Advertising Agency Outsourcing: An Opportunity and… New Competition

I wrote this post about advertising agency outsourcing seven years ago. I am resurrecting it for a couple of reasons.

First, the use of outsourced freelance talent, as in not full-time employees (FTE), is a solid part of running a 2020 agency in a world of business uncertainty:

Will I win that new client? Will I lose our largest client? Will I ever get an agency of record client again or just get used to living with projects?

As an ex-agency owner, I know that keeping FTE costs down is a good idea. Given ad agency gross margins, having a bunch of FTE’s at a 70% utilization rate is not sustainable. Duh. That’s why I was initially intrigued by Victor’s & Spoils agency model. If there ever was an industry that needed to explore new models… it was/is advertising.

Second, it is worth noting that the Vistors & Spoils’ outsourced advertising agency model (actually crowdsourcing model) discussed below did not work. The agency, which was acquired by Havas in 2012, closed in August 2018. Why did it close? There are lots of thoughts about what happened. Consider…

Was crowdsourcing itself simply unmanageable? Is crowdsourcing a tool versus the basis for an agency? Was it’s possibly brutal system too unfair to freelancers? Did clients not get it? Is it simply too difficult to build and manage a complex marketing program using “anonymous” outsourcing?

And, on.

Finally and just an FYI. Here is the Victor’s & Spoils crowdsourcing competition that netted the agency’s logo. So, $2,400 to the winner of an advertising agency logo?  That’s it? No comment.

Advertising Agency Outsourcing

Note: This blog post was originally posted in 2013. The primary points remain relevant.

The advertising industry has been outsourcing for decades. Freelancers are woven into our daily fabric. We use copywriters to write website copy and gun-slinging art directors to beef up new business pitch concepts. In the past few years, advertising agencies have gone beyond the traditional freelancer to add technologists and digital service firms to work in the background to make us look like sharp database, mobile, and social media experts.

Our outsourcing options have grown exponentially through the use of digital tools. We now have easier access to more talent marketplaces which have also resulted in new threats to the advertising agency model itself.

There is the power of emerging market labor: Ogilvy, Wieden+Kennedy, and Sapient all have offices in India that tap into the subcontinent’s skilled lower-cost talent. Most multinational ad agencies also use into their vast systems to find talent in other lower-cost countries. According to Firstpost, “Group FMG produces video, print, digital and mobile ads and has more than half its employees based in India. “We are applying all the clichés of Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” to the advertising world,” Aditya Sharma, co-founder and chief business development officer at Group FMG. And, why not? The latest rounds of Clios have been won by art directors in faraway lands.

Google Trends Web Search Interest crowdsourcing Worldwide 2004 presentInterest in crowdsourcing is on a growth spurt, see Google’s trend line for the term “crowdsourcing” on the left, and has become a new freelance agency model. Victors & Spoils is known for its use of distributed problem solving to create advertising campaigns for blue-chip clients like Axe, General Mills, Harley-Davidson, and Levis. For sure, despite the benefits from having a more open market, freelancers have had issues with this model. However, the efficiency of freelance crowdsourcing works for clients. I suspect that Victors & Spoils is finding the middle ground.

Online freelance markets are booming. Elance reported 345,000 new freelancers and 826,000 jobs posted in 2012. Behance reported serious growth last May when they received an infusion of VC capital. According to their blog, “Users’ projects have received over 1 billion views and over 75 million views in just the past 30 days. Behance now showcases more than 2 million creative projects – after passing our first 1 million-project milestone just eight months ago.” I can imagine that many agencies are posting projects in this heavily trafficked marketplace.

The new world of freelance services may become one of the tools that agencies use to resolve the social media beast – social media authorship and management is, to put it mildly, labor-intensive. I have been using an ODesk freelancer in the Philippines to assist me with pinning “every advertising agency” website to my Pinterest agency site. In this case, I have a simple task that can be easily managed. In just a couple of weeks, he has efficiently pined over 1,000 ad and digital agency websites. This has freed up my time to write mini-website reviews.

On the SEO side, I have worked with a search engine marketing company based in Budapest that uses excellent English speaking writers across the globe to help their clients write guest posts.

The opportunities for agencies to leverage the flat-earth marketplace of freelance services are clear. Given the current and expanding outsourcing options, agencies need to continually explore how the Internet has dramatically expanded their freelance network, talent base, technology resources and can lower the costs of doing business.

On the other hand, many of these new services pose a significant threat. Just as the Victors & Spoils model is often criticized (feared?), we need to keep up with and continually review new Internet-powered services because they represent a growing form of competition. Just like you, savvy clients can directly outsource their work to India, Behance and 99 Designs too.

Advertising Agency Models

If you are interested in exploring new advertising agency models, give me a shout. I’ve examined many options.

Client Thoughts On The Advertising Agency RFP Process

The Advertising Agency Client RFP – Go Or No Go

As an agency owner and business development director at Saatchi, I received many RFP’s — Request For Proposals. The reaction to receiving an RFP ranged from delight (YES, a big brand and client is interested in us) to dismay (a brand is asking us to respond to what is clearly an assignment that is not predicated on the client’s understanding of what we do for a living (example, asking us to build Android apps when we didn’t).

Responding to an RFP can be very time consuming and expensive for any agency. The costs include direct labor, out of pocket costs and the cost of deflecting staff attention from existing client and business development work. I outlined the cost of responding to RFI’s, RFP’s and actual pitches in my book “The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book. Win More Pitches”. Believe me, the costs can easily go into the thousands.

The bottom line is for your agency to have a clear set of rules that dictate when you should respond to an incoming RFP. Swinging at every ball is not a great way to hit home runs and manage your business.

Some RFP Related Expert Opinions

I am a member of a primarily senior client Slack group. I asked the group for their thoughts about the RFP process. My question was about how many agencies are sent an RFP for a given program.

The Peter RFP Question:

“Here’s a quick question for people that have asked advertising / design etc. agencies to respond to an RFP… How many shops did you ask when you sent out the RFP? I have an agency client that is now sitting on 3 RFP’s and is a bit overwhelmed. I’m helping them cull the list but have this general question. Thank you in advance for any help.”


Note, in the interest of privacy, I scrubbed out the name of the group members.
  • Typically you go to 5-6, then cull to 3 agencies for a proposal. If it was a mailed RFP with no calls or capabilities first, don’t go after it.
  • You can also ask the client how many RFP’s were sent out and they should respond to you. But when a client sends out to 20 shops for proposals, you can typically smell that out and it’s highly recommended an agency does not play in that space OR requests a more intimate process.
  • Usually easy to spot the mass outreach RFP’s, they’re often sloppy documents with not much thought/consideration. Big red flag in my experience. Worth identifying which feel as though they have had most time invested in them for a measure on how ‘real’ the opportunity is.
  • I’d also add from the agency side — try to get an intro call with the prospective client to talk through the RFP before you decide to submit and put the team through the proposal rigor. Sometimes once you get them on the phone — you often get a much better sense if you’ll be successful with each other.
  • Also, it’s telling if they won’t speak to you before receiving a proposal :slightly_smiling_face:
  • Agree. Clients should do their homework and find the shops that they respect, thinking or work you admire vs. a fishing expedition. I usually advise around sending in the area of 6-7 with the expectation that 1-2 agencies will drop out / decline
  • I agree. Somewhere in the 5-8 range feels right for an RFP. As a client, it is too much work to do more than that. If the client is not invested to really spend the time to determine if the fit is right, that tells you something. Personally, I have always liked our agency partners to feel like an extension of our team and respect what they bring to the table and the effort required to do the work.

Peter Again

I agree that it is up to agency management to really look hard at an incoming RFP and determine if this is an account you really want, can get and is worth the big effort. As my friends mentioned, it is incumbent on agency leadership to learn more from the prospective client before answering the RFP. If the client does not have the time for a call… drop it.

Being Mr. Nice Guy…

If you have an RFP on your desk today and are not sure if you should respond, give me a shout. I’ll spend a few minutes helping you make that decision. Gratis.

How Clients Find An Advertising Agency

How Do Clients Find Their Next Advertising Agency?

One of the more challenging questions I ask my advertising agency business development clients is, “How do your prospective advertising, design, digital or PR clients find your advertising agency?”

In most cases, the number one answer is referrals or WOM. Of course, of course, this is a wonderful way to gain future client interest. However, the referral route is rather passive unless an agency has a highly active referral program. Even with a proactive in-house referral program, counting on referrals is not a high numbers game and is a bit too passive.

I am not a fan of passivity and think that an advertising agency needs to be everywhere a prospective client might look for them.


In the old days, that even included having a Yellow Pages ad. Call me if you do not know what the Yellow Pages were.

Back to the question… “How do your prospective advertising, design, digital or PR clients find your advertising agency?”

The general list of responses goes like this. I’ve included links to some previous thoughts on some of these front doors:

  • Through direct referrals from clients, friends, and family. General word of mouth. Read: Six Business Development Referral Strategies.
  • Clients find us using a Google search. Read: Google Will Screw Your Ad Agency.
  • We run ads on Google.
  • We are on third-party advertising agency lists. Read: The Ultimate Advertising Agency List
  • We have won creative and marketing awards that increase our brand awareness. Clios help.
  • We get press from advertising industry publications.
  • We get press from client category/industry publications.
  • A future client saw one of our ‘great’ existing client ads or programs and contacted us.
  • Our social media programs attract new client interest. Read: Does B2B Social Media Still Work?
  • Our account-based marketing sales program directly targets the clients we want.
  • We get RFI and RFP requests advertising agency consultants. Read: 34 Advertising Agency Search Consultants.
  • We are listed on the local advertising club website.

So, How Do Clients Find Their Next Advertising Agency? As in, like yours?

First, let’s agree that you want to be found (maybe not by every potential client. But, you still want to out there.)

The only way to do that is to be everywhere a potential client will look for you. If this sounds simple and you are already doing this, Great. If not and you need an actionable strategy and tactics to solve this formable problem/opportunity…

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

Contact me and take me up on my free Vito Corleone offer. 

Getting Advertising Agency Sales Pitch Attention Via Hello Sir

How Your Advertising Agency’s Sales Pitch Is Like An Indian Shopkeeper

I was in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and Delhi and Mumbai for the month of January. As a tourist, my attention was desired by many shop keepers, solo tour guides and taxi drivers.

The usual sales pitch come-on, the way for me to be enticed to turn and make eye contact, were questions. Essentially two: a questioning “Hello Sir?” or “Where are you from.”

While I always heard the question, I learned not to make eye contact in most cases as the ultimate offer being made was usually the same. I was being asked to enter a shop to buy something, generally, pashmina scarfs or a new suit, to receive an offer of transportation or some form of guidance. In some way, I was sad that I did not speak with everyone. That I dismissed their personal ‘pitch’ through silence. But, really, I had no choice if I wanted to get on with my daily plans.

Advertising Agency Business Development, It’s Sales Pitch And “Hello Sir”

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many advertising, design and PR agencies do little more than what the Indian shopkeepers did. These agencies simply find a way to wave their hands to say “Here we are” to prospective clients. 

The agency sales message can be effective in getting attention for a fleeting moment, but the next set of words or information looks like all the other hand waving from other agency competitors. The agencies offer little in a customized sales pitch or insights that would help the client want to turn their head and want to hear more.

Sameness, or worse, being ignored, is a space that many agencies business development programs live in.

I’ll talk more about building strategic and action-oriented brand and message differentiation in the next couple of weeks. OK, I have actually been writing about this for years. But, I’ll deliver more direct ideas and collation of past thinking.

Most agencies have to get past, “Hello Sir.”

Hello Sir

Ask me how your agency’s sales pitch can break you out of the “pashmina” pack.


P&G And A Brighter Toothpaste Idea

P&G – Here’s My Toothpaste Idea

I happened upon a P&G executive in Varanasi during my India trip, I am here the month of January. Our conversation netted a new toothpaste idea.

He said that he was in R&D and when I asked for detail, he told me that he was “upstream” which I take for management.

I asked if P&G was exploring the marijuana industry/opportunity and was told that if so, it was not discussed in the hallways.

I (humorously) suggested that they create a marijuana THC or CMD toothpaste.

My tagline: Use (Brandname-to-be-Determine) Toothpaste…

“For A Truly Brighter Smile”


“Start Your Day With A Smile”