The Tao of Advertising - Can Marketers Change the World?

There has always been a lot of debate in the media, around the kitchen table and at the water cooler as to whether or not we as individuals or as a group can change the world for the better. I may be biased, but I believe marketers in particular have the power to effect positive change in the world we all live in – if they are motivated to do so. I base this belief both on my personal observations and on scientific findings.

Einstein theorized that space and time are intertwined and that matter is inseparable from an ever-present quantum energy field. Bell's Theorem, a quantum physics law says, “Once connected, objects affect one another forever no matter where they are.” The principle behind Bell's Theorem is that, “an invisible stream of energy will always connect any two objects that have been connected in any way in the past." In simple terms, this means that everything is connected to everything else.

We see this principal in action every day in social networking on and offline, business, politics, environmental policy, spiritual theology like Taoism, and more. In the early 1970s, ecologist Barry Commoner wrote The Closing Circle, in which he discussed the rapid growth of industry and technology and their constant effect on all forms of life. He suggested that people have the power to reduce the negative effects of industry on the environment if they are informed and aware of their connection to the natural world.

Marketers’ power comes from their ability to create meaningful connections between people and brands that promote new ideas. That is what I believe makes advertising and marketing communications exciting. We marketers have the power to influence people to convert to greener energy, eat a healthier food product, support a social cause or take a certain brand of medication that will improve their health. The possibilities are endless.

In practical terms, whether we work as individuals or for our clients, every single day people can make connections with other people that work to make living better for thousands of people. When people feel happier about how they live and work, or have new hope for their future, their happiness affects everyone they connect with in a positive way. The work we marketers produce and the connections we make can create an impact that ripples outward.

Knowing definitively that everything is connected gives my work as a marketer more meaning to me than simply earning a paycheck. We all have the power to make connections, through our relationships with friends, family, co-workers, clients, and through the marketing communications we produce that trigger people we have never met before to take action. Everything we do is part of an unending chain. The power of the universe is literally in our hands. As people and as marketers, if we choose to, there is no question that we can make our world and the world at large a better place to live.

By Laureen Peck

Five Easy Steps You Can Take At the End of The Year to Drive Growth

The year is almost over.  If you work at a small to mid-sized ad agency or other small service industry business, chances are your company is scrambling to get client work in good shape before the end of the year. Since your job requires you to juggle multiple priorities, you may find yourself working late every night to make sure you can get everything done - and done well. But you also have to develop a plan for growing business for your agency in the New Year.

You totally agree that this is important, however you are feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment so you have put new business initiatives on the back burner. You haven't even begun to think about your holiday shopping or to plan the festivities for the twenty relatives who are coming to town in a few weeks. In fact, when Cathy in the cubicle across from your office happily chirps she's gotten everything done for the holidays as she skips out of the office at 5PM, and Brad smiles smugly and says his wife worries about all that stuff, you have to fight the urge to throw something at them.

To make things worse, you know that as you procrastinate, your biggest competitors are making friends and developing relationships with the prospective clients you have been salivating over. You've read all the press on them touting their latest client wins so you know they have found ways to service their current clients and proactively pursue new prospects at the same time. You also have a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that they have a healthy pipeline of new leads that could have been yours. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. Making a new business action plan doesn’t have to be a long and laborious process as long as you already have a clear company UVP (Unique Value Proposition) also known as USP (Unique Selling Proposition), Brand Positioning Statement that all internal stakeholders have embraced, marketing materials and sales tools in place and you have designated new business hunter(s) who are ready and raring to go. (If your agency does not have any of these assets, forget about what I said about this being simple and easy. Your agency hasn't done the work necessary to help win new clients and you will face an uphill battle. It might be time to talk with your boss about what is realistic.) 

Assuming you have a designated hunter or hunters who are prepped and ready and your company has a clear brand positioning strategy and marketing tools in place, following the 5 steps listed below  can get the ball rolling fairly quickly, without killing yourself or your agency team.  

Step 1: Choose a specific new business growth goal for the New Year. Here are a few examples:
  • Increased revenue from total new business by X percent
  • X number of new clients from X industry
  • X number of closed proposals
  • X number of retainer clients
  • Other? 
Step 2: Confirm the following:
  • Average size of the businesses you want to target (revenue, number of employees - Fortune 1000, Local businesses etc.)
  • Industry category  (choose one or two at most)
  • Geographic target 
Step 3: Based on your new business growth goals identified in Step 1:
  • Estimate how many proposals/estimates it will take to win enough new business to achieve your growth goals. (Use past data to help you figure this out. If you have not been keeping track of this give it your best guess. IE "On average we win 1 out of 4 proposals we pitch.")
  • Estimate how many meetings with new qualified prospects your agency will need to schedule per week or month order to generate the number of proposals/estimates you will need to achieve your average win. Set that as a goal.
  • Estimate how many initial and repeated calls/emails/ per prospect it will take a day to get your number of meetings goal. Set that as a goal.
  • Develop a prospect list that has enough qualified contacts on it to reach the goals above.
Step 4: Review your prospect list to make sure that you have eliminated prospects that are not qualified and added those that are. Make sure the list has the decision-maker contact information in it (email and direct phone number).  If you do not have a qualified prospect list – you need to make one right away. If you have the budget for it, you can subscribe to list sources to do this quickly. If you don't have the budget for this, it will take longer to get the information you will need to avoid gate-keepers. You might want to get an intern to help here.

Step 5: DO IT! Using a combination of your agency’s positioning and your target industry/category hot buttons in prospect communications, your hunter can start making those calls and sending emails now to set up meetings. They should use a CRM program like Salesforce to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

Is that all ????
Is this all there is to new business development? Certainly not. I wrote this article to provide an easy action plan for procrastinators with good intentions. Executing these tactics ASAP could help your business win new client projects as soon as in the first quarter. If your agency's average sales cycle is longer, making new connections now can work to begin new relationships and build rapport with these decision-makers to help generate future new business opportunities.

So, stop rationalizing that client work always comes first as a reason for not putting together a new business plan for the New Year. If you wait until things slow down and your company is desperate to win new business, you will be behind the game. You will have a much better chance of reaching your growth goals sooner if you actually take action to make them happen now.

Whatever your goals are, if you want to see a busy first quarter, don’t wait, go for it now. You have nothing to lose.

By Laureen Peck

Interested in learning about more new business development strategies for ad agencies?  Check out any of the following articles:

IF IT’S A TURKEY, KILL IT! - Four Tips for Identifying Loser Prospects

You may not be able to control the menu items served during all your holiday gatherings, but you can definitely control the turkeys on your prospect list. Unfortunately, eliminating turkey prospects is a task that many of us business development types really hate to do mainly because positive thinking is in our DNA. 
It is easy for us to develop an emotional attachment to decision-makers we have been pursuing for a long time, especially when they keep hinting that they will make a commitment to us one day. But sometimes we need to face facts and accept that a marriage is never going to happen no matter how much we like them and they seem to like us. This isn’t always easy to do, but it is absolutely necessary. If you spend more energy on prospects that are never going to pay off than you do on building up a pipeline of new, qualified prospects, lots of great opportunities could be passing you by.

So, how do you decide whether or not your prospect is a turkey? Here are a few tips to help you discover when a prospect is gobbling up too much of your time;

  1. Is this a butterball or a dried out drumstick? Reevaluate your prospect’s qualifications.
If you have any sense at all, you already qualified your prospect before you made that first call or had that first meeting with them. You determined that they met all of the necessary criteria; the company is the right size, it's located in the target region, it's in the desired category, has the right budget, etc. 

You managed to get the door open and have developed a relationship with the correct decision-maker. However, if you have been pursuing them for a while and have not yet closed a deal, you may also have uncovered some things that make them not quite as qualified as you thought they were. Even so, the idea of abandoning them makes you feel queasy because you have invested so much time in them already, like them personally, and you hate the idea of giving up.

STOP IT!  If they are less qualified than you believed them to be initially, it’s time to take that turkey "friend" off your prospect list. I know it hurts, but it must be done.

  1. Is this a turkey in business person's clothing?Test your prospect’s credibility.
Let’s suppose winning a pitch for a coveted prospect would be like a dream come true. This prospect is big and juicy and would make a great high-profile account. This prospect looks so succulent you have decided to invest more than usual to win them over and the boss agrees it could be worth it.

Let’s also say you have pitched several different ideas and strategies to your contact over several months, put together a few proposals that took a lot of brain work, pushed your team to give more and more, and still there is no signed contract - not even for a test or starter project. Uh Oh! You might have to admit that you have been fooled into thinking this prospect is real when he is really a turkey in disguise. 

There are two types of turkeys in disguise. The first type wants to hire you but can’t. This is because he is not really the decision maker but likes thinking he is. The second type never really wanted to hire you, but pretended he did because he enjoys getting all the free work you are giving him and he has been using your ideas to impress his boss and co-workers. Essentially, you and your team have been doing his work for him.

There is a very simple way to find out if your prospect is hiding turkey feathers under his business clothes. The next time he asks you for a proposal, consultation, idea session, etc., put a price on it. Calculate the hours it will take to move forward and present him with an estimate to sign. If he agrees to your terms, congratulations are in order. You helped him get out the stewing pot and make a decision. Your investment may not have been in vain because it is now more likely now that the relationship can eventually become profitable.

If he cannot recognize that you and your company have invested a lot already and isn’t willing to pay for more of your efforts moving forward, that prospect is not only a turkey, he is a big, ugly, yucky turkey that will just taste worse and worse no matter how much gravy you pour over it. You need to throw that turkey out right away. Don’t feel too bad. The best of us get fooled by these expert masqueraders from time to time.

  1. Do I have the right fixings? Determine if you have the necessary internal support you need to win.
In this scenario, you have been trying to get a prospect to open the door for a long time and the needle has finally moved. You and your company have been invited to participate in an agency review or RFP.  Before you invest any more of your time, make absolutely sure your company has enough resources to properly compete and that your internal key stakeholders are enthusiastic about the prospect.  

You may believe the prospect is delicious, but if upper management is unwilling to give you the necessary resources to win, you are going to fail miserably.  If you have the right resources, but your supervisor or boss is lukewarm about moving forward and is publicly skeptical about the chances of winning, you will not get the support of your team. If you move forward anyway, rest assured that they will do the least amount of work that they can get away with because they are not going to give a pitch their all if they perceive the boss is not really behind that effort.

In this case, the prospect is magically transformed into a turkey by others and there is nothing you can do about it. Pursuing it any further will only cause you heartache. Let it go and hunt for the prey that you have a better chance of catching because your team is really hungry for it.

  1. Stop stuffing a rotten bird!  Determine how much pitching the prospect is actually costing your company. 
Be honest with yourself. If it seems like a prospect is taking too long to close, calculate how much time you and your team have spent pitching this prospect so far and put a dollar amount to it. If they have exceeded your new business investment budget or are costing more than the realistic revenue potential they might provide, it is time to cut them loose. 

This turkey might look OK from the outside but it has been dead for a while and is starting to decay. Unless a miracle occurs, it cannot be resurrected - but if it were, it would be a zombie turkey that everyone at your agency would run away from anyway, so stop praying.

Hopefully, these four tips can help you figure out what prospects are turkeys so you can replace them with shiny, new golden eggs. Don’t delay. This is a good time to get rid of turkeys and revamp your prospect list so you can hit the ground running once the New Year hits.
By Laureen Peck

How Many Hoops Should Your Ad Agency Jump Through to Win a Pitch?

If you work in the dog-eat-dog world of the advertising agency business and your job includes hunting for and closing new business, chances are that at one time or another you will have to decide how much work you and your pitch team are willing to do for free in order to win a new account.

As a smart Adman or Adwoman, you understand that your primary loyalty is to the agency that employs you. Working in the best interest of your agency means you need to know when to reject a prospect’s demands for spec work. It also means that sometimes you will have to stick your neck out to convince your boss and your co-workers that it would be worth developing something for free even though you know that if the pitch fails, you will be the one who will end up with mud on your face. Conversely, if the pitch succeeds, the creative director or some other person on your pitch team will get most of the credit for the win. That’s just the way it is. You have accepted this truth and have learned not to worry about it.

Big Dogs
Let’s say you are a big dog, meaning you are a new biz leader at a huge, worldwide, advertising conglomerate. We all know that you work very hard during those three-hour lunches at five-star restaurants to get your dining and drinking companions to wag their tails and accept you as the alpha, but you probably don’t have to worry as much about hunting for business, because it usually comes to you.

Most likely you work within a separate group inside your agency whose sole purpose is to develop new accounts. The RFPs and AOR reviews come your way fairly regularly. Your division/group/team has been allocated a healthy annual budget to be used specifically for building new business. Often this budget is considered a standard part of doing business and will go into the sales costs column in quarterly and annual reports. You also have countless other resources available that you can use to analyze the risks against potential rewards to determine how much to invest in a new business pitch. You throw away quite a few proposal requests because the treats they offer look too small and it would not be worth your time and effort to chew on these tiny tidbits.

If this sounds like your job description, this article is not for you. In fact, please don’t read any further. You already have enough food to gobble up.

Smaller Dogs with “Heart”
I wrote this article for the rest of us in Biz Dev. We are the marketing services pushers and pitchers who work for small to mid-size firms or smaller subsidiaries of large agencies. We have to fight our way through the corporate jungle every single day just to get a chance to pitch.

We designated hunters run as fast as we can from morning to night because it is the only way we can possibly pass the jackals, wolves, wild dogs and hyenas to get to the prey first. Not only are we expected to hunt down a juicy beast and bring it home to the tribe for dinner; we are required to keep smiling the whole time we are doing it. But we thrive on stress, so that’s OK by us.

How We Roll
If you are a New Business Developer and Pitch leader at a small to mid size agency, generally, you have to do all of the following:

1. Find prospects. You do lots of online research, review lists, read your news feeds, go to networking events etc., etc, etc.

2. Determine what prospects meet your company’s qualifications and start knocking on their doors.
3. Get some of those qualified prospects to open their door to you for a first meeting. Often, you had to make numerous calls and/or send several emails or letters to get them to open the door a crack. You did this because you know that most of the time, getting that first meeting takes unrelenting tenacity.
4. Once in the door with a qualified prospect, you build rapport with them. You discuss their preferences and needs. You find out what they won’t like and what they will like. You do your best to diagnose their pain so you will know what to prescribe. You make them tell you what they are willing to invest in the campaign or project. (Of course as everyone knows, getting a prospect to reveal a budget range to work with is really, really easy to do. LOL)
5. Congratulations. Now It’s Crunch Time! Assuming that you have done a good job building rapport, you have been invited to participate in a pitch. It is now time to focus on the presentation and/or proposal development stage. You develop the pitch strategy and persuade your team to support it and help make it work. Together, you develop an appetizing proposal that you know will be perfect for your prospect’s tastes and preferences. You assign roles and rehearse the pitch team.

If you do not manage the pitch preparation process in step 5 carefully, it can lead to internal discord that will come back to bite you in the buttocks in the future. If you manage this process well, you will know precisely when to tell your boss and your team that doing spec work is worth everyone’s time and energy. If you ask for spec work needlessly on a continuous basis, you will use up your team’s good will and your boss will stop liking you. On the other hand, if you keep turning-off prospects that would have made perfect clients for your agency because you did not ask enough of your team, you will stop liking yourself.
Below, I have identified some of the most common factors that lead to a poorly managed pitch development process. These include; poor prospect qualification, lack of direction, unrealistic expectations and lack of appreciation. I have attempted to define these pitfalls and to offer some suggestions for how to avoid them.

Poor Prospect Qualification
It may seem like common sense to only go after qualified prospects, but it is surprising how many pitches are lost by Business Developers, who should have known better, because they did not qualify the prospect. If you are pitching an unqualified prospect, it means you did not do your job properly from the beginning.

Avoid this by making sure the prospects on your “hit list” are really the right fit for your agency before you start contacting anyone on it. Also, please stop yourself from getting too excited when you meet someone at a networking event who acts like they want to work with you. No matter how happy this makes you feel, make sure the company they work for is on your qualified company list, and that he or she is the correct decision-maker before putting any work into a proposal or pitch for them.

Nothing deflates a team more than pitching their heart out and then finding out that their hard work was done for someone with no decision-making authority. They learn that the real decision-maker either had no idea there was a pitch at all or has already chosen to work with someone else.

It is also just plain stupid to pursue a target with a budget that is way too small to be profitable for your agency or to run after big accounts if you know that your agency won’t have the resources to do the pitch properly or won’t be able to actually manage that account if you get lucky and win it.

If your shop is more focused on new brand development or brand-building, it probably doesn’t make sense go after accounts that spend most of their budget on direct marketing programs, unless your agency is trying to build a new, direct marketing department.

If you consistently pitch to the wrong prospects, co-workers will start to think of you as “the kid who cried, wolf.” Eventually no one will want to be a part of your pitch team even when you finally have the right prospect tweaked and ready.

Lack of Direction
If you cannot clearly pitch your pitch strategy to your pitch team, you shouldn’t be in new business development. If you are good at what you do, it means you have already developed a preliminary pitch strategy, before you bring in your team. You have done all your homework and have most of the information on your prospect’s pain. You are ready to lead.

Being a good leader includes asking your team for input, ideas and help on your strategy and making sure opposing ideas are heard and considered. As a good leader, you will have no problem going back to your prospect with questions your team has asked you that you don’t have the answers for.

If you don’t have any preliminary strategy or direction to give to your team and you are counting on them to come up with something anyway, you aren’t leading. Your lackadaisical approach will drive your team crazy and the results will be unsatisfying for everyone.

Unrealistic Expectations
Please do not promise the moon to your team even if you are 99% sure you and they will nail the pitch. Over-confidence ends up killing morale.

Of course you need to get your team excited, but if they are too sure that the prospect will love everything you are going to present to them, and you lose the pitch, their disappointment in the pitch process could last a long time. This will make it harder for them to get behind you the next time.

Conversely, be careful not to underestimate a prospective account’s potential. Making the assumption that it will not be worth it to go the extra mile to win that new account, without careful investigation and verification of your belief, could lead to throwing away what could have been an excellent opportunity.

Lack of Appreciation
Make sure you praise and thank every individual on your team for the contributions they are making to the pitch as they make them. If you expect them to work without thanks and make unrealistic demands of them, don’t expect them to perform optimally.

Find little ways to show them that you respect and appreciate the work they are doing. If you know your team is working late, order pizza for them without being asked or bring them coffee. Better yet, praise their contributions to agency principals and make sure they are aware you have done this.

If the pitch fails, as the pitch leader, you need to take responsibility for the loss and analyze your mistakes so that you can avoid making them in the future. Do not tell your boss that it was a co-worker’s fault you lost even if it is the truth. This makes you look like an ineffectual weakling. It is also is a sure way to create enemies.

If there is a junior-level person on the team who didn’t perform that well, but still has good potential, set up a private meeting with him. Make sure any criticism you give is constructive and offer advice and suggestions on how to help him improve his performance. This way he will feel supported instead of torn down.

Whether you lose or win, the end result should be that your co-workers will be happy to be invited to be on your pitch team the next time you need them.

Assuming that the pitch preparation has gone smoothly, the process continues;
6. You and your team progress to the dog and pony show. Your well-rehearsed team presents the proposal to the prospect.

7. Your carefully prepared appetizer has pleased the prospect so you get them to sign an agreement to purchase a scrumptious project and/or an inspired feast of a campaign, and they become a new client for your agency. You have once again proved to your co-workers and boss that you can bring home the bacon so account services can fry it up in a pan. Everyone eats that day and you are a hero… for a few minutes anyway.

Now that I have shared some tips for what new biz pitch leaders should and should not do in step 5, I would like to give you some examples of the types of pitch preparation fiascoes that are outside of your control. Rest assured that it is not always your fault the pitch went down the toilet. So, if you have been beating yourself up over losing a pitch and the reason you lost it is listed below, stop banging your head against the wall and give yourself a hug instead.

Internal Sabotage
Your boss has instructed you to only go after big game because he is tired of road kill. You do as he asks, and finally manage to get invited to participate in a pitch for a bigger account where it is understood that you will be competing against much larger agencies.

After making it through all the preliminary hurdles, you learn that your boss never intended to give you the resources required for the last hurdle, the final presentation. When you find this out, you wonder aloud why he instructed you to spend all your time chasing after big game when he knew his agency was not really able to invest the necessary amount of time and effort needed to be a real contender. He tells you that you should be able to win the pitch without using additional resources and if you don’t win it then it means it just was not the right fit. The pitch you end up making is embarrassingly inadequate, you lose and your boss berates you for it.

In another scenario, your agency definitely has enough resources to do things the right way, and you have expressed logical reasons for why the team needs to do the extra “thing” to win the pitch. However, the agency principal does not trust your rationale, mainly because she is a micro manager who usually doesn’t respect anyone’s judgment but her own. Your team will not put any effort into something the boss clearly isn't supporting. Of course you lose because the winning agency went the extra mile.

If this kind of internal sabotage happens often, it might be time for you to look for a new job.

External Sabotage by Peons
Your agency has made it to pitch phase because you have carefully courted and won over the VP of Marketing or Advertising. The VP is a big-picture type. You build rapport with him and he decides he likes and trusts you so he invites you and your agency to participate in an upcoming agency review.

However, the person who is the designated agency review coordinator is not your friend the VP. Instead you find yourself dealing with someone lower on the food chain. This person won’t return your calls or answer your repeated emails asking for answers to your pitch team’s questions.

Although this review coordinator has been instructed by the VP to include your agency in the process, it is obvious she is indifferent towards you and doesn’t want to help. You can’t go over her head even though you want to, because, guess what? She is also the person who will be working directly, on a day-to-day basis, with the winning agency. Tattling on her to her boss could lead to future, unwanted repercussions.

So your team has the choice of moving forward without having the best information, or dropping out of the pitch. Of course, you won’t drop out because you have been pursuing this company for almost a year and you are not about to give up now.

Why does this manager person appear to hate you? It could be that she has a friend at the competing agency and only wants her friend to have all the information so he will win. Or she could resent being ordered to include you in the review instead of choosing you herself. It could be that she’s overworked, hates her job, and never has enough time to get back to everyone. Maybe she’s just a nasty person with a personality disorder. It doesn’t really matter what her problem is. You and your team will do the best they can, but you are still going to lose the pitch and your friend the VP is going to think you weren’t as good as he hoped you would be.

Inconsiderate Liars
Your agency has been invited to participate in an RFP process just so the Marketing Director or Brand Manager can show their boss that they had a comprehensive selection process. You don’t know that you’re a patsy because your charming prospect has assured you that your agency is a serious contender. However, secretly he has already made his decision to hire someone else. This kind of subterfuge happens so often it is maddening, but if you decide that in the future you will not trust anything that any prospect says, you will never pitch again.

The Decision-maker’s Incompetence
The prospect has given you and your agency one set of specs and requirements to be used to build your proposal but then has a completely different set of needs and criteria when you go back to present it. He never made an effort to give you an update ahead of time or offered to postpone your proposal presentation until he could provide you with more information so you could rework your proposal. This is because people who are disorganized or disengaged run this company and he is one of them. NOTE: You still can win this one if he gives you a chance to come back … that is if you really want to come back after that.

If you have recently experienced any of the “Impossible Obstacles” listed above, go somewhere safe and lick your wounds. Soothe yourself with the fact that you cannot control every aspect of every pitch all the time. Also, be reassured that you may not win every pitch, but it is possible to win more pitches more of the time if you make the effort to learn from and understand past mistakes even when they are made by someone else.

After you finish your comforting cappuccino, put your “happy face” back on and return to the jungle to hunt. Your tribe is still hungry and they are depending on you to feed them.
By Laureen Peck
Note:This post was originally published April 3, 2009

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