Ad Agency New Business: A Philosophy for Success


Many marketing firms recount costly war stories associated with failed new business efforts. Tales from the dark side frequently include statements like: “The effort never gained traction.” or “ The opportunities generated weren’t properly qualified." or most frequently, “Our business development person just didn’t deliver.".

If any of this sounds familiar, ask yourself: Does my agency view new business as a cost or as an investment?  The answer may well determine your firm’s potential for success.

Typically, agencies that view business development as a cost, assign small expenditures to project-oriented efforts designed to alleviate short-term problems. Agencies that believe business development is an investment, budget for it annually in a programmatic manner and tie it to longer-term development plans. The most successful link business development to human resources, technology and operational efforts.

For those who view it as an investment, growing their marketing firm requires the adoption of a systematic program designed to build professional relationships with very select individuals and organizations. It also necessitates the development and maintenance of a relevant point-of-view. Allocating resources to maintain energetic contact with your prospect universe through the delivery of insightful information via a combination of inbound and outbound mechanisms forms the basis of your program investment.

Now, whom do you hire? Paramount to creating and funding a strong program is finding the right person or resource* to execute it. Putting the wrong person (backed by costly resources) in your new business driver’s seat can quickly lead to failure and set your agency back years.

Ensure success by hiring a candidate who exemplifies the following personal traits:

Archetype: Is your candidate a hunter? You will know a hunter when you see one. This type thrives on pursuit and focuses relentlessly on the prize. Typically, an extrovert with a passion for perfection, this individual feeds off the possibility of what’s next.

Persistent: Does your candidate have what it takes over the long term? Short-term opportunities are great, however, many new account wins take time. Your new biz rep must possess the ability to continue a prospective conversation without losing focus or confidence - sometimes for years.

Independent but Team-Oriented: Is your candidate a self-starter? While agency new business should never be an island, it does require long periods of solitary, detail work culminating in a high stakes team effort. The ability to work both alone and as a member of a team is a critical attribute.

Resilient: Is your candidate an optimist? While an opportunity lost can be unnerving, derailing your program would be far worse. The ability to manage defeat by adjusting and moving on is a requirement for this position.

Energetic: Does your candidate have stamina? Tracking hundreds of prospects at various stages of evolution is quite a task. Your biz dev rep must be someone who wakes up every day eager for the challenge ahead.

Process-Oriented: Is your candidate efficient? Does this individual naturally develop systems, procedures and timelines to go about the business of their day? The ability to multi-task in a highly detailed manner (on a very large scale) is essential.

Make no mistake. Adopting a successful, business development program requires a commitment and a very long view. It takes the resources, planning and staffing of some of your best accounts. While the costs are serious, the alternative approaches and outcomes might be more than your agency can afford.

*Note: If hiring an outsource firm, be sure to meet the individual responsible for your business. While front men and women can be appealing, you must look behind the curtain to ascertain the true experience and abilities of the person driving your program forward.