Most Ad Agencies Have No Plan for New Business

The Cobbler's Children for Ad Agency New Business

Having a written marketing plan makes new business easier and much more consistent.

I wanted to share, from my personal experience, one of the typical challenges of small to midsize advertising, digital, media and PR agencies. They are often described as the cobbler’s children who have no shoes.

The most common positive trait among these agencies is that they know how to take care of their clients. But what is their most common negative trait? They have no marketing plan.

Agencies are historically bad when it comes to marketing themselves. It’s as if they lose their marketing minds. They tend to forget the very basics of marketing. They are their own worse client.

I often ask this question when speaking at industry events, “Does your agency have a marketing plan?”. Incredibly, the vast majority do not. How can agencies think they will have new business success without a plan? That is marketing 101 isn’t it?

My friend, Peter Levitan, author of The Levitan Pitch on how to win advertising pitches, wrote,
“You would be surprised at how many advertising agencies do not have a master business plan. They haven’t decided on what they are selling, who they are selling it to and how they will accomplish their goals.”
This isn’t to say that agency owners don’t understand that new business is the lifeblood of their business. But, they have a tendency to focus on the newest tactical idea instead of taking the time to develop a comprehensive new business strategy. Tactics must go hand in hand with an overall marketing strategy.  And to be clear, to double the number of new clients next year is not a strategy, it is a goal.


For you to state that you want to “take your agency to the next level” is not a strategy, it’s an objective. A strategy is not your agency’s mission statement. Your marketing strategy is simply the plan of execution.

Goals, objectives and mission statements are all fine, but you must have an executable plan for achieving them. This is the first step to make new business easier and more successful. Care out a narrow market niche and developing a plan to dominate it.

When you’re developing a marketing strategy for new business, consider these 3 simple steps:

1. Decide WHO

For your strategy and tactics to work, they must appeal to a specific target audience. It is impossible to appeal to everyone. So, the first thing that must be decided is WHO.

If you try to be EVERYTHING to EVERYBODY you won’t appeal to ANYBODY.

Develop your agency’s marketing strategy around a narrowly defined prospective client audience. It’s often best to choose a specific client category. It can also be based upon having an expertise for a particular consumer, such as the Barkley agency’s focus on “Millennial Marketing”. Once you decide who is the best prospective client audience, you will then have focus and a much clearer direction to develop your marketing strategy.

2. Create Your POSITIONING

Positioning is the foundation of new business. It is also the area where agencies struggle the most. Solve your problem with positioning and new business becomes easier and much more effective.

A positioning for your agency isn’t:

  • “We have great creative.” Great creative is not a point of differentiation, it is an expectation.
  • “We’re strategic. Our creative concepts are based upon research that leads to a solid marketing strategy.” That’s what 99.9% of all agencies are saying.
  • “We have a proprietary process.” Most agencies make the same claim. But to a prospect, it’s just the same proprietary process under a different name.
  • “We have great chemistry. We’re fun to work with.” That isn’t a point of differentiation that will create new business beyond your local market.

By having a clearly defined target audience you can develop a positioning of expertise that will be appealing to your niche market. You will find it much easier to position and differentiate your agency that has greater appeal to your niche market. You will also lessen your agency’s competitors and you won’t be reliant upon location or pricing as differentiators. You can focus on knowing your niche, the industry, the challenges opportunities which allows your agency to be innovative.

3. Now WRITE the Plan

Todd Knutson CEO, The List has often stated,

“If you don’t know what you want to achieve, you won’t achieve what you want.” 

The final step is to turn your clearly defined target audience and differentiation into an executable plan to market your agency. Include the detailed strategies and tactics that will help you reach your goals and objectives.

When I started my consultancy in 2007, it was on the verge of The Great Recession. I had three children in college at the time. Almost my entire advertising career had been spent in only two markets. I had zero awareness outside of Birmingham and Nashville.  But, it was now my turn to put into practice what I had been telling agencies what they needed to do for new business prosperity.

I followed the same steps that I’m recommending to you. My narrow focus is business development for advertising agencies. My specialty was helping them to make the shift from more of an outbound approach to new business to inbound marketing. I helped them solve their issues with positioning to make new business easier.

My personal marketing plan has kept my lead generation for new business focused for over a decade. For instance, I know:

  • Who are my best prospective clients
  • The skill sets I’ve need to develop
  • What to read and write to maintain a positioning of leadership
  • The conferences, seminars and trade shows to attend
  • The associations and networks to join
  • The greatest challenges, problems and frustrations facing my clients and developing solutions for them

Following a marketing plan greatly helped me to establish a positioning of expertise quickly and build awareness and appeal well beyond my initial market. I’ve achieved new business opportunities in all fifty states here in the U.S. and across Canada and Europe. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had not had a plan.

So, instead of trying to determine if cold calling is still effective or if Twitter is better than Facebook for generating leads, the first place to begin is to develop a plan for new business.

photo credit: Jeremy Brooks Shoe Repair via photopin (license)

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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