructed.

More PPPain

Lindsey: And the fact that for larger marketers there are so many silos, right?

Social has its own silo, PR, media, marketing. Internally they’re not really working together in the right way yet, which means their agencies are completely splintered as well. So agencies have set up models to work in that capacity, and it’s really frustrating when you don’t get to work in an integrated fashion. Everyone’s really struggling to find the best ways to make work more collaborative and to organize around, maybe as we were talking about, you’re not organizing by campaigns anymore, but you’re organizing by audiences, and you’re organizing in new ways that are less siloed to the actual capability and specialties.

I find that is the thing I spend the most time on with my clients right now.

PL Thoughts: Lindsey has just given you another BIG pain point to address. Put the idea of silos on the table. Show the prospect that you understand this issue, today’s marketing complexity.

And that maybe, you have some well-thought through solutions.

It’s Sales Baby

This is a long point. It is worth sticking it out.

Lindsey: Scaled creative agencies. So they were asked for a very long time to do one specific thing, and that’s this above the lined, big brand work, and that was what their clients asked them. Then, all of a sudden, I feel like the client remit changed and said, “Oh, we need all this brand work to now connect directly to sales.” Those teams weren’t structured to think in that way and to work in that way. And a lot of the times if you were ever inside a big creative agency, too, you were like, “Well, why don’t we get to think about how this connects through in store, et cetera?” And they were constantly, I’m generalizing massively, but just to make a point, said,“Stay in your lane.”

And so they stayed in their lane, and now that lane is very, very broad, and they can’t necessarily deliver on that. And I think at the top, the people running some of those teams, have been in that position for a very long time. And learning and development, and developing your talent, and learning those skills, is a new thing. I mean, I’ve spent five years really becoming a coms strategist and learning media, which I wasn’t going to learn within an agency because I was very specific to my role.

So we need to have the people at the top of some of those agencies that understand what data and analytics really means. It’s not putting one person in a corner to go work on this. Right? So I think that consultancies have really learned, and they’ve always played a part in looking more at the business in terms of revenue and bottom line profitability, and they get in there and they have access to that information, and now they’re simply saying, “Well, now that we know all this about your consumer, which is so important, and the data, and what they’re listening, and what they’re talking to, and what they want from us, we would like to connect that to the actual advertising and create a benefit station.” And that makes sense to me.

PL Thoughts: The main point here is that in many agencies, especially in ‘creative/full-service’ agencies, management and staff do not fully understand a client’s complicated/complex sales spectrum. Much of today’s sales process is rooted in understanding, processing and leveraging consumer and market data. Unfortunately, in many agencies, data management has been relegated to a back-room function. Because of this, we have a bunch of agency leadership that simply is not schooled in data management and therefore in understanding the entire sales funnel.

Consultancies get this and deliver on the deliverable that they, and their MBA-fueled staff, are schooled in sales-oriented, high ROI solutions.

Agencies that rest on the singular idea that they deliver cool creative and a barrage of content ideas is not a very strong, stand-alone concept.

Here You Go

I urge you to go to Ad Age and listen to Lindsey’s interview – “Sunday Dinner’s Lindsey Slaby On What Small Agencies Get Wrong In Pitches.”. I’m told that she was the hero at the Ad Age Small Agency Conference.

Let’s talk about growing your business. You are in a hurry, right?

Contact me now and take me up on my impossible to refuse 15-minute Vito Corleone offer. 


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