Ad Agency Owners Will Hate This Book But Prospective Clients Will Love It

Jordan Zimmerman Leading Fearlessly

You may not be a fan of Jordan Zimmerman, but you will miss a lot of valuable lessons about new business if you neglect him.

I volunteered to read and write a review of Zimmerman’s book, Leading Fearlessly. After I read it, my first thought was, agency owners are going to hate this book. They’ll never read it.  But, they’re going to be missing some great information that will help them increase their own new business.

Because of his book, I have a greater appreciation for Zimmerman. I’ll even admit that I’ve become a huge fan. In all of my years in advertising, working with hundreds of agency owners, I’ve never met any owner as actively engaged with their clients’ business as Zimmerman has been. As a result of reading this book, I’ve completely re-evaluated and revised how I work with my own clients.

I first met Zimmerman when we were both speaking at Mirren, the premiere agency new business conference held annually in New York. There were over 400-agencies represented at the conference. Zimmerman provided one of the keynote sessions.

My perception from attending the session was that most of his agency audience totally disregarded his speech because of his bravado, attitude. But they completely missed his valuable insights.

He was giving away rich details on how he was able to grow the agency he founded in a seedy strip mall, to into the 14th-largest independent agency in the country.

This seems to be the norm of Zimmerman’s relationship with many of those within the advertising industry.

Here are some of the reasons why many agency owners and industry insiders don’t like him:

1. He doesn’t look like a normal agency owner. 

Jordan Zimmerman looks more like a professional body builder than a brand builder.

In an article written by Leigh Buchanan for Inc., Zimmerman is referred to as “The Iron Man”.  A typical morning for Zimmerman is like a marathon for almost anyone else.

With only four hours of sleep, Zimmerman rises every morning at 3:30 and he’s at the gym by 4.  He has even rotated his workouts among three different gyms so that his muscles would get an even better workout because the angles of the machines vary from gym to gym.

He’s home by 5:30 am to pick up his bike for a 25-mile ride before having breakfast with his kids and taking them to school.

From Zimmerman’s blog, You Sleep When You Die, he writes,

“It never ceases to amaze me how much attention I get for being in shape. Yes, I actually get ripped for being ripped.

Why does he pump iron at 4 in the morning?

“For the obvious reasons, really: I want to be healthy, strong and balanced. My body and my mind work together, and real power always comes from balance. When you’ve got that, you can accomplish anything.” 

I know a lot of agency owners who are athletic and fit but Zimmerman takes fitness to the extreme.

2. He doesn’t talk like the average agency owner.

When Zimmerman launched his agency in 1984, his focus was almost exclusively on the automotive industry creating car dealer ads.  Those who have heard him speak would agree that he’s a fast talker, more comparable to a used-car salesman than an accomplished advertising CEO. But that is his style: big, bold and often controversial.

In Zimmerman’s keynote address at Mirren, he started his session off by saying:

“I’m happy to share my secrets with you because I am confident that you will completely f_ _ _kin’ ignore me, and I hope you do.”

Zimmerman uses words similar to other agency owners such as results-driven, accountability, proprietary process, metrics, marketing partner, ROI, metrics-driven or profitability. But for Zimmerman it isn’t mere “agency speak.” He actually applies them in a way that few agency owners do because he is so insanely focused on the success of his clients.

Retail brands couldn’t afford agency BS during the recession. They desperately needed a true marketing partner who cared more about spreadsheets than storyboards and the person many found confidence in was Zimmerman. When the most agencies were experiencing their greatest period of decline during the recession, Zimmerman’s agency was experiencing its greatest growth period.

3. He doesn’t think like the typical agency owner.

Zimmerman feels that our industry has lost its way since the days of David Ogilvy and Leo Burdett.

In an Ad Age article, Jordan Zimmerman’s Rules for Helping Clients in a Recession, he says:

“Our clients sell stuff. Our job is to make sure they sell more of it and sell it more profitably. Retail drives the sales. Branding drives value and profit — it’s really that simple. If you are embarrassed to admit you sell stuff, you may as well get out of the business because my agency — and those that think like us — will run your ass over.”

Agency owners and insiders may mock Zimmerman, but his clients and prospective clients don’t. Because Zimmerman thinks differently. He understands and is committed to their bottom line. He went on to say:

“I offer this advice clearly not to win a popularity contest, but rather to really help guide our industry to commit not to just better work, but work that works better for our clients. This is the time they need our expertise, leadership and confidence. Let’s not let them down.”

This is the reason the Zimmerman agency is getting into pitches and winning them, even against renowned creative agencies such as Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

4. He doesn’t act like the typical agency owner

John Schnatter, former CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, a Zimmernan client, said,

“The reason Jordan is successful is because he’s abnormal. Being high-discipline and high-integrity are fundamental in his beliefs. … His sense of urgency is unequivocal.”

How do you, as an agency owner, serve your clients?

Here’s how Zimmerman does it.

He is actively involved with every client account, obsessed with and driven by his clients’ sales numbers.  In Leigh’s article, he is quoted as saying,

“We have 20 major accounts, many of them retailers with thousands of outlets, and we get overnight information that drills all the way down to their performance by store. I study those reports over four sessions of roughly 15 minutes each: the first when I wake up, the second between the gym and my bike ride, the third between my bike ride and breakfast, and the fourth just after I arrive at the office.

“As I read through the sales reports, I assign each account a number, 1 through 10, reflecting the scope of its current problems or opportunities. I will meet with the account teams for most of those clients during the day, starting with those I’ve rated 10. I copy my assistant on all my predawn e-mail, and she sets up the meetings accordingly. I have at minimum 10 meetings a day, of about 15 minutes each. They’re very focused. We all know the strategy for each brand. We know yesterday’s numbers.”

Most of this article has been about Zimmerman because I feel that if agency owners had a better perspective of him, they would be more inclined to read the book. But, I’m sure Zimmerman is confident that most will continue to ignore him. But if they do, they’re missing some great insights and tips for new business.

Living Fearlessly is stated to be Zimmerman’s personal guide to success. It is also much more than that. The book outlines his path to success in building one of the most client-focused agencies in the world. But, more importantly to him, it provides examples of the success that he has helped to create for his clients.

If I were a prospective client having read the book, I would come away wanting an agency CEO just like Zimmerman to be my marketing partner. Someone who would be as focused and as passionate about my company’s success as I would be.  But there just aren’t that many who are as insanely committed to doing whatever it takes.

If you’re tired of your own agency’s bullshit, this book is certainly worth the read.  I’m sure that the CEO of every prospective retail client for the Zimmerman agency will soon be getting a copy along with a personal note from Zimmerman.

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.

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