Your Advertising Agency Will Get Fired


One of the tenets of my business development system is the understanding that your advertising agency will get fired by virtually every one of your project work and AOR clients. This means that you better be out there finding your next set of clients because your current clients will sooner or later walk out the back door.

To get even more painful, we all need to get over the disastrous track record of agencies that wait till they get fired to get fired up about running a new business/sales program. The standard, awful, message is that the agency was too busy working on its current clients to run a solid business development program. You know, the horrible saying… “we are like the shoemaker who can’t make shoes for his kids.”

I’ve written in the past about why advertising agencies get fired – right here. This post expands on that review. But first, here is a key finding I wrote about a couple of years ago:

Why do advertising and digital agencies get hired and fired? A key reason for getting fired (other than the new Marketing Director’s need to look active; and an agency’s failure to keep up with the rapid pace of change) is very often the very same reason clients hire agencies in the first place…

It has a lot to do with interpersonal chemistry according to Darren Woolley of Australia’s TrinityP3, a leading global advertising agency search consultant and client advisor. I love this point: “Its all about the relationship.”

Why You Will Be Fired & How To Stop It

There has been a bunch of research about the primary reasons that clients fire agencies. While getting fired is somewhat inevitable, I think that agency management must be very cognizant of the reasons and manage their agency and staff accordingly.

The smartest, most aware agencies get fired less frequently. 

Let’s walk through the reasons you will get fired. I’ll be brief because I believe that most of these can be managed down without a huge effort.

It’s Much About KPI’s and Return On Investment

I counsel all of my agency clients that return on investment, the client’s investment in their marketing programs must yield a positive and calculated sales return on every dollar they spend. Obvious, right? That said, it is amazing to see how many advertising agencies cannot calculate ROI based on a client’s KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). Some agencies do not even ask about key performance metrics. Read More »

3 Thoughts On Advertising

Actually 4 Thoughts On Advertising

Here are some thoughts on advertising driven by four recent reads.

What If There Was No Advertising?

Imagine a world where all advertising was erased from the environment. That means no more escalator, or bathroom stall ads; no more behavioral retargeting; movies and tv shows without commercials (oh, that’s Netflix); no outdoor boards on Montana highways, and on. Hard to visualize? Maybe (um not), to help, here is a series of “ads” that have been erased. Check out Jorge Pérez Higuera’s photo series Public Spaces

Back to reality.

But, First The Good Old Days & ROI

I am having a drink tonight in my town San Miguel de Allende with Michael Farmer whose book, “Madison Avenue Manslaughter: An Inside View of Fee-Cutting Clients, Profit-Hungry Owners and Declining Ad Agencies” is the most informative and insightful book on the reasons for the demise of the good old days of advertising. Michael covers the advertising world from the high-profit Mad Men days to where we are today (much less-profit). Today’s ad world is strapped by client jitters, the quest for low-cost advertising services and way too many advertising platforms that equal an ever-increasing workload.

I suggest you buy the book and listen to Michael’s interview with Jack Meyer’s on MediaVillage. From the interview:

Jack Meyers: Last week we talked about the deterioration in agency-client relationships — fee cuts, shorter relationships, in-house agencies, etc.  You said that agencies were downsizing and liquidating their capabilities — becoming less capable of helping their clients solve “brand growth problems.”  You predicted that this would lead to financial problems for the holding companies. This did not paint a very optimistic picture of the industry.  Where do you think things are headed?

Michael Farmer:  There’s a difference between where things are probably headed and where they could be headed.  In a funny way, I’m still optimistic about the potential for a turnaround in the industry.  As long as advertisers have performance problems — stagnant brand performance, for instance — there are attractive opportunities for problem-solving partners.  The question today is whether the current leaders of advertising agencies and holding companies will transform their operations and help them become the problem-solvers that their clients need.

We will not return to the good old days of 15% commissions on large TV, print and radio buys. Today we are paid by the hour and seem to need to run Instagram at a 24/7 pace.

However, it does not have to be gloom and doom. As I have written about over the past few years and council my agency clients… we need to, as Michael says, address the core need of our clients and that is sales growth – not mindless Instagram posts. In the case of 2019’s ability to track much of what we do, that means addressing Return On Investment. Yes, you better be creative art directors, media planners and database experts. But, you have to be able to recognize sales opportunities, have the time to find solutions and deliver ROI.

Advertising Is Back! Y’all. I Hope.

From a Business Insider article.

2017 was a trying time for ad agencies, with issues ranging from transparency and brand safety concerns to the looming threat of consulting firms coming to a head last year.

But the prospects for the advertising industry look a lot brighter in 2018, according to new research issued by UBS.

The investment bank surveyed 350 global marketing executives and 500 US CFOs and has predicted that ad agencies will bounce back in 2018, buoyed by a growth of 4-5% in global advertising spend.

The recovery in 2018 will be driven by a number of factors, UBS analysts said, including large advertisers increasing the scope of work with creative agencies and big sporting and political events driving increasing spend on brand media.

This is particularly interesting, as it runs counter to the trend of advertisers doubling down on direct advertising in recent years, where they have prioritized marketing strategies that drive measurable results.

Read More »

Advertising Agencies, Nerds And Digital Marketing

NerdThis is a post about advertising agencies and the ongoing move to digital marketing and as a result, the need for more nerds. In this case, I mean a single-minded person that is highly focused on a technical field, like mobile advertising; programmatic media, database marketing or, well you get it. Stick with me on this one.

There is some personal history here and yes, the name dropping is important. I am trying to make a point and can use all the help I can get.


I “discovered” digital marketing in 1994 when I came home to the U.S.A. from Saatchi London where no one had a computer on their desk. I returned to work as Business Development Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising New York and as it turned out, it was my 16th and last year at the agency.

aol-america-online-welcome-screen-main-menuMy eventual move out of advertising was stimulated by my discovery of and fascination with the new world of interactivity via CD-ROMs and a life-changing conversation I had with Ted Leonsis who, at that time ran Florida’s Redgate Communications. Redgate was very early digital agency founded in 1987. I found Ted through the 4A’s Michael Donahue another early digerati (you could say this word then without cringing). Using my Saatchi credential, I met with Ted and he told me two very interesting things. One, his company had just been bought by America Online and two, this advice,

“Get the hell out of advertising, it is going to die. Move into digital.”

Well, after the meeting I did two things – one a mistake and the other, the smart one: I listened.

The mistake was that I didn’t buy America Online stock (its stock rose 600 percent in 1998). Had I, I might be sorta near (well, kinda near) where Ted wound up. Today, he is the owner of Washington D.C.’s Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Read More »

A New Business Plan For An Advertising Agency

10/12/10: Twas Time For A New Business Plan

Before I sold my Portland agency, I spent some time thinking through what a new, an evolutionary, a smarter, competitive and higher profit advertising agency business plan might look like. Simply put, how could we make more money? This is what I was what I was thinking 8 years ago.

I think that my thought process might help you think hard about your agency’s business plan.

A bit of background. Citrus was a successful Northwest agency. We had offices in Portland and Bend, Oregon. Our clients included Nike (we were an AOR agency for major league baseball and college sports); Harrahs; Wildhorse (a large Oregon casino); the Montana Lottery; LegalZoom; a couple of major west coast banks and Providence Health and Services (a multi-state hospital and healthcare company) and a range of leisure accounts.


I bought the majority share of Oregon’s full-service advertising agency Ralston Group in 2002. I had just left being CEO of ActiveBuddy, a serious natural language company that proceeded Siri and Alexa. It was time for me to get out of New York and get some fresh air. Over the course of the next 8 years, we bought Portland’s Citrus, renamed the agency and grew our account base across the USA.

However, by 2008, after the horrible recession, clients driving down profits, the increase of workload from digital and social media, the increasing cost of running a marketing company (ala healthcare costs), I decided that we had to either reinvent the agency or I’d move on.

The Birth Of Portland

Ok, what should we do? I needed to reinvent the agency via a new advertising agency business plan to be more competitive; leaner; more nimble; lower cost; and NEW. As in, new and improved to get the attention of more of the high-profit clients we wanted.

Here is the document, the 2010 think-piece that I used to help guide me. I hope you find it, um, maybe inspiring.

My 2010 Plan – A New Agency Model: Food-For-Thought For Your Agency

Citrus needs to change.

The agency industry (especially full-service agencies) knows it must explore new business models. The old 15% commission + 16.5% mark-up is so long gone. Plus, we know that finding a way for clients to pay up for “big ideas” is difficult.

Within this context, clients are confronted by fast-paced changes, are skittish and are understaffed. Media options have grown exponentially, clients are asking for program metrics, they need smart digital solutions, can’t figure out how to manage integration and do not fully understand social marketing. They still want big ideas but want all of this for less. All of this is compounded by the view that “agencies” are costly and inefficient. Many prospects don’t even want to take our calls.

To further compound the issues, a sea of agency industry sameness and lack of clear brand and service differentiation confronts us. It is very difficult for small full-service agencies to stand out from the crowd. Defining a unique and focused agency brand for a non-specialist agency isn’t easy.

Citrus shares these issues and at present does not have a clear and compelling brand story. We have our “Move” positioning but we need to express this beyond just words.

There must be a new way.

An idea…Move to: Small + Smart.

In my mind, a Small + Smart Citrus is the smartest customized agency in the world.

Read More »

Nootropics, Brain Food For Advertising

Nootropics And Advertising


I originally wrote this 18 months ago and promised an update. I did not receive enough benefit – as in, making me enough of a smarter boy to merit ingesting the nootropics and the cost. It would have been nice to tell you that I became Bradley Cooper.

Back to the original blog post:

Remember the movie Limitless and the little clear pill NZT that turned Bradley Cooper into a raging genius? He had entered the new world of nootropics. Read on.

Today is Day One of my Nootrobox test. My “NZT” test. Nootrobox is a nootropics or “smart drugs” company. I hear you saying, “Nootropics?” Here’s the Wiki definition…

Nootropics (pronunciation: noh-ə-TROP-iks)—also called smart drugs and cognitive enhancers—are drugs, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals.

And, here is the description from Nootrobox, the VC-funded company that is supplying me with my three-pill set. Read More »