Ad Agencies: Three Things a New Business Director Needs for Success

A significant paradigm shift has taken place that impacts how ad agencies acquire new business that effects the knowledge and skills new business directors need to make it happen.

“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.”

Heather Witalisz, Training Director for Mirren Business Development, recently asked me, “what are the top three things a New Business Director must do to be successful?” As I reflected back on my answer I thought this would be a helpful topic to flesh out a bit more. So here are three things a new business director must do to be successful:

1. Digital and Social Media Savvy

The role of the agency new business director is becoming more complex. People who have done this job well in the past are finding it difficult to find success in this current climate.

According to a recent 4A’s and Arnold Worldwide survey, 90% of agency staff say they have to figure things out on their own due to the lack of training.

Unfortunately this bodes the same for many agency new business directors. You may have to create your on ‘continuing education program’ when it comes to digital. It’s important that you do, because it’s almost impossible to ‘sell it if you don’t understand it.’

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 the ways social media is impacting agency new business:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • An agency blog 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.
  • The growth of new media mandates agencies participation. Social media is now mainstream, your agency’s credibility is suspect if it isn’t walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

2. Be Empowered to Lead New Business

There’s an old saying that cobbler’s children have no shoes. It refers to the fact that a busy cobbler will be so busy making shoes for his customers that he has no time to make some for his own children. If I had a dollar for every ad agency that has used that metaphor as their excuse for why they neglect their own new business program I could have retired long ago.

It’s time for agencies to give the cobbler’s children some new shoes!


Empower your new business director. Give them the clout and resources to get what they need from the agency as if they are the primary contact person for your most important client. Their projects are not put on the back burner when the agency gets busy. Allow them the time, resources and realistic expectations to build a consistent new business pipeline.

3. Create a Narrower Niche and Appealing Position for Your Agency

The FOUNDATION of an ad agency’s new business program is its positioning. Creating the right positioning is a lot like fishing. A successful fisherman fishes for a specific fish, with a specific bait, the right equipment and he knows just where to fish. He has developed the expertise to land the real trophies.

“The common failing among agencies seeking new business is the inability, or unwillingness, to name what they stand for,” Bob Lundin, Agency search consultancy Jones Lundin Beals

Combining social media with your agency’s niche can become an appealing and powerful positioning. Here are a few examples:

  • Holland + Holland advertising, Birmingham, AL, through their blog She-conomy: A guys guide to marketing to women, has been invited to 3 national pitches in the past year as a result of their differentiating positioning. That had not happened before in their 25 year history.
  • The Littlefield ad agency, Tulsa, OK,  is carving out a niche through their The One Thing blog: The casino marketers guide to understanding gamers, written by the agency’s new business director, Kelly Fiddner.
  • MAX Advertising, Atlanta, GA, has created The Matte Pad, Marketing know how for the legal profession, written by its CEO, Tom Matte.

Agencies desperately need an expert/specialist in the mechanics of new client acquisition, someone who has the sole focus and capabilities to bring “life-giving” new business to the agency.

About Michael Gass

Michael Gass is a Business Development Consultant to Advertising, Digital, Media and PR Agencies | Speaker | Author of Fuel Lines. Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.


  1. Michael – you are so thoughtful as this is an excellent topic for all biz dev professionals – especially agency folks. I wrote an online rant the other day as I read too many “Theory” blog posts about how to use social media in B2B business development. The author clearly had no practical knowledge – there were no case studies, no examples, no how-to-do-it anecdotes.

    And so I started to write real life case studies from my own work as an agency new business development director on my blog which as you already know, is only about new business development.

    The first one is Case Study: How to turn yourself into a customer from a vendor.
    Please tell me what you think of this ‘trick of the trade’?

  2. Very smart idea Rebecca. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Michael, another excellent —and useful— article!

  4. Thanks Jerry. I’m glad you found it helpful. That’s the kind of feedback that keeps me going. Much appreciated.

  5. Thank you for this article, it gives us hopes and clarify the path to new business struggling in the social media world!

  6. Hi Michael. Couldn’t agree more on the fact that new business directors get little training. Actually, it’s new business developers at all levels who need support. @sarahcheal and I (@karlahuntfarm) are running a series of events called The Art of New Business in the UK aimed at offering insight and inspiration to those charged with bring in new business for their agency (often unsupported and in silo from the rest of their organisation). We price these events at a very small amount so people at all levels from all agency sizes can attend. We’ll be uploading films from the talks at these events soon, so hopefully we’ll be able to offer accessible training to new business people all over the world soon!

  7. I just became a new business developer with a mid-size agency in Chicago. Having come from a design position it’s been a huge departure from what I was doing. I have received training (the partners signed me up for Mirren) but it’s been largely sink or swim. It’s funny too, from day one they have been using the shoemakers analogy. Good read.

  8. Thanks Pat and best of luck to you in your new position.

  9. Thanks for sharing Karla.

  10. Thanks for the link you rock! Great links, can’t wait to read
    everything else

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