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

three things agency new business directors need

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’s tenure is 27 months, the role of those charged with agency new business  is more important 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 for an article. Here are my insights, the three things a new business director needs for success:

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 moved from the back-burner to the front-burner, even when the agency is busy.

Instead of your agency being treated as your worst client, make it your best client.

Allow your business development director to create and execute a new business plan. Be sure too provide them with the time, resources and realistic expectations for success.

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 the right bait and knows where the fish are. They have 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 tool. Here are a few examples:

  • Holland + Holland advertising, Birmingham, AL, through the blog She-conomy: A guys guide to marketing to women, Stephanie Holland has become a thought leader in marketing to women. This positioning has built awareness and a strong appeal that has allowed her and Holland + Holland to work with major brands. Stephanie was recently asked to help develop a marketing campaign to reach women for Porsche.
  • Sheehy + Associates, Louisville, KY. Agency principal’s Scott Kuhn and Dave Carter have created a niche blog for new business called: The Store Starters, Marketing Resources for Great Grand Openings. The blog was responsible for landing work with a national retailer to launch 22 new stores.
  • For the Ramey Agency, Jackson, MS, their CEO’s niche blog, Upward Home, Marketing for High End Home Brands, recently provided an opportunity to consult and train the marketing department for a 2 billion dollar global home brand company.
  • Jeff Fromm, who leads business development for the Barkley Agency, Kansas City, MO, created a niche blog, Marketing to Millennials, Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation Ever. The agency funded primary research which led to Jeff’s book on Marketing to Millennials and he maintains a busy schedule of international speaking opportunities. He’s seen as a leading expert in Millennial Marketing. This positioning has provided the agency with a consistent flow of new business without having to go through the RFP or pitch process.

Social media is allowing a growing number of small to midsize agencies to solve the problem they’ve had in the past with differentiation. Agency owners fear positioning because they assume that it lessens their new business opportunities. A niche blog that lives apart from the agency’s website, lessens their fear factor. It allows them to have a more clearly defined target audience and focus for new business which makes the New Business Director’s job much easier.

Additional articles that may be of interest:

photo credit: timsamoff 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. 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

    SEO Training Institute
    In Karachi


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