Ad Agency CEOs: Social Media Philosophy and Tips for New Business


These are my personal observations, opinions, philosophy and tips from my experience working with social media honed and refined through my personal use and my work with over 50 ad agencies, PR firms, interactive and design shops over the past  three years.

My work with social media, from the beginning, has been from a new business perspective to grow inbound lead generation and personal networks.

I’ve tried to develop the kind of practical new businesses processes, incorporating social media,  that make sense within the environments of small to mid-sized agencies to overcome a commonality of problems such as:

  • No primary target audience
  • No point of differentiation
  • No strong appeal
  • No time left to create a “consistent” new business pipeline

My philosophy and personal opinions for using social media for ad agency new business:

  • Social media “teaches” agencies to promote themselves the way they should have been doing new business all along; to lead with benefits instead of agency capabilities and credentials.
  • Agencies need a differentiated and appealing position to a particular target audience (and no, great creative, proprietary processes and big ideas are not differentiators).
  • By enlarging the agency’s online footprint so it can be found by their best prospective clients that match up with the core strengths of the agency. 85% of CMOs found their vendors, not the other way around according to a CMO Study that was done in 2008.
  • Through social media, you build relationships, trust and a position of expertise. People always prefer to work with people that they know, trust and like. Social media is like working on steroids when it comes to enhancing your personal networking capabilities.
  • Even though social media is very time intensive in the beginning as you get up to speed, it becomes an extremely efficient use of time. Prospects have an opportunity to check under the hood, kick the tires, examine the upholstery within their own timetable. When the need arises and they are ready to do business, they will even initiate the call and that first conversation is going to be much further down the road than if you had made a  cold call. You skip the dating process and move on to the engagement, they are usually ready to do business.
  • The central platform for developing new business through social media is an agency blog. As important as it was for your agency to have a website it is becoming essential that your agency have a blog. Your agency’s website is becoming more like an online static brochure. A blog provides better SEO, fresh content rich content, is more personable, easier to update, provides a reason for your prospective clients to visit often. Content marketing can become the fuel for your agency’s new business program.

The following 10 tips are my suggestions for creating an ad agency new blog with the objective of building your social media capabilities, credibility as well as generating new business:

1.  I recommend that you do not incorporate your blog into your agency’s website

Most agency blogs look to corporate and less personal. If it is tied into your agency’s website and branding, it is immediately constricted and has no room to breathe and grow.  It’s okay for your agency’s Website to show its diversity of clients but a blog has to have a specific target audience.

The Website is your online brochure, the place where capabilities, credentials and the work reside. The blog will compel you to focus your agency more narrowly without the risk. You wont be throwing the baby out with the bath water. You will still generate a diversity of clients the way you’ve done it in the past, through personal referrals and recommendations. But the blog allows you to go fishing for the fish that is the best fit for your agency.

You can fish for a particular fish, by using an appealing bait and you fish away from the boat so that you don’t scare the fish away!

2. The agency’s blog should be reflective of its principals

You have to remember that social media is about people, not an entity. Don’t hide behind the vail of the agency, be the face for the agency. Again, people want to work with people they know, trust and like.

Your agency needs a face and for most small to mid-sized agencies, that face needs to be the agency principal(s).

From my experience working with prospective clients of, small to mid-sized agencies, they  always are interested in the chemistry with and oversight of the agency owners.  You are the visionary of the agency. The only way you are going to “get” social media is to participate. If it isn’t a priority for you it wont be for your agency.

Also, keep in mind that the agency  principals are the least likely to leave the agency.  If you lose a staff member who you’ve allowed to be the face of the agency through social media, you lose your equity and a significant portion of your audience.

3. Keep the design simple

The more people you involve in this process the more chance you will have a bottle neck that slows and most probably stops the process. I had one agency that took 5 months just to create the blog header. Another instance we couldn’t get a password from an IT guy because he didn’t want to email it and wasn’t available to talk by phone for 3 days!

Keep the people involved to a minimum. Remember that content is king. It is the fuel for the engine and don’t let anything inhibit generating the content.

I would suggest to start out utilizing WordPress, TypePad, Blogger blog platforms. My favorite is WordPress. You can create a blog in minutes rather than days, weeks or months. It will be a constantly evolving process and its important that you keep the process moving.

You can easily add pages, navigation, graphics without help from your IT department or much assistance from the creative staff. You should be able to have your blog up and running in a matter of minutes not hours, days, weeks or months. Keep the design clean, simple and easy to navigate. Stay focused on delivering the beneficial content.

The site needs to be more personal and less corporate. Let it reflect your personality. Keep from including your agencies logo. The agency should reside in the background. A great example of this philosophy, Edward Boches’s blog, creativity_unbound.

A side note: be sure that you own your domain. Instead of I own the domain That way I can change platforms without losing my traffic.

4. Make your target audience crystal clear

I write specifically to small to mid-size ad agency principals. She-conomy’s audience is male advertisers who should be marketing to women, Blue Collar Branding has a focus on marketers of manufacturers who want to reach blue collar workers. For your blog to be successful, keep you target audience in mind. You don’t want traffic for traffics sake, you want targeted traffic. This not only will help your SEO but also when you repurpose content through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

5. Before you begin to write learn to listen

Please remember this: reading fuels your writing. A great time saver for your reading is to use an RSS Reader. My suggestion would be to sign up for Google Reader. The key is to find sources for great content and have that content flow to you instead of you constantly having to search for it. Google Reader allows you to easily organize all of your online reading. It is very efficient.

Learn about social media etiquette, understand the importance of transparency and motive when using this emerging media but remember this one rule, there are no rules when it comes to social media. It is still evolving and we are pioneers within the space when it comes to marketing and advertising within this channel.

Chris Brogan was a huge help to me when I first started blogging. Here are a few of his articles that will be of help to you too: 10 Best Resource Articles for Ad Agency Blogs.

Watch your blogs analytics, it will help to fine tune the appeal for your writing. Always look to your readers, what they care about and respond to.

I’m 53 and if I can do this so can you. It’s my experience that is much easier taking a baby boomer through this process who has advertising and marketing experience rather than someone much younger who understands the new communications tools better. You can get up to speed overall much quicker.

Just don’t forget to bring your marketing mind and personal networking skills into this space. It’s just another communication channel.

6. Write Concisely

People read online differently than they do print. They usually don’t read word-for-word, they scan.

Nielsen Norman Group ’s research found that 79 percent of their test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.

This makes it a tough transition for copywriters who tend to be clever and fluff up the copy. Make your posts scannable by:

  • Being brief, give your readers the Readers Digest version, the executive summary. Do the work on their behalf
  • Dividing up copy into shorter paragraphs
  • Using bullet points or numbered lists
  • Using compelling subheads, quotations, bold, italics, etc,  so readers can scan for the information they need

Follow Hemingway’s example:

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

These are a couple of additional articles to help with your online writing:

7. Jump start traffic to your blog to accelerate lead generation

“Build it and they will come,” is not the answer to generate traffic to your agency’s blog. You must employ proactive tactics to create awareness and interest among prospective clients. The more traffic that you can generate, from among your target audience, the more inbound new business leads that will follow.

The strategic use of Twitter and eNewsletters can significantly bump up targeted traffic to your blog in a short period of time. I have consistently repurposed my blog’s content through Twitter and my eNewsletter.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking, if I’ve written it everyone must have read it.

Twitter has been the leading traffic generator to my blog for over 2 years. I have a schedule for repurposing my blog 500 + posts into two different Twitter accounts that regenerate this content 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to 35,000 + followers.

My eNewsletter is sent out every other week to a data base of over 10,000 email addresses. The copy for  the eNewsletter comes from my blog posts. It takes literally 10 to 15 minutes to create and send. That allows it to be maintainable even when I’m at my busiest.

Through these two tactics alone I can get 100% return on my time investment from writing my posts.

Here are some quick tips to help generate traffic to your blog:

  • Publish posts frequently. I would encourage you to post at least 3 times and preferably 5 times per week.
  • Write evergreen for your posts to have a long shelf life and a good return for your time investment.
  • Syndicate your new posts to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Add your blog link to your email signature.
  • Use a program like Social Oomph to repurpose your blogs older content through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Add  a Share Button at the bottom of your posts to allow them to be easily promoted by others to through their personal networks.
  • Provide subscription options for your blog such as through email or an RSS Feed such a Feedburner.
  • Identify key words you want to dominate in Google search and consistently use them in your posts titles.
  • One thing to not do that will impact traffic. Don’t sell! The moment you start to sell on your blog is when you will most likely LOSE your audience.
  • Don’t forget SEO. Identify the key words you want to dominate and consistently use them in your posts titles to accelerate your rankings in search engines such as Google.

8. Create resources for blog post ideas

Because I know who my target audience is, I have identified the categories that I’m going to write to, coming up with blog posts ideas is not difficult. From my experience, the narrower your focus the easier it is to find things to write about.

As I mentioned earlier, reading fuels writing. When I’m reading in the mornings, using Google Reader and scanning through hundreds of posts and articles I have filtered directly to me, I find a few that catch my eye. So that I don’t become distracted while reading, I use a tool called Press This, that will place the interesting posts/article title, URL link and synopsis into a draft posts in WordPress. When I write, I can go to my draft posts and work from there. The last time I checked I had over 240 draft posts that will eventually be published.

I also keep a Word document on my laptop’s desktop with a running list of ideas. Checking through the list I have over 100 possible topics, subjects, examples, tools, tips, current trends, resources, etc.

9. Be focused and consistent

It is as simple as planning the work and following the plan. I start out each day knowing who is my target audience. I write consistently to the stated purpose of my blog which is, “fueling ad agency new business through social media.”  I make irrelevant material relevant to my readers. I do the work on their behalf. I’m consistent with my timing and religiously follow a regular posting schedule of 5 posts per week.

I follow a daily ritual to keep me on track and consistent. I start every day with my strategic reading. My homepage in FireFox is my Google Reader. I open it before I will dare to open my first email because if I open the first email, my day is done.

I also enjoy getting a leg-up for the week by having 2 to 3 posts finished by Sunday afternoon of most weekends. These are preset to publish on different days of the week and I’ll write the other two posts before the week is up. My readers can be assured of finding fresh content.

That doesn’t mean that you are providing all original content for each post that you write. I usually recommend that one post per week be original content, other blog post are highlighting other information, resources, research that will be of help to your target audience.

10. To keep up you must have the right mindset

We will experience more change in our industry in the next five years than we have in the previous 50.

“How do you keep up?” That is one of the most common questions I’m asked from agency CEOs and executives when I conduct “New Business Through Social Media” workshops around the country.

One of the main reasons agency principals haven’t been as inclined to participate in social media is that they are already over extended with little time for anything additional in their professional or personal lives.

When they make time to participate and understand social, is when they’ve finally relented,  it isn’t going to go away. What will make the social media pill easier to swallow is the understanding the multiplicity of benefits it provides.

Social media only becomes a priority when you understand the multiplicity of benefits generated from it to you and your agency.

Before you brush off participation,  understand the multiplicity of benefits for your efforts through writing an agency blog:

  • I’ve helped to create over 50 agency blogs and have found it to be a great agency branding tool. A lot of agencies are in a perpetual state of branding their agency. A blog helps them to answer the tough questions and provides a way to be more narrowly focused without throwing the baby out with the bath water.
  • A blog is worth doing if only for this one big benefit, professional enrichment. It provides a system for you to stay ahead of the learning curve in communications technologies and in front of where your clients and prospective clients. A position of leadership. Thought leadership.
  • The interaction with your prospects is priceless. If you really want to know what your prospective clients obstacles are and become a thought leader, then write a blog.
  • The old saying is true, “you don’t know what you know until you write it down.” Writing a blog will help you become a much better communicator.
  • For every prospective client you reach you will have 10 brand advocates who will promote you and your agency through their own personal networks.
  • Learn to create a strong appeal for your agency. A blog will help you to stop using agency speak and speak in a language that resonance with your target audience. It will teach you how to generate an appealing message.

These are some examples of relatively new ad agency blogs that are following this philosophy:

I have to agree with business guru, Tom Peters, “nothing in the last decade of my professional life has positively impacted me more than blogging.” I can confidently say that it can do the same for you and your agency.

This post is dedicated to Jim Breitinger, Salt Lake City Utah, for his encouragement and insight. Very  much appreciated Jim.


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. One of your most useful and insightful posts to date (in my opinion). Thanks, Michael.

  2. Michael – thank you for taking the time to write this blog post. It reads well, it is clear, you give away ALL the tools listed and categorized ready for readers to implement.
    Hey anyone could do this…. but you and I know that anyone doesn’t do this and that is why you are such a successful Biz Dev consultant. Well done.

  3. Thank you Jack and Rebecca. Coming from you both means a lot.

  4. My name Jimmy wehaye, your post 10 tips for creating an ad agency new blog, became my inspiration. Thank a lot

  5. Michael, great post. One thing I’ve found is that smaller agencies talk a lot about social media and online marketing but don’t have a lot of proof points. An agency in Chicago is doing it well, and have figured out how to prove it – Harp Interactive.

    They are the #1 search return on Google for Chicago Social Media Company:

    They are starting to work behind the scenes for other local agencies as a social media provider and consultant.

  6. Thanks Dave. I hope you are doing well. I’ll be sure and check out Harp Interactive.

  7. Michael…

    Really excellent post. I’ve been blogging for a while so some of this confirmed what I thought I knew but there was new info as well. One point – I would set all those useful links to open in new windows…that way we don’t navigate away from this great content!

  8. Dina,

    Thanks for the kind words and the tip.

  9. Michael, I think this is spot on but I’m lost about your advice in #1. It seems to contradict the rest of your post and counter to inbound best practice. Please expand.
    Craig Lindberg, MLT Creative

  10. Craig,

    Thanks for your response. My apologies if this wasn’t clear enough.

    If a blog is tied into the branding of the agency’s website, there is a tendency for it to be typical of most agencies:
    *diversity of clients (all things to all people, trying to appeal to everyone)
    *agency speak (i.e. proprietary processes, integration, out-of-the box thinking)
    *generalist instead of specialist (thinking wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep)

    A blog, set apart from the agency’s branding, not incorporated into its website allows it to finally drive the stake in the ground that says this is how we’re different and speak to a more narrowly defined target audience … i.e the examples I provided, http://www.she-conomy, male advertisers who should be marketing to women,, manufacturers who want to reach blue collar workers.

    The other 9 tips aren’t contradictive but complimentary. You don’t lead your social media efforts through a corporeal entity, but a person.

    People want to work with other people that they know, trust and like. A blog allows you to do that.

    I hope this helps. If not, I’m always glad to discuss, please feel free to give me a call.

  11. Hi, Michael,

    First of all, fantastic blog post. Very much appreciate your thinking on this topic (as well as the blog itself).

    I was wondering if you could provide links/references for the CMO study and the Marketing Sherpa stat.


    – eric

  12. Thanks for your kind words Eric.

    Regarding the sources for the 2 stats:
    I should have linked both stats when I first used them in a post in the beginning of 2008 but failed to do so. So far I haven’t found the direct links from either the original MarketingSherpa or CMO Council sources

    There’s a vast amount of materials to search through the CMO Councils archives and MarketingSherpa’s site-search goes back only 2 years.

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