12 Initial Steps for Ad Agency New Business Directors

12 steps new business directors

If you are charged with developing a new business program for a small to midsize advertising, digital, media or PR agency, then this article is for you.

I’ve often found that new business development people often lack experience. They also usually have responsibilities other than developing new business.

If this is your situation,  I’ve pulled together a list of brief steps to help you to get a jump-start on your new position.

1. Develop a SWOT analysis and conduct staff interviews.

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

I recently wrote an article about creating a SWOT analysis that you may want to review as a resource to help you get started. A SWOT analysis was also a part of Steve Jobs’ 12 Rules of Success.

Conducting a SWOT analysis is a very straightforward, non-complicated process for gathering agency information quickly around 4 key categories: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

A SWOT analysis also provides you with a focus for conducting internal staff interviews which will give you some helpful insights into your agency.

2. Review creative and case studies.

Most of the agencies that I work for have a samples room. We always make sure there were samples of creative work to share with prospective clients. If your agency has such a resource, spend time reviewing each piece of creative and creative campaigns.

I would suggest reviewing all of the current creative campaigns. Spend some time with the creative staff and ask them to take you through the process of how each of the campaigns were developed and the results.

Most agencies will have case studies written that you can review. If your agency lacks the case studies, now would be a good time to get these done. This would be helpful to have, even if you have to be the one who gathers the information and writes the studies.

3. Review past RFPs.

This is another way to utilize the information that has been developed for various RFPs and will help you to get up to speed about your agency quickly. From billings, agency experience, past and current clients along with staff profiles. These responses are filled with rich information and will highlight agency experience across a variety of industries and disciplines.

4. Identify and profile your agency’s top 5 competitors.

This information will come together in the development of your SWOT analysis. I would suggest learning as much as you can about your agency’s top competitors.

  • What accounts were lost to your agency’s competition and why?
  • How does the competition compare with your agency? Look at staff size, billings, client roster, category experience, location, agency networks, awards, etc.
  • What are your competitor’s weaknesses?

5. Identify and profile your agency’s best target audience.

Your target audience will become clearer as you progress through these steps. This is a vital step for new business success. Most small to midsize agencies refuse to identify who their target is because of the fear of missing a new business opportunity that won’t be reflective of your target audience. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

No agency can be everything to everybody. If you try to appeal to everyone your agency won’t appeal to anyone.

Agencies may have spent lots of money for someone to tell them who their target is but they lack the will power to publicly state it.

For your purpose as the new business director, you need to know who the target is. I wouldn’t waste time trying to build internal consensus – just go through the process and do it on your own. If you don’t, you won’t be able to successfully go beyond this step to create a new business program that has focus.

6. Identify the best positioning for your agency and create a strong point of differentiation.

Again, you don’t have to have buy-in internally for this to work. You should be able to easily create a positioning and point of differentiation having completed the earlier steps. You will waste a lot of time if you try to reach this decision collectively.

It’s important for you to conduct this step expeditiously to be able to move on to creating a new business plan. Most agencies get stuck in a rut at this step. That’s why they are in a perpetual state branding their agency and can never quite get there. But it’s new business development purgatory so just do it!

7. Create the parameters for qualifying agency prospects.

You can burn up a lot of your energy, along with the energy, good will, creative and financial resources if you aren’t focused on the right prospective clients. You are not charged with mere new business activities, but on the activities that will generate the best return on investment to get your agency the “at-bats” with qualified prospects.

There are a number of tools to assist you in evaluating potential clients and creating a set of parameters for prospects. The List, Hoovers Online and Redbooks to name a few. You can develop parameters by marketing budget, company size, location, etc.

The establishment of parameters for prospective clients will also help with new business focus and eliminate chasing after and wasting resources on the wrong prospects.

8. Set REALISTIC goals and objectives.

There’s a tendency with a lot of agencies to set unrealistic goals when they want to reach the elusive “next level.” You’ll need to be able to accurately describe what the next level looks like and create a realistic, measurable plan on how to get there. Unrealistic goals and objectives will turn into meaningless activities that carry no weight.

9. Create a simple New Business plan built around your agency’s culture and resources.

The plan doesn’t need to be beyond 2 to 3 pages. It should be a realistic plan that takes into consideration the current agency culture and resources available to implement the plan.

I would suggest creating a budget for new business. Taking into consideration both the finances and time investment that it will take to consistently implement.

10. Implement the plan.

Remember, a plan is just a plan until it is implemented. Plan your work and work your plan. This step is that simple.

Remember that consistency is a key component to success. Without consistency the plan is doomed for mediocre success or complete failure. This is also a time for evaluation and adjustments.

11. Evaluate your program monthly and create 1 page report of the measurable results.

I am against a lot of reporting on new business activities. It will bleed valuable time and energy from implementing your new business plan. Bottom line, in the end, you are going to be judged on the qualified “at-bats” you generate rather on the amount of new business activities. You can showcase lots of activities, but if those don’t turn into new business opportunities, your position will be in jeopardy.

That isn’t to say there shouldn’t be any reports on what you’re doing. I would suggest limiting the reporting to a 1 page monthly update that includes measurements against your agency’s new business goals and objectives.

12. Be prepared to make adjustments

Following the monthly evaluation of your program, you should be ready to make any necessary adjustments to your plan. Adjustments are always necessary and an important part of the process.

Additional articles that may be of interest:

photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photo pin 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. Scott Maloley says:

    aware of any free US list sources aside from the ones mentioned?

  2. Not without manual effort. You can find agencies within directories but you have to research for contact information. It’s a very slow process.


  1. […] 12 Initial Steps for Ad Agency New Business Directors […]

%d bloggers like this: