How to Build A Winning Advertising Agency New Business Program


This is a 2019 UPDATE of 2016’s initial “How to Build A Winning Advertising Agency New Business Program” blog post. Advertising agency business development is now a 24/7 operation. Here is some advice on how to deliver.

By the way, this post currently has over 32,900 views. The post’s popularity is due to three key reasons:

1. It directly addresses a major advertising agency pain point: how to build a winning and efficient new business plan.

2. The post is well optimized for search engines and, therefore…

3. Google loves it. [FYI, my number two trafficked post is, “How To Name Your Advertising Agency – Part One” at 30,000 + views. While always rethinking their website, advertising agencies also obsess about their name. by the way, this post is also a very good cheat sheet on naming that you can steal if a client ever needs a new brand name.

“How To Build…” is all about the most important thing an advertising agency can do (while it is nurturing its current clients)… run a new business program that ensures that the agency will keep growing. Agencies are like sharks. They must keep moving forward to eat or else.

Your potential clients have over 4,000 marketing communications ‘agency’ options (other agencies, new consultancies, freelancers, even your ex-creative director…).

Therefore, any form of business development passivity on your part – sucks. If you think you are doing everything right, you probably are not. How can I say this? I never thought that all was well whilst running business development at Saatchi & Saatchi and when I owned my own agency.

Here’s my “ad”: I suggest that you give me a shout and take me up on my Corleone offer – It’s hard to refuse.

OK, Let’s Go…

When I owned Citrus, my Portland and Bend Oregon advertising agency, I woke up every morning (and even some nights) thinking hard about my agency’s business development program. I lived as if Nike, our largest client, was about to walk out the back door along with its revenues. I bet as an ad agency owner or manager you have rough nights too. One of the things I knew I could and should do was to manage this back-door issue was to have an active, I stress active, new business plan in place.

Here are some (I stress some) of the elements of my new business plan. They helped me grow my agency Citrus (with new clients like Harrah’s, LegalZoom, Nike and the Montana Lottery). I hope my insights help you grow your agency.

Execution Rules.

When I set out to write this advertising agency new business post I didn’t think that it would be this long – a warning to the ADHD types. But, advertising agency new business planning is complex and is getting more complex every day due to the rapid changes in our industry and technology. That said, the devil in business development, you know what’s coming, is in the detail. Success is all about execution.

For example, running a successful inbound biz dev program that attracts market attention must be based on a sound strategy and smart agency process if you want to run a 24/7 sales program. Staying the course is critical.

The Advertising Agency Business Plan. First Things First.

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The Best Podcasts In The World

Yikes, “the best podcasts in the world” — How is that headline for click-bait? Maybe a 7 on a scale of 10? OK, a 6? Really, how lame are the click-bait headlines we all get sucker punched into launching?

Ok, Ok… Now on to a couple of podcast recommendations.

I have an agency client that is training for her first marathon and she asked me for some podcast recommendations. I’ll share my recommendations with you.

The Best Podcast Player

I use the podcast app Pocket Cast to organize my podcasts on my iPad and iPhone. It has a decent search tool by subject. Here is how they sell themselves:

A podcast player by listeners, for listeners.

Pocket Casts is the world’s most powerful podcast platform. Our podcast player provides next-level listening, search and discovery tools. Find your next obsession with our hand-curated podcast recommendations for easy discovery, and seamlessly enjoy your favorite shows without the hassle of subscribin

Some Of My Favorite Podcasts


– General smart about the digital, news, etc. industry: Pivot, Recode Media, Recode Decode from VOX (just do this)
– Daily News: The Daily from NYT, The Daily 202 from the Washington Post (these two depress me every morning), and Marketplace
– Smartest guy in the room: Stay Tuned with Preet (smart enough to get fired by the prez)
– Music: All Songs Considered and Switched On Pop (you will be hipper than the kid down the street)
– Internet marketing: Marketing School, Social Media Marketing, Marketing Geeks (hours of insights on how to do your business)
– Advertising: AdAge Ad Lib, Advertising Influencers (frankly a bit boring, but, hey, you are probably in the biz)
– General: anything by Malcolm Gladwell, Against The Rules Michael Lewis, This American Life, The Chernobyl Podcast (after you’ve seen this great 5-part series.)
– Art: Art Tactic, A Piece of Work (aging but smart)
There are more. I’ll spare you.

The History Of Podcasting

Just as an FYI, here is my older blog post, number 600!, on The History of Podcasting.

How Many Of Me Are There?

This is a combo blog post.

It is about searching to see if I am unique by asking, “how many of me are there?” Example, there are only two other Peter Levitan’s in the USA according to the website How Many Of Me. Hey, I’ll take that. (FYI: There are 90 people named Ted Cruz.)

Which brings me to the following question… How unique are you?



How unique do you think your advertising agency is?

The sameness I see when I look out over the advertising, digital and PR landscape is simply too, um, not so unique.

Similar brand positions; lookalike websites; not unignorable messaging; too many me-too offers; the lack of salesmanship. You know what I mean.

You can take the name off of probably 50% of agency websites and replace the name with a competitive agency and not notice.


OK, How Did I Get To This Question?


This is absurdly random. I have been studying the work of the artist Penelope Umbrico. She is way serious and has ideas that fit right into our culture. The kind of ideas that might spark an idea in a Creative’s head.

Check out her work. In this case the work Many Leonards Not Natman, 2009. Make sure you look at lots of her stuff. And, while you are at it, ask yourself if your advertising agency is as distinctive as her work.

How To Follow-Up With Your Future Client

Once Connected: Stay In Touch & Follow-Up With Your Future Client

I am going to keep this blog post brief. In fact, I will concentrate on one feel-good idea: do some follow-up touching.

Do The Client Follow-Up

No, it isn’t a 1960’s James Brown song. Follow-up means stay in touch with past clients, referrals that have not signed up yet and clients that you’ve pitched and did not win.

Need three reasons to have a follow-up plan?

  1. Ex-clients can recircle to become a new client. I had a casino client that did just that after a couple of years of their wandering in the agency forest. It took them a while to re-realize just how wonderful my agency was.
  2. Your ex CMO, the one that left your account in the lurch, will resurface someday at a new client organization that will want you.
  3. Client prospects that did not choose you in a pitch will eventually tire of the agency they selected and might eventually realize that they want your brilliance. After a pitch loss, do not say, “oh, they didn’t select us – boo hoo” and crawl into a hole. Nope, stay in touch. After all, that client once put you on their new agency shortlist.

Here is a how-to from my book: The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book. Win More Pitches. (LOL, given the book’s sales figures, there is a good chance your competition has already read the book. Go buy it).

The Post Pitch Follow-Up

You’ve busted your ass to get into and then pitch the new client. Sorry, you did not win. Now what?

Chances are good that it has been at least a couple of months since the client or consultant first made contact. This major league pitch might have included an RFI, RFP, a kick-off meeting, phone calls, questions, and your own special strategies designed to make you look smart, passionate and well, you fill in the blanks of what you did ahead of the big presentation.

After the presentation, you graciously handed over your leave behind, smiled, hugged, and walked out. Now what? Really, now what? You could sit by the phone like a 1950’s ingénue on a Friday night waiting for that call or be a bit more aggressive. But, how aggressive? And how long should you take before you make contact? How passionate do you want to look – because there can be a fine line between looking passionate and, well, desperate.

As I have said before: every pitch lives in its own little world and has its own pace. Some clients recognize that you are anxious, there is a need for speed, and that they should get back to you quickly. Some are not so caring. Or worse, after going through the pitch process, they may be revaluating their initial business objectives and requirements. Need more maybes?

Maybe the client is now wondering about what type of agency they really need. Do they want a huge agency or a specialist? Maybe a decision maker just went out of mobile range to climb K2 for three weeks. Or, maybe, just maybe, the budget has shrunk.

Or, bam! After getting to know a few new agencies, they’ve realized that they really love the incumbent agency.

Lots of maybes. But fear of follow-up? Get over it. I mean, get over over-thinking. The deal is that you have no choice but to follow-up. You have to look like you care, a lot. Clients, good clients, respect passion. Here are my 3 follow-up rules.

  1. Do it. Find the balance between looking very interested in working with the client and being respectful of their time. Being a nuisance does not work. Acting interested does. The other agencies will follow-up. Just do your own follow-up scenario smarter.
  2. Find a value-add reason to follow-up. Chances are good that the client asked a question in the meeting that could be the basis for a follow-up call. It is quite possible that you didn’t have the time during the presentation to answer a question in detail, or you might have some new related research to impart. Maybe you held back some information, and it’s now time for your pre-planned reveal.
  3. Be you. Maintain the personality you used in the presentation. Be genuine, professional, and if you can, add some humor if appropriate.

A Pitch Planning Tip:

Don’t wait till after the meeting to create a follow-up plan. Think ahead and have a follow-up insight or document at the ready. Consider embedding a preplanned reason to follow-up in your presentation. Let the client know that you will be sending them something and get it to them fast. Get it in their head that you are on the ball and are proactive.

Give me a call. Let’s discuss your last or future pitch.

How To Outsource Linkedin Business Development

Is It Time To Outsource Your Advertising Agency’s LinkedIn Marketing?

Advertising agencies often ask me if I can help them outsource their business development operations. This happens with such frequency that I thought I’d occasionally point to a quality third-party resource. Here is a company that can help you outsource your Linkedin marketing.

Lead Cookie & Linkedin Leads

I recently spoke with Isaac Marsh of Lead Cookie which bills itself on its website as…

Lead Cookie is a done-for-you LinkedIn Lead Generation service. We manage your profile for you and help you generate leads on LinkedIn.

We manage your Linkedin profile and start warm conversations between you and your ideal customers.

On average our customers book 3-8 qualified calls per month as a result of our service.

Simply put, Lead Cookie provides an outreach service that can manage your advertising agency’s LinkedIn marketing program. The service is designed to make new-targeted contacts for your agency that result in quality leads.

How It Works

A Lead Cookie strategist works with you to hone your positioning and messaging and helps you create customized messaging.

Lead Cookie manages your LinkedIn profile and sends out connection requests to your targeted prospective clients.

They manage the connection, make an intelligent introduction and ask to connect. This leads to asking for a meeting, and if necessary, will create a drip sales sequence to keep the conversation moving along.

Goal: hand off the connection, the new business lead, to the advertising agency.

For a more detailed explanation of Lead Cookie’s system, head over to its founder’s how-to market B2B business on Linkedin guide.

I recommend that you also explore Lead Cookie’s resources page (you will get much smarter about how to use LinkedIn as a prospecting tool even before you give Lead Cookie a call).

If you are wondering if I have a business relationship with Lead Cookie, I do not. But, I have a goal of helping agencies grow and find ways to manage the hard task of 24/7 business development.

Why Do This? Sorry, Your Advertising Agency Will Get Fired.

Many advertising agencies tell me that they are too busy to run a 24/7 business development program. Excuses include:

We are too busy with current clients

We really do not have a plan;

We are poor at execution

We just let our biz dev director go

It is very difficult to keep up with the ongoing changes in social media platforms

Sorry guys, there is absolutely no good reason, or excuse, for not to running an active business development program.

I wrote about the need for business development in this article: Your Advertising Agency Will get Fired.

Simply put, clients will walk out the back door. You need new ones to continuously run in the front door.

Outsourcing some of your biz dev work to a quality provider makes sense.

Find the right resource and give it a go. Why not start here: outsource Linkedin marketing.

Here Is A Self-Serving Message:

Speaking of outsourcing. Give me a shout and we can discuss your agency’s business development program. I’ll give you a smart idea in 15 minutes. I have worked with over one hundred agencies to help them grow and prosper and smile. Take me up on my Vito Corleone offer.