50 Ad Agency New Business Tips

50 tips

The definition of insanity is, “repeating the same behavior expecting different results.”

If you are struggling for new business ideas, hopefully this list of  fifty  agency new business tips will provide some help.

  1. Select your agency’s best target audience. After you’ve selected them, narrow down one more tier. The point that makes you just a bit uncomfortable.
  2. The foundation of an ad agency’s new business process is figuring out its  unique point of difference. Agencies should do for themselves what they do for their clients by clearly defining what their brand stands for.
  3. Create an agency blog built around people. People don’t wont to converse with an entity. Allow your agency’s blog to live apart from the branding your website. Have a clear focus to make it a valuable resource for your target audience. In a recent agency survey 67% of agencies do not have a blog.
  4. Be very selective in the RFPs you choose to respond to. Automate and simplify your RFP processes. There is no need to reinvent the wheel for each response.
  5. SEO should be a major part of your agency’s new business strategegy. 80% of CMOs found their vendors in 2008. 80 to 90% of business transactions now begin from online search.
  6. You must create a strong appeal with your target audience. You can only discover what is appealing through an active engagement with them.
  7. Create an integrated social media agency new business strategy to generate inbound leads and fill your agency’s new business pipeline. It is also a powerful demonstration to prospective clients that your agency uses the tools that you recommend clients use.
  8. Consistency is key to your new business program. It must be a realistic plan that is easily maintained during your agency’s busiest times. Remember that consistency is more important than perfection. Don’t over create your own work.
  9. Empower the person charged with your agency’s new business. Their requests should be treated as though it comes from your most important client, because it is.
  10. Every agency is trying to convince clients that they can do it all. Clients don’t buy it. Be the agency that is known for doing one thing really well.
  11. Function is more important than design for your agency’s website. Keep your target audience in mind. Keep it clean and simple. Your website is your online brochure. Create it in a way that allows for timely updates of new work and agency info. Prominently display contact information and identify a “person” as the primary point of contact.
  12. Repurpose your agency blog’s content using Facebook and LinkedIn apps plus Twitter and even a email newsletter. By repurposing content, you greatly multiply the benefits of the time and effort that went into writing the post.
  13. Email newsletters rank highly as sources of information, beating out websites and blogs, and matching print media for importance so don’t neglect it. For consistency sake, simplify.
  14. Before a pitch, practice, practice practice.
  15. Don’t forget the importance of follow-through when it comes to new business leads. Over 80% of generated leads are never followed up on, are dropped, or are mishandled. What a waste!
  16. The future of your agency greatly depends upon having interactive capabilities. If your agency isn’t in a position to add these services internally find a strategic partner.
  17. Only accept pitches that you are committed to win.
  18. Unlevel the playing field. Rather than showing how well you compare with other agencies, go out of your way to show how you dont compare.
  19. Subscribe to a data base service that includes your best prospective clients. Most agencies don’t have the time and resources to create and maintain their own.
  20. If you make cold colds, call early or later in the day. Don’t leave voice mail messages, instead get to know a gatekeeper. Do your background homework and be prepared before making a call.
  21. Hire an outside source for a consistent PR effort, even if your agency has internal capabilities.
  22. Use sales management software with your database to keep track of your prospective client contacts and new business to-dos.
  23. Conduct your own online research using inexpensive surveys and polls for good PR, industry info and a positioning of expertise.
  24. In your new business communications lead with benefits instead of agency capabilities and credentials.
  25. Establish relationships first. People always want to work with people that they know, like and trust.
  26. Lead prospective client conversations with what is hot. Currently social media is hot. Be sure however, that you are agency is walking the walk if you are going to talk the talk.
  27. Stop making excuses, get the cobblers kids some new shoes! Make your agency, your most important client.
  28. To engage your prospective clients, why not interview them as part of your agency’s research.
  29. Create a sustainable ad agency new business plan with achievable objectives.
  30. Establish benchmarks and utilize metrics to track your new business programs effectiveness. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
  31. Write a book. Becoming an author of a book that relates to your agency’s target audience. Authoring a book puts you in a whole new league.
  32. Remember, when everyone zigs, zag. Direct mail can be effective when all of the other agencies abandon it for online tactics. Just remember to be consistent and don’t over create these mailable pieces.
  33. For ad agency new business your focus should be narrow and deep rather than wide and shallow.
  34. Be politely persistent – this is oftentimes key to reaching your prospect and sets you apart from your competition.
  35. Include a downloadable Agency Fact Sheet on your Website.
  36. When sending a sampling of work be respectful of your prospective client by not sending them boxes the size of Texas.
  37. Think like a prospective client would think. For instance, clients usually are not the risk takers that agencies are.
  38. When presenting act as though you have already been hired.
  39. A Good List – Your prospect list needs to be accurate and targeted to the correct decision-maker. It’s a waste to spend valuable time having to looking up accurate information and chasing correct contacts.
  40. Don’t try an emulate the large agencies for new business. Large agencies acquire new business differently than small-to mid-size shops.
  41. When you’re on the phone with your prospect or client, always specify a date and time for your next call.
  42. Agencies should ask intelligent questions and stimulate interesting dialogue during the search process – versus using the time to talk about themselves.
  43. Develop performance based compensation agreements that are a win-win for the agency and client. They can also generate initial conversations with prospective clients.
  44. Be prepared and proactive when there is a change in  a company’s leadership. 75% of new CEO’s conduct a review.
  45. Keep a detailed, up-to-date profile regarding the needs/habits/practices of each major search consultancy.
  46. Have the right person in place for new business. There are a whole lot of people who have done this job in the past who do not know how to do it well now. Things have changed that dramatically in the way new business is acquired.
  47. If your agency has a target audience to focus on then you can know the best conferences, seminars and trade shows to strategically have a presence. It may be worthwhile to pay for a sponsorship for a speaking slot. Make this a part of your overall written plan, deciding where you will participate well in advance so that you don’t waste agency time and money.
  48. Use an agency video to create an appeal to your target audience. Create a viral campaign to generate traffic.
  49. Create an internal referral program for new business. Reward those who provide leads that turn into new business for the agency.
  50. Take the time and celebrate your agency’s new business successes.

Please feel free to add some of your own tips to the list in the comment section below.

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. M. To your point: “#2 The foundation of an ad agency’s new business process is figuring out their unique point of difference. Agencies should do for themselves what they do for their clients: clearly define what their brand stands for.”

    I dare you to show me (us) 5 agencies that have a distinctive point of difference. I have been looking…

    Yes, there are the ones that can say we specialize in (digital or youth marketing.) But, do any, especially integrated/full-service agencies) have a distinctive brand positioning?

    Help!! Thanks.


  2. Peter,

    It’s a pathetic indictment against our industry that it is so difficult to find agencies that have a unique point of difference. I can give you some that I think are doing better than most at differentiating their agency’s from the rest.

    Holland + Holland advertising, Birmigham, AL.
    Their main point of differentiation, their President/Creative Director happens to be female. One of only 3% of creative directors in the country who is female. 97% of creative directors are male even though 85% of all brand purchases are made by women.

    Stephanie Holland started a blog to point out their unique point of differentiation. Their blog is the gateway, the intended first point of contact with their prospective client audience. It’s called: She-conomy, A Guys Guide to Marketing to Women, because their target audience is male advertisers who should be marketing to women.

    Holland + Holland was invited to participate in their first pitch for a national brand account because of their distinctive brand positioning.

    Here are some others I would invite you to check out that are developing their agency brand and positioning through a blo:

    Park & Company, http://www.parkhowell.com Environmental Marketing. Not only does the agency talk the environmental talk, they walk the walk.

    Locomotion Creative, http://www.bluecollarbranding.com Specializing in marketing to to the blue collar workers. Anything from boots, bowling balls to boats.

    Kleber & Associates, http://www.kleberandassociates.com Specializes in building the brands that build a better home, marketing home products.

    SONNHALTER agency, http://www.tradesmeninsights.com A B to B agency that specializes in marketing to the professional tradesmen.

    ESW Partners, http://www.weplayintraffic.com Specializing in retail branding and advertising.

  3. This is a great resource Michael. I’ve been using it as a checklist and it’s inspiring some great ideas. Thanks again for a great article.

  4. Mike,

    Glad you found this post to be of help and taking the time to comment. Very much appreciated.

  5. Hi. Couldn’t agree more. It would be nice to say we specilize in say, high tech B to B. BUT… We are a “full-service” agency with both B to B and B to C clients. For example, we have done POP, advertising, DM and design for Nike. Everything for a state fair client. Website and DM for a telecom. TV for another telecom.

    We are a mash-up. So, our “Positioning” has to more like the multitudes of folks that say they build brands, build relationships, are disruptive, make things simpler, etc. There are only say 4 core positioning that the integrated companies use.

    This is a bitch.


  6. Peter,

    There is a way to do it without “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Social media allows you to do it.

    Use a particular bait for a particular fish and fish away from the boat.

  7. OK. I hear you. Am I right in thinking that what you are saying is that an agency with a desire for more sports marketing clients does a dedicated sports blog; one with a hankering for a gaming client does a gaming blog? This in addition to the general agency site/blog?

  8. I would have an agency blog that targets a particular prospective target audience (ie. sports marketing, academic medical centers, marketing to women, etc). My opinion of a general agency blog, without a target audience is way to broad to generate any significant traffic or appeal. It’s as if they are using a general blog to be able to check it off their list. Yes, our agency has a blog, we’re one Twitter and Facebook. It’s more to it than that be effective and generate inbound leads. For small to midsize agencies I recommend a single blog, to a particular target audience that promotes relationships with the agency principal(s).

  9. Hi Mike,
    I just wanted to say Thank you to Ashley for bringing your post to my attention.
    If you don’t mind I would like (with your permission) to reproduce some or all of it in my blog. I post within a Marketing Magazine here in the UK.
    I will of course include credits and links.
    Many thanks for your consideration

  10. Hey, guys, just dialed into the conversation between you and Peter (hey, Peter!). And Michael, great blog and great list here.

    I have to ask, though: a blog per prospect? That’s a lot of work. Providing a regular stream of valuable content, rather than noise, award mentions, etc., seems unsustainable.

    I’d suggest social media breadcrumbs that can be found by Google. Video intro to the agency (on YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo). Industry thoughts by the CEO (on Knol, Scribd and SlideShare). Consumer trends by the lead planner (same). All with some (subtle or not-so-subtle) nod to your differentiation.

    Michael, you’re right, many agencies add a blog and Twitter feed just to look like they’re participating, and most of us are so swamped that taking time to generate valuable content is a low priority out of necessity. But I think several well-placed breadcrumbs will be easier to accomplish, more valuable in a end-user search, and will provide more bang for the buck than multiple blogs.

    Just my $0.02!

    – Eric

  11. Thank you Colin. Please feel free to reproduce the posts. I’m honored.

  12. Eric, thanks for your added thoughts. Very much appreciated.

    The copy should have read “prospective target audience” rather than a “blog per prospect”. I do strongly suggest identifying a target audience. It is very hard to create traffic and awareness without doing that first.

    I understand the breadcrumbs idea but what I want for me and my clients is to dominate in search and to have top of mind awareness. There’s just to much clutter to break through if you are not rifled focused.

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