Ad Agency Principals: Tired of being treated like a vendor?

<A guest post by Rosemary Breehl>

Smart Ad Agency principals are getting a seat at the CEO’s table and they’re doing it by building client relationships.

It’s a new day out there for all of us. Competition is tougher. There are now “ten marketing dogs chasing that one corporate car.” CEO’s today are under terrible pressure to deliver revenues, so the last thing they want is another marketing firm trying to ‘sell’ them something. In their mind, marketing is an expense and the ad agency/marketing firm is just another vendor.

Agency principals have been trying to change that perception for years. Interestingly enough, now is the perfect time to do it … with a new client or even better yet, with an existing one. When times are tough, CEO’s are looking for ‘game changers’. So they are more willing to listen.

In a recent interview Jim Perdue, CEO of Perdue Farms said his expectations of marketing were: “First and foremost, marketing is the keeper of the brand’s health” … he goes on to say that “the health of the brand is critical to the success of the company and … marketing expenditures are not viewed simply as an expense but rather as an investment requiring a measurable rate of return.”

And yet, you’re still doing brochures for your client. You need to up your game and start thinking strategically when building client relationships. You need to become a strategic partner and trusted advisor to your client … and not an expense. As long as you are still only delivering tactics, you don’t have a chance. You must act and sound different than your competitors.

So, how do you get out of that rut and position yourself differently? Here are some ideas:

1. Gather Intelligence

  • Learn everything you can about the CEO. With today’s technology, this is not hard at all. Besides… using LinkedIn, you probably already know someone who knows the CEO.
  • Learn everything you can about the organization’s business structure and how it works. This includes understanding how the organization makes money, what are the revenue streams, who are the target markets, what are the products/services they offer, what position do they hold in the market, what about their competitive landscape and most importantly what is their culture … this will give you great insight into the mind of the CEO, because the culture will be a mirror of their management style.


2. Develop a Strategy – Based on all this Intelligence, what will be your approach to connect?

  • What is your agency’s promise and what will your company offer that speaks to the CEO’s needs.

3. Life at the Top – The invitation to meet with the CEO arrives, so now what?

  • Act the Part – Remember you are cultivating a Peer-to-Peer relationship. Most client/agency relationships are parent/child models.
  • Have a Unique Opinion – an outside POV is important to a CEO, especially if a high level of knowledge about their company supports it.

Once you prove to the CEO that you have truly valuable ideas and suggestions – that they cannot get from anyone else in the organization – that CEO will refuse to have any important meetings without you or someone from your company.

Your Goal is getting invited back again and again as a business confidant who listens with more than just ‘marketing ears’. You and your firm need to focus on building client relationships in order to become a unique strategic asset rather than just another one of the ‘marketing dogs’.

Rosemary Breehl has been an agency owner for many years and is also one of the founding partners of the Brand Establishment, Over the years, the BE has trained a national network of small to mid-sized ad and PR agencies, design firms and marketing consultants. And through its graduate-level coursework, alumni hold the designation as the only Certified Brand Strategists in the country. This training has also transformed these shops into the acknowledged brand-building authorities in their markets.