Does Your Ad Agency Get Its Marketing Right?

Getting It Right 

Here’s a look at some agencies that get their business development marketing right care of a request from Todd Foutz of Virgina’s NDP agency.He asked me if I could point to advertising agencies that looked like they had their business development act together. This post attempts to answer Todd’s question via some smart examples and asks you “Does your ad agency get its marketing right?”

I told Todd that I could take a good look at and report on what is visible to the world, but could not comment on marketing that is not visible – read that as being 1:1 agency to client prospect direct marketing.

A quick bit of biz dev history.

When I returned from Saatchi & Saatchi London to New York, I was tasked with running business development across our North American offices. Early on, I happened to meet with Jon Bond of the hot agency Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners. KB had some small accounts like BMW, Citi and Victoria’s Secret. I asked him what the agency did for new business marketing. He said, “I never know what works so, we do everything.” I got it. But, that was in 1994 before time chewing digital marketing and its tracking capabilities. Today’s advertising agency cannot do everything. There is simply too much everything. So, I’ll lead with one point: focus. Work on doing just one or two marketing programs right. If they don’t work (after you’ve given them time), adjust or move on.

Not Visible

As you might expect, I cannot see agency to client direct communications (except for what my clients do and I’ll keep that confidential). It is unfortunate that I can’t see what everyone is doing since direct contact should be a key element of any agency’s outbound marketing and it would be very cool to be able to have a look.

That said, this is what I do know:

I’ve discussed that there are three primary ways that agencies drive leads. These include the all-mighty referral (an unmanaged default for way too many agencies), inbound searches (i.e. SEO and content marketing) and via direct outbound.

Outbound, which used to be called sales (OK, still is), has been revved up in recent years via the “new” idea of Account-Based Marketing. This means that an agency utilizes a very strategic managed approach to capture the attention of a prospective client.

Most agencies do direct outreach (possibly too much, too often or much worse, very poorly done). As I am sure you know, there is a great deal of client marketing research that supports the fact that all sorts of agencies hammer prospective clients all day long. It is a barrage that makes it difficult for most agencies to get noticed. To this point,  Atlanta’s digital agency Cardinal has a very smart / strategic video on their website where they show one of their clients talking about how many times they get hit up by Cardinal’s competitive agencies – and are not interested in switching.

So, to hammer my point… outbound marketing is critical to agency success. However, poorly delivered outbound does not work, full stop. Super compelling well-targeted insights will break through the clutter to get the attention of the clients you want.

Good news for agencies: most of their agency competitors do not have a clue about how to look and sound trully attractive.

Bad news: these unattractive agencies that hammer clients without any productive, interesting sales pitch or all-important relevant insights help ruin communications for the agencies that actually have their marketing shit together.

Some Agency Biz Dev Research

Here is some ad agency marketing research on what agencies do from the 2016 RSW/US New Year Outlook survey. The survey was completed by both marketers and agency leaders.

As RSW/US says: Of the Agencies responding to this survey, 90% provided feedback on the tools they use to grow their business. … In summary new business development tools ranked in order as follows:

Social media: 62%

Email: 60%

Phone calls: 52%

Blogging: 50%

While the research indicates what agencies use, the research does not show the quality of these efforts. I know for a fact that the only way to know what is working is that you need to understand the difference between MQL (marketing qualified leads) and SQL (sales qualified leads or, better, actual vetted prospects that want to hire you.) The number of website visits you get are meaningless unless they convert to high-profit sales.


Here are some examples of agencies that get it right. By right I mean they understand the B2B agency buying process and understand that looking and sounding different are rather critical paths to getting that phone call. By the time you get the call (which means the average client has done their quiet vetting), I think you should be about 30% on the way to being on a short list.

Attitude: Zulu Alpha Kilo

The ad agency Zulu Alpha Kilo name itself. It just stands out. It is intriguing.

The website. Actually, it’s about the website’s humorous approach. About 2% of advertising agencies demonstrate a sense of humor. A strange thing since agencies should look and sound different than their staid clients that are looking for agencies with an edge. Once upon a time, I thought of having a stand-up comedian do the lead into my agency’s website. “Take my agency please.”–o0

Zulu wins awards. This is never an accident. They go and get them. They have a plan. Here is a link to how they talk about their 2017 Ad Age International Agency of the year award.

The agency disturbs shit.

Positioning: Woman’s Marketing, Inc.

Do you just want to be everything to every client in hopes they’ll find you and figure out why they should love you? Sorry, most clients do not have the time or attention span to figure you out. Imagine you are a client with a specific need. Like they want to sell stuff to women. Well, if you were a client with this need, wouldn’t you give a call to an expert like Woman’s Marketing, Inc.? This is what I’d call narrow (OK, somewhat narrow) positioning. Just the fact that the agency has narrowed its focus to be a specialist makes them stand out. Here’s what they say: ‘We understand how women relate to and interact with media—with particular expertise in beauty, health, food and fashion—and leverage that knowledge to help brands navigate the fragmented media marketplace.”

The agency goes beyond just saying “we know women” to supporting the message with its glimmer, a proprietary insight and research community – read that as a group of influencers, a research panel, that helps the agency know what’s in women’s heads. More proof that the agency is a specialist.

Own It: LONDON Advertising

I admit that I mention LONDON Advertising a lot. Here are some links. But… they just get it right. LINKS

The name. Just like Zulu, this is a hard to ignore brand name. In this case, LONDON owns London. The good news in owning ‘London’ is that London is a global brand. Owning Boise as an agency name might work – but only if you actually just want to own Boise. Not sure Hong Kong clients would dig the name Boise. FYI: I once considered renaming my agency Portland from Citrus. In this case, Portland is a very creative city so it could have worked, even in Shanghai.

The positioning. Clean, simple, compelling, competitive: “LONDON is a global advertising agency designed for the 21st century. Today’s media environment is incredibly complicated. That’s why, to paraphrase Einstein, everything we do is as simple as possible – but no simpler. We create One Brilliant Idea that works in any media, in any language and in any country.”

LONDON also has a London City specific email program. I just got London what’s up email from them. It lists five things to do in London this month. Savvy information is hard to ignore if you are a busy Londoner. The email and curated info support the London Advertising positioning. It helps the agency look cool. Rather than another boring email, they offer some value – yup, borrowed interest. But… interest. How many agency newsletters are must reads?

Look Smart: Instrument

I look at lots of ad agency blogs. In fact, I recently wrote that many agencies should just give up blogging because boring; light-weight blogs can do more harm than good. One of the points I make in the post is that in many cases, “Nobody wants to read your shit.” I stole these words, if not the actual fact, from Steven Pressfield (go read him).

Portland’s Instrument actually writes stuff that we want to read. Their thinking is food for the brain vs. shit. They start, fortunately, by being one of the smarter more successful digital agencies. They go past that to provide insights that, in many cases, add value. Here are a couple of examples; Are We There Yet?  — Five Things Road Trips Can Teach Us About UX; The 1-2 Punch Every Creative Agency Needs; Meet the McFlys — A Survey in Current Home Automation; and Google I/O 2015 Audio Experiment.

My general takeaways are that Instrument is smart, is a leading digital strategist and dates big boy / girl clients like Google and Sequoia Capital.

Sales, Baby: The Good

 Portland’s The Good is a conversion specialist. Their words: “We increase ecommerce conversion rates for leading brands through our data-driven analysis, redesigns, and multivariate testing.”

They also help themselves sell themselves. Here is the copy from a recent The Good email newsletter. Note how they sell themselves via a hard to resist offer. Hey, click the link and see how they manage the click.

Hey Peter,

There are a number of strategies that have earned the attention of marketers in recent years.

Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to know how to prioritize them.

That’s why we wrote our latest white paper, where we provide some helpful insights for solving this struggle.

[White Paper] Inbound Marketing, Advertising, CRO: Which is Most Important?

Inbound marketing is gaining ground on outbound marketing, but both have one major challenge: If your traffic doesn’t convert (no matter how you get that traffic) it pays you nothing.

In this white paper we cover:

  • Inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing: which is best?
  • How CRO solidifies inbound and outbound marketing efforts
  • Inbound marketing stats
  • Outbound marketing stats
  • Conversion rate optimization stats
  • CRO case studies: real results from companies who proved the value of CRO to ROI

Need help optimizing your website? Schedule a free landing page assessment and let’s talk.

Cheers, Jon

I Love You: Union (“A Family Agency”)

I interviewed a bunch of advertising agency clients and search consultants for my book on pitching. They all told me that interpersonal chemistry is a critical factor in agency selection. People buy people. I am therefore a bit surprised at how few agencies actually ‘sell’ their people on their website as in on their Who We Are page as well as having a ‘come hither’ video.

One could spend hours searching through dozens of agency websites to find a video that sells the agency’s people, attitude and a bit of ‘I want to meet these guys.”

This is crazy! Think about it, people visit your website, generally see similar agency sales pitches, don’t hear a call to action and are not compelled in any way to get to know you. Why not use the website to actually sell your people and vibrations?

Union does just that in this creative (yes, I said that), funny and right-on agency video. The message is unexpected and delightful. Hmmm, I’d like to meet the people of Union.

OK, one more agency video. Its way too long, but it does actually, introduce the agency, its brand and humans.

We Are Different: Boone Oakley and Wexley School For Girls

In 2009 Boone Oakley blew my mind by using YouTube as its website. Almost 10 years later, the ‘site’ still stands out among the world of me-too agency websites.

Wexley School For Girls, kinda like Zulu Alpha Kilo, is clearly not an agency for everybody. But, like Zulu, if you do not want me-too, Wexley should be on your shortlist. They also have, without question, the best looking ‘staff’ in the industry. See for yourself – I think lots of clients would want to date them. I would.




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