Through Social Media an Ad Agency Drives a Stake in the Ground

The advertising industry is changing rapidly. Some predict that we will see more changes in the next five years than we have the previous fifty. It is a time for the specialist not the generalist.  The more profitable agencies by far will be the ones who have a strong focus and positioning.

Small-to mid-size ad agencies should do for themselves what they do for their clients: develop a clear positioning that builds on the agency’s distinctive strengths, differentiates the agency from its competitors, and makes the agency powerfully appealing to prospective clients.

A good example of an agency that has driven a stake in the ground for its branding/positioning is the SONNHALTER agency, Cleveland, Ohio.

This B to B agency used social media to drive an initial stake in the ground to define who they are, what is their point of differentiation and appeal. Given their target audience, companies that want to reach professional tradesmen, plumbers, electricians, contractors,  I would have said this was the least likely agency to use social media in this way. Their CEO, John Sonnhalter, who founded the agency 33 years ago, is also an unlikely candidate to be leading with new media. John happens to be a young 62 years of age and writes the agency blog, has a strong presence on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

This is how his agency previously described itself:

SONNHALTER is a business-to-business marketing communications firm which creates custom marketing programs powered by big ideas.

  • We deliver the highest-level creative product, where “good enough” is never an option.
  • Utilizing a collaborative process, we strive to develop the most effective marketing communications plan which allows our clients to grow their brands and maintain their leadership position.
  • Our goal is to transcend the traditional client/agency relationship by becoming an extension of the client’s marketing department. We do this by always exceeding their expectations, constantly serving up proactive ideas, understanding their business as well as their customers and increasing their overall quality of marketing.
  • We simply deliver more.

Sound familiar? There is nothing differentiating or compelling when agencies try to be all things to all prospective clients. When they try to appeal to everyone, they usually appeal to no one.

SONNHALTER has a new message and website. John Sonnhalter, founder and CEO writes:

Our site reflects our specialty B to T ( Business to Tradesmen). When we were going through the exercise to develop a blog we had to define a niche in order to attract the right people. After looking at our business model and the types of clients we served it became quite clear where we had to be and we called our blog Tradesmen Insights. When we were updating our own branding efforts we felt that we had to draw a line in the sand to make us stand out from all the other B to B agencies. We’re not for everyone but if you’re looking to go after the Professional Tradesman it should be clear we’re the guys you should be talking to.”

Most small-to mid-size agencies are reluctant to do what SONNHALTER has done.  They are afraid of missing a new business opportunity if they are to narrowly focused.

That’s what I love about Social media for ad agency new business. It allows a way to more easily drive an initial stake in the ground and define the agency’s best target audience. Also, it allows more fully engage with a particular target audience, and learn first hand:

  • What is and what isn’t appealing to them
  • What their marketing challenges are
  • How to communicate from benefits to our prospective audience instead of  touting agency capabilities
  • How to build an online community of prospective clients for inbound lead generation

SONNHALTER didn’t start its positioning process by redesigning their website. They first became “socially engaged” with their best target audience. That engagement honed their positioning and gave them the confidence to drive their stake in the ground to clearly define who they are.

Connect with John Sonnhalter:


Blog: Tradesmen Insights

Twitter: @johnsonnhalter

Social Media impacts ad agency new business …


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. having a good usp has always been important for any business, social media is just another channel for reaching prospects / customers

  2. Sad but the fact is, ad agencies haven’t practiced what they’ve preached to their clients regarding their own positioning. Social media is another channel for reaching prospects but it is also a great agency branding tool.

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