The Biggest, Most Important Advertising Agency New Business Secret.
It’s Sales Stupid.
Back in 1992, James Carville, Bill Clinton’s strategist said, “It’s the economy, stupid” to make sure the Clinton campaign remembered what was critically important to the American electorate. So, taking my cue from James, I offer that “It’s sales stupid” is the biggest, most important advertising agency new business secret.
An advertising, design, PR agency new business program, marketing materials, presentations (even daily conversations with existing clients), and new business pitches are all about sales. Sounds obvious, right? The problem is that ‘sales’ can be a dirty word at some ‘creative’ agencies. If you think that I am overstating this, take a look at a few agency websites, and ask yourself if they are designed to be high-octane sales experiences that drive leads or just well-designed agency brochures. I think that the Contact page is a number one offender. Contact copy like, “Give us a call” is simply not a romantic way to begin a relationship.
An Advertising Agency New Business Secret
A discussion of how to use the science of salesmanship in an agency presentation could fill a book. I’ll be brief and hit what I think are the most effective techniques we can learn from the masters of salesmanship. Allow me a brief detour first.
I left advertising in 1995 to put a group of New Jersey newspapers online for Advance Internet (the digital newspaper arm of the Newhouse Media Group – you know them as the owner of Condé Nast). In addition to inventing New Jersey Online’s digital newspaper editorial persona, we also had to build an early online sales program that included the design of new advertising units and a sales pitch for this new Internet platform. To help me, Advance brought in Jim Hagaman from the Miami Herald. Jim was easily one of the savviest media salespeople I had ever met.
Within a few days, I had gone from thinking that I knew how to sell (i.e. running business development at Saatchi & Saatchi), to jettisoning much that I had learned, to watching a master actually make sales in the nascent Internet marketplace. Much of what you see below came from Jim.
One of his more interesting sales insights came when I said that we needed to go pitch New Jersey Online to New York advertising agencies. He said, whoa boy. In his experience, agencies always mucked up the sale. They wanted to put their own stamp on the sales message, usually got the details wrong, and always slowed down the process. He said that we were going directly to the clients to explain the benefits of digital media. As I eventually witnessed, he was right.
Actually, here is one more super insightful story that will introduce my next point, which I admit might be a “duh” for some of you.
You have to understand your client’s mindset, needs, pain points, rationale, and emotional motivations before you can ever craft an effective sales pitch.
I learned this lesson at my first agency pitch for New Jersey Online. I figured I’d start with my very own ex, the New York office of Saatchi & Saatchi. I knew the agency inside and out and had worked with their Executive Media Director Allen Banks for years. My pitch included a 1996 hockey puck graph of projected Internet usage and a discussion of digital advertising that touted our newfound ability to track how website visitors viewed and interacted with online advertising. Was Allen smiling? No. His reaction?
“Are you f*cking kidding me? We have made a fortune not really knowing how, when and for how long consumers have been looking at our ads. I manage hundreds of millions in advertising media placement. Knowing how much of it doesn’t work will kill our golden goose.”
My point in telling you this story is that I didn’t think through Allen’s motivations before I delivered my early online advertising sales pitch. By the way, he was right. The Internet sure seems like it killed some parts of the golden advertising goose.