Ad Agency CEOs Are Going Back to School for New Business

There are two questions that senior agency executives are going to have to answer: When will you make the decision to go back to school and how will you keep up?

This post is written primarily for ad agency CEOs. I already had great empathy for the pressures you were under, but now you are being swamped with more from the current economic crisis and the tsunami impact social media is having upon the advertising industry.

But, there’s no way around it, ad agency CEOs will have to go back to school.  The big question becomes, “How will you keep up?”

If you don’t know who Jeremiah Owyang is you should. He is a Web Strategist, an Analyst for Forrester Research, an early adopter and leader in social media and author of the blog Web Strategy by Jeremiah.  I thought I was burning the candles at both ends until I read this in one of Jeremiah’s recent posts where he said that he is often working by 3 am:

“How do I Keep Up? This is one of the most common questions I get from folks, or a variant: “Do you sleep?” or “Do you have a family?”

I can answer succinctly: “I don’t, in shifts, and yes… I think.”

I’ve dedicated my life to how the web helps companies connect with customers, it’s something I knew I wanted to do for many years, I’m lucky I fell into my passion. It comes with costs however, I’m out of shape, stressed, I don’t sleep well, and my blood pressure is up.

I didn’t get to bed last night until after midnight and I was up reading and writing by 5 am, I thought I my schedule was rigorous until I read that Jeremiah was up 2 hours earlier than me!

We are in the midst of a communication’s revolution. With the economy in the tank and the explosive popularity of social media, we’ve also been hit by the “perfect storm.” The advertising industry is in a state of flux. Our business model is being turned upside down and inside out. The way we acquire new business is completely changing. Things are changing so rapidly. We haven’t made it through the first big wave and hear rumblings that mobile media will explode in 2010.

Brian Solis, Principal of FutureWork, an award winning PR and New Media agency is one of those emerging new leaders wrote, “Media is experiencing a textbook Darwinian definition of survival of the fittest … Media will re-emerge as a more dynamic, nimble, and innovative medium.

Mainstay brands will persevere, but the cost of their education to learn how to compete for the future will be great. Some will wait until it’s too late only to awaken to a daunting challenge of creating and earning presence and relevance in a new economy.

 How are you as an agency principal going to lead your agency and clients if you don’t find a way to keep up?

John Sonnhalter is CEO of the SONNHALTER Agency in Cleveland. A Top 100 B-to-B agency whose clients target audience are professional tradesmen in construction, industrial and MRO markets. John says, “All my clients are talking about is social media, blogging and Twittering. They are looking to me for leadership. The only way to do that was to experience it for myself.”  So, at 60 John has become a prolific writer. He’s created his own blog, Tradesmen Insights. You can also follow John on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook or LinkedIn.

John explained to his wife that he was about to go through an intensive learning period. Going back to school while running an agency. The last time I talked with John, he and his wife were still together!

I could give you dozens of examples of other agencies that are completely revamping and retooling. So the good thing is, you are not alone, we’re all back in school. 

I thought you might enjoy this short interview of Jeremiah Owyang to learn more how he is keeping up being an analyst over the fastest moving industry in business.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be sharing practical tips for How to Keep Up, particularly with agency new business through social media. You’re invited to share your tips and experiences as well.


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. Hi Michael — Just wanted to let you know that while I have interviewed Jeremiah and written about him, that’s not me in the video.


    Mary Duan

  2. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

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