Social Media and the Changing Role of Ad Agency Rainmakers

changing roles of agency rainmakers

The Great Recession, the rise of social media, the rapid advance of technology and digital, plus the maturing of Millennials, has significantly impacted those with the responsibility of business development.

There are not a whole lot of people who have done this job in the past who know how to do it well now, Avi Dan, a former new business executive at Euro RSCG, Berlin Cameron United and Saatchi who’s now president of Darling in New York.

An agency’s new business directors’ position is about as short lived as a typical CMO.  It’s be described as the most dangerous job in advertising.

Andrew McMains, a Senior Editor (Agencies) for Adweek, describes the complexities of the position and how hard it is to fill this postion in his article, “Changing Role of Rainmakers.” Here are some of the highlights from along with my personal insights:

Agency leaders say that the job has become more complex and therefore more difficult to cast. As a result, searches for new business talent takes longer.

“It’s just such a hard position to fill, said Michael Zuna, New York managing director at Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi, whose new CMO, Benjamin Bittman, started last week. “The Mad Men-rainmaker days — that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s a tough job.”

Why? These are some of the reasons given:

  • Because client reviews in recent years have generally become more complicated, given the expanding marketing needs of clients
  • The more common presence of search consultants
  • RFP-driven processes
  • Participation of procurement executives
  • Agencies generally are reinventing themselves for the digital age and how they market that to prospective clients and consultants has changed

The examples given tend to be major shops, such as JWT, WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather and Publicis Groupe, but new business has changed dramatically for the small to midsize agencies as well.

Do you have the right talent leading your agency’s new business?

“With over 50% of client relationships lasting less than two years and the average CMO tenure 27 months, the role of new business at our agencies is more important and a bigger focus than ever,” Noelle Weaver, Advertising Age’s Small Agency Diary.

Having a working knowledge of social media isn’t even an option any longer for an agency’s new business director. Social media is having a big impact on how agency’s promote themselves and how they are found online by their prospective client audiences.

Here are 5 ways social media impacts ad agency new business:

  1. A paradigm shift for how new business is acquired. According to a recent CMO survey, 80% of decision makers say they found the vendor, not the other way around. Instead of chasing new business, it’s now more important to be found.
  2. SEO is now a critical part of new business strategy. According to Marketing Sherpa, 80-90% of business to business transactions begin with a search on the web.
  3. A niche blog for new business is a necessary component for marketing your agency. As necessary as it was for an agency to have a Website, it is now as relevant for them to have a blog. It becomes the gateway to the agency and puts a face to it. People want to work with other people, that they know, trust and like.
  4. The growth of new media mandates agencies participation. The battle for new business has moved online.
  5. Social media is now mainstream, your agency’s credibility is suspect if it’s just talking the talk without walking the walk.

So before hiring someone responsible for your agency’s new business efforts, in addition to the questions regarding their new business expertise, think about asking some additional questions like these. How they answer will tell you what they really know about social media.

  • Are you active in social media? How many people are you connected with?
  • How long have you been engaged in social media channels?
  • Which social media networks do you personally use and which of them do you specialize in?
  • How can social media marketing help create new business opportunities for my agency?
  • What social media marketing tools do you use and recommend?
  • How well do you understand SEO? What SEO strategies and tactics have you used?
  • What are some of the best practices for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest?
  • How do you measure social media to gauge your ROI?
  • Who are your social media influencers?

What you are looking for is participation, experience and credibility in social media.

Take the time to read Andrew McMains’ article, “Changing Role of Rainmakers”.

Additional articles that may be of interest:

photo credit: CarSpotter via photopin cc

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. I’m the president of a marketing agency (marketing research) and I’ll turn 62 this year. I like and use LinkedIn every day, write a blog for our healthcare brand, and read a lot of material piped directly to me from online sources. But I question what may be an underlying premise to your piece: that fluency in the social media surpasses the ability to build, nurture, and win relationships with prospective clients–in the traditional way–of meeting with them face-to-face, winning their trust, and demonstrating through pitches, proposals, and references that our team should be their team.

  2. Dan,

    Fluency in social media dosen’t surpass networking in the traditional way, it enhances it.

    I didn’t mean to imply that social media surpasses ones ability to build, nurture and win relationship with prospective clients. Those skills are important. I do believe that social media takes our networking ability to another level and greatly enhances it. Face-to-face meetings are enhanced and more fruitful following intial engagement through social. Social media provides and efficient means for networking communications which allows us to communicate with more people over greater distances than ever before.

    I’m not far behind you. I’m 52.

  3. As a new business developer, social media is a welcome addition to my toolbox. It provides a robust ability to humanize our brand and get into some elusive markets. Another valuable benefit of using social media is that it’s proof of our companies ability to successfully change and experience the challenges a client may face when integrating social media into their own brand strategy. p.s. – I’m nearly 50.

  4. Michael,

    Invaluable insights for agency leaders. It should give them pause as they give the revolving door one more spin in the search for the business development “rainmaker” of myth and lore.

    The fact is, most agency business development has always been hard work. At least for me it has never been about glad-handing and golf. (I don’t even play golf.) Instead, it requires excellent business sense, broad knowledge with as many wells of deep expertise as possible, persistence in the face of second-guessing, flexibility and courage.

    Social media, as well as the other developments you cite, are the most recent wrinkles. The skills and characteristics I cited still are of great value. It’s just that today’s business development white knight has new dragons to slay.

    Neal Kielar
    Growth. Innovation. Culture

  5. Arkside Marketing says:

    You mean the FIVE ways… 😉
    (We still love your content!)

  6. Thank you! I made the correction.

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