More Women Pursue New Business for Ad Agencies

3 percent conference ad agency new business

Some sources say that upwards to 75% of agency new business directors they talk to are women. 

New business directors, who often carry the title of senior vice president, are responsible for marketing their agencies to prospective clients. Their tasks range from calling on companies for the opportunity to present an agency’s credentials, to positioning an agency and to leading a pitch team to win an account in a specific business category. In the past, as with many executive level advertising agency positions, this position had been mainly held by men.

Women are now filling one of the more critical roles in agency management: the pursuit of new business.

Diane Fannon oversees new business development for one of the largest independent advertising agencies in the country, The Richards Group.

Ad agency executives and consultants who assist companies in finding agencies say that half or more of agency new business directors are women. The trend is significant, these people say, because the new business position may be a possible path to agency leadership, which has been nearly closed to women.

Who is fueling the movement to include more women in new business and the Agency C-Suite?

Kat Gordon had worked 20 years as a Copywriter/Creative Director. She saw firsthand how women were left out of leading roles in agency pitches, presentations and new business acquisitions.  For instance, one of the agencies she worked with pitched the Saab car account. The pitch team was made up of 16 men and one woman. They didn’t get the business. This is typical for a lot of agencies. They add a token female or two to their mix or at least match-up gender to those attending from the client-side.

Kat became an agency owner that specialized in marketing to women, she is much more aware of the power of women who make up to 85% of all brand purchases.

There are only three consumer categories where men dominate purchases, yet agencies still talk about ‘women’s accounts’ as mops and makeup. The truth is that women are the superset, not the subset, and the rate at which women are amassing wealth and exerting influence is unprecedented. Yet, the work that is supposed to motivate them springs almost entirely from a male perspective. The advertising business is a $33 billion industry. Misunderstanding female consumers, from a business perspective, is sheer lunacy.

Gordon began researching the many reasons why 97% of Creative Directors are men and only 3% are women. 

Most of the issues start with a two-word phrase: lack of. Lack of support for motherhood, lack of mentorship, lack of awareness that femaleness is an asset to connecting to the consumer marketplace today, lack of celebration of female work due to gender bias of award juries, lack of women negotiating their first agency salary and every one thereafter.

Kat wanted to address this issue and on September 27, 2012, the 3% Conference was launched with over 30 agencies in attendance. It blossomed into a 2-day, 400-person event in San Francisco. She has created a vibrant online community on multiple social platforms and a business blog to support the crusade.

The 3% Conference teaches men and women in agencies and on the client side how to address these issues in new ways and offers something that has been sorely lacking for female creatives: a sense of community.

 Agencies should give strong consideration to having women take the lead of their new business program.

Rainmakers, predominately male, who were great at their trade in the past are struggling today. The new business environment that includes technology, networking and social networks is turning out to be an environment that is well suited for women.

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. As a woman leading business development, I would suggest that my gender’s attraction to BizDev is not seen as a path to higher positions (though that’s a benefit), but that our socialization has given us some strong skills that help us build relationships in which prospects feel a connection, and sense of trust. Couple good people skills with strategic thinking to see opportunities, the discipline to manage the process and the ability to multi-task the needs of many prospects, and you have a winner (no matter what the gender).

    Thanks Michael and company, for keeping BizDev top of mind for many of us.

  2. Sarah,

    Thank you for your comments. Our industry has not done a good job promoting women in places of leadership. Hopefully that will change. When 97% of all creative directors are men and only 3% women, there is a huge disparity. Especially considering 85% of all brand purchases are made by women.

  3. Michael, I’d say from the UK perspective that there are some women doing the Biz Dev role – but far more take on the “Client Services” SVP (or equivalent usually Director in the UK). And they do well at it because of what Sarah Results Smith says above – we socialise well, we listen and we are able to juggle several tasks at once.

  4. Thanks for your UK insights Rebecca!

  5. I would suggest that my gender’s attraction to BizDev is not seen as a path to higher positions (though that’s a benefit), but that our socialization has given us some strong skills that help us build relationships in which prospects feel a connection, and sense of trust.

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