“It all begins and ends on chemistry. Everything else in between is absolutely vital, there’s no doubt about it, but it begins and ends on chemistry.”
My podcast guest, Lisa Colantuono isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know. Chemistry is key to winning any new business opportunity. But how do you influence that chemistry? And how do you come out on the winning side? Lisa and her team at AAR Partners have figured out a way to research and land those right fit clients so you can count on more new business with every search. Their prospecting tool will put a prospective sweet spot client on your doorstep every time.
Let Lisa and I walk you through what you need to know when it comes to figuring out your agency’s chemistry with:
- The simple mistakes agencies make in the new business search process
- Why complacency is a big problem for agencies
- The importance of continuing to court your current clients
- Why chemistry is so vital in an agency-client relationship
- The dos and don’ts of agency new business
- Prospecting smarter with Lisa’s Four T’s
- Building relationships by teaching
- Why you need to know what your agency is — and isn’t — good at
- What to do when executives change (both on client and agency sides)
- Finding project work for your agency (and growing that into a larger relationship)
- The danger of coming off as desperate to leads
- Why you need at least one person whose job is new business
- The importance of an integrated new business plan
Not only does Lisa believe in enduring partnerships that matter, but she actively participates in creating them. Having consulted on and managed agency reviews including Lee Jeans, Panera Bread, and Subaru – just to name three of the reviews AAR has conducted for clients in virtually every major industry – Lisa tackles and solves the most vexing agency search challenges and has enabled hundreds of marketers to meet and/or exceed their business goals. Described as an agency search consultant whose unique perspective is highly valued, Lisa counsels both marketers and communications agencies on their business and branding efforts.
In addition to her role as a consultant, she has created a new business service center for agencies by co-founding Access Confidential in 2005. The comprehensive new business research tool has become the go-to resource helping communications agencies to prospect smart and avoid the pitch!
Lisa also works with the academic world including Wharton’s Future of Advertising Program, as well as teaching as an adjunct advertising professor at NYIT. Many of her articles on the subject of client/agency relations have been printed in industry trades such as Forbes, Huffington Post, Advertising Age, Adweek, and HubSpot Blogs Agency Post. Lisa is also part of the industry speaking circuit presenting at national conferences including AAF, HOW Design Live, Mirren, and Ad Age Small Agency Conference.
Lisa recently wrote the book @AARLlisa: New Biz in 140 Characters (or less), which you can purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/AARLisa-Characters-Pitch-Time-Starved-Execs/dp/0692662278
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/lisa-colantuono/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:
Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)
- How Lisa Got into the Agency Consulting Business
- The Things that Get in the Way of an Agency’s Success
- Why it’s Important to Work for Old Clients as Much as New Clients
- How Agencies Can Stand Out from the Crowd
- Why You Don’t Need a Goofy “Shtick” to Stand Out from Your Competition
- Where Agencies Miss the Mark when Trying to Find Right-Fit Clients
- Why it’s Important to Constantly Seek Out New Business Opportunities
- How Your Team Could Be Your Biggest Agency New Business Tool
- 3 Ways to Improve Your Agency New Business Plan Immediately
Drew McLellan: Hi, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today we’re going to talk about one of the topics that is always top of mind for agency owners, which is how to do new business bigger and better and to build your agency so that you have right-fit clients that are serving you and your team. Today’s guest is going to bring a great perspective to that, so let me tell you a little bit about Lisa, but I’ve got to put on my glasses because I’m old. Hang on.
All right, so Lisa believes in enduring partnerships that matter, and she actively participates in creating them. She has consulted on and managed agency reviews for clients like Lee Jeans, Panera Bread and Subaru, just to name a few that her company, which is AAR Partners, has done, in virtually every major industry. Not only that, but they also work with agencies and clients to help them fine-tune agency relationships. Described as an agency search consultant whose unique perspective is highly valued, Lisa counsels both marketers and communications agencies on their business and branding efforts.
In addition to that, she has created a new business service center for agencies by co-founding Access Confidential in 2005. This is a comprehensive new business research tool that has become the go-to resource, helping agencies prospect smart and avoid the pitch.
Lisa also works in the academic world, teaching as an adjunct professor. She is also published, as a general rule, in all kinds of publications, like “Forbes” and “Huffington Post,” “AdAge,” “Adweek,” and HubSpot Blogs’ Agency Post. She is part of the industry’s speaking circuit, presenting at national conferences like AAF and HOW Design Live, Mirren and lots of others.
Outside of her consulting career, Lisa is an adjunct professor, and volunteers each year to serve as a judge for the AAF National Advertising Student competition. She also is a trained pianist and has an award-winning CD out, so obviously a woman of many talents. Lisa, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Lisa Colantuono: Thank you, Drew. Thanks for having me.
How Lisa Got into the Agency Consulting Business
Drew McLellan: How did you get into the agency search consulting business? How does one find themselves running a company like that?
Lisa Colantuono: That’s a good question and a long story, but the short version is I kind of accidentally fell into it, believe it or not. I started out in the media world, doing media planning and buying at Young & Rubicam before the whole media conglomerates even existed, and did a lot of media planning work for Y&R for a while. Went from there, went into the publishing side, did some work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, did some work for the American Baby Group in terms of public relations and events planning, so I’ve kind of touched and dabbled in some different areas.
Then I managed to meet my now-business partner, Leslie Winthrop, back in 2001, and came on board as an employee at first. Little by little, worked my way through the ranks here with Leslie. We became business partners about five years later, co-founding Access Confidential to also help agencies grow in lots of different directions, not just doing agency search work but also doing agency consultation work.
Drew McLellan: You came into the search world from both an agency background and a client background. What surprised you about how agencies conduct themselves in a search process, when you got to the side of the table that you’re on now?
Lisa Colantuono: Well, it’s interesting. When agencies go through the search process, it’s very much like the dating world. We all use that same analogy quite frequently, and there’s a lot of very interesting analogies. As you watch agencies pitch and prospect, some of the downfalls, if you will, or the mistakes that they make, are very simple ones. Things like trying to win the account right up front within the first meeting, and forgetting that it’s a relationship-building process. Again, just like in the dating world, it’s a relationship-building process. You can’t go and get married without having a bunch of dates first, and it’s the same thing in this world of new business pitching and prospecting.
Drew McLellan: When you started, did that surprise you, that agencies were that sort of aggressive in kind of wanting to jump to the final date before the first date?
Lisa Colantuono: In a sense. You know, it was interesting. I don’t know if it’s … there is certainly an aggressiveness about it, I think. Another word that pops into my head is “passion.” You know, agencies are passionate about what they do. They do love doing what they do, which is helping brands, building brands, communicating, obviously, for those brands, working with the clients, working with the marketers, having a good relationship with them, but there’s also a necessary part of the whole thing which is patience. As new-business people, we are all triple-type A personalities, and with that said, patience, well, it’s a little hard to come by sometimes.
Drew McLellan: Right.
Lisa Colantuono: Yeah. Unfortunately, we kind of try to push and jump the gun and be a little more aggressive, and sometimes that comes off really well and sometimes that is a detriment.
The Things that Get in the Way of an Agency’s Success
Drew McLellan: As you work with agencies from … and I know that you work with small, large, midsized agencies … what are some of the things that get in their way of being as successful in new business as they want to be? Where are the danger spots that they seem to get stuck in?
Lisa Colantuono: Well, that’s a loaded question, Drew. There are a lot of danger spots, that we see agencies hit those land mines throughout a review or search process. One of them that comes to mind … and unfortunately it’s something that could easily be avoided … but one of them that comes to mind is the term “complacency.” Speaking with clients … and you have to understand that we’ll get a call from a client that is certainly thinking about a review process, and one of the very first questions we ask here is, “Okay, great, why? Do you really need to do this process? Is this necessary, and what’s the rationale behind it?” I have to say, very often, in some form the answer is the incumbent … or the agency that I’m working with, obviously … has become complacent. I’ve heard it at least a half a dozen times in the past three or four years. That’s a lot. Everything from … I’ll give you a story now, and I won’t name names.
There was a hotel chain, and the call comes through. “Okay, why do you want to do this review?” She was very, very direct and she said, “I absolutely love my agency.” We said, “Okay, so what do you like about them?” “Well, they’re very creative.” “Terrific.” “The strategy is very strong.” “Wonderful. What am I missing here? Why are we having this conversation?” She said, “They don’t worry about my business the way I do. I feel like I’m in it by myself.” That’s a tough answer, because if you think about this, the agency is doing very well for this particular brand, yet the relationship, the person that they’re working with, feels as if she’s on her own. It’s a problem, and that’s a problem in any relationship.
The fact is, as human beings, we need to feel needed. We do. That’s part of just being a human being, and I think in the business world sometimes we tend to forget that, and then we get caught up with, “Okay, we got that one, that’s rolling, terrific. Now let’s think about the next new-business pitch.” Well, it doesn’t really work like that. You know, what’s the number one rule for any new business person? I talk about this all the time. The number one rule, 101 lesson, is keep your current clients happy. If your current clients aren’t happy, well, you’ve got a serious problem that’s about to happen. So treat your prospects like current clients, and that’s the name of the game in a nutshell.
Drew McLellan: Okay. I’m going to stop you for a second. Now I’m not hearing the rattling, but you’re cutting in and out. I don’t know if you’re turning away from the mic, but I’m losing parts of all your sentences.
Lisa Colantuono: No, I’m not moving, although you did get cut off as well.
Drew McLellan: Okay, so it may be part of our connection, so all right. Well, we’ll just keep going, and obviously we have somebody editing this, so they’ll slice this little conversation out.
Lisa Colantuono: Yeah, right.
Why it’s Important to Work for Old Clients as Much as New Clients
Drew McLellan: Well, you know, it’s interesting that you say that, because I am always talking to agencies about making sure that they continue to woo or court their current clients. So much of their new revenue needs to come from those existing clients that they cannot forget to continue to make them feel special. Your story is a great example of an agency who was technically doing everything right but wasn’t really putting enough heart and soul into it, or at least the client didn’t feel the heart and soul, that she thought that they were in the trenches together.
Lisa Colantuono: That’s exactly what it’s about. It’s about being in the trenches together. I’ll give you another really quick, short story, another brand. The same mentality, same idea here, where the complacency part came in, but in this case they switched out the account management guy or gal … I don’t remember who at this point … who was phenomenal, really, really top-notch. When they switched out the account person working with this particular brand, they replaced this individual with somebody much less competent and just kept going, and they thought everything was fine. Well, it’s not fine, and they didn’t talk about it. They really didn’t address the issue, and they ended up going into review. These are all relationship issues, not business issues in a sense, right? If you think about it, they’re all relationship issues.
Drew McLellan: Right. Well, I know in the research that we did this past summer, one of the things that clients told us loud and clear is that if they don’t feel like the agency, for whatever reason, is up to snuff, in many cases they just start looking for a new one. They don’t really … they don’t have the time or the energy to invest a lot in trying to fix the relationship, they just move on.
Lisa Colantuono: Well, that’s the nature of the beast. You know, we just are almost trained in a way, again as human beings, well, if it’s broken, don’t try to fix it, just go find something new. You know, get divorced. Get divorced, go. We all have that mentality of, well, it’s easy to get divorced. Just get divorced and move on and find somebody else. Well, that’s not really what should be done. You know, try to fix the problem. Now, of course there’s lots of issues, there’s lots of variables. You have to assess everything, and is it possible to maintain this relationship?
One of the things that I say to agencies is, “If your client does not call a review, you should.” You should call a review with that client once every 24 months. Call a review and just say, “Listen, I want to go everything we’ve done with you in the past 24 months. I want to assess everything. I want to do a little bit of stewardship work here. I want to show you where we were, where we came, where we are and where we’re going, and of course the return on the investment.” I know agencies do that in various forms through just conversations and emails and the day-to-day relationship, but I mean something formal.
It doesn’t have to be a three hour review. I don’t mean anything like that, but take a couple of days, put your presentation together, and sit in front of the client and have a two-hour meeting that you’re, quote, pitching them, or re-pitching them, and show them the impact you’ve made. Call it before they do. That goes a long, long way.
How Agencies Can Stand Out from the Crowd
Drew McLellan: Yeah, I agree. We recommend the same thing. One of the things that agencies are worried about is when they are … whether there’s a search consultant involved or not, and when they’re in any sort of a pitch, so they’re literally pitching … you know, there’s four agencies in a row, and the poor client’s sitting in the conference room all day or however that plays out. They’re really concerned that they look and sound the same, so what are some things that you have seen agencies do that made them stand out in the crowd?
Lisa Colantuono: Well, again, good question in terms of the part of the process here. Yes, the clients are sitting in that presentation room for six hours, seven hours, one after the other, and listening to these pitches, final presentations. It can get tiring, absolutely, but you know what, part of the job is to bring enthusiasm into that room. It’s not so much that you’re focusing on slide after slide after slide, but rather how am I going to help you and your brand grow, get to the next level, address all of your needs, and do it in such a way where they feel that they can entrust their baby to you, because that’s what it’s about. Think of it that way. If you can get across to them, “I understand that this is your baby and this is your job. If we do a bad job, you do a bad job, and your rear end is on the line, right? So we want to support you, elevate you, and make sure you look good.”
I’ll give you an example here. This just happened. I was doing a review for not for profit recently, and the technology just went haywire in the middle of the review. Now, okay, everybody’s getting … you just start sweating. Well, instead, what this agency did was they said, “No problem, I don’t need the PowerPoint behind me. We know our stuff. We printed some decks. Let’s turn to page 58. There you go. As you’re turning, I’ll get somebody in the background to fix the technology, but I’m going to keep talking to you, and we’re going to have a conversation instead of a presentation.” That’s exactly what they did, and all of a sudden it’s not a presentation, it’s a conversation.
You ask the question, how do agencies stand out. It’s exactly that. Get rid of that presentation mentality and have a conversation. Yes, you do have to do the formalities and you do have to have the PowerPoint and all of that kind of stuff, but have a conversation. Put them at ease. You need to be at ease, and you just need to know your stuff. When you know your stuff and you have them feel as if you’re going to have an ear to the ground for them, you’re going to be ahead of the curve, you’re going to know what’s going on in terms of technology … which is huge … you’re going to have a good sense of data, and not so much data for data’s sake, because every client is sick and tired of just being overwhelmed with data. You know, what are the insights? Give me the insights in the data. I need to understand the consumer journey.
It’s really about behavioral characteristics now. Yeah, demographics, psychographics, all right. All of that has been from day one, but understanding the behavior of the consumer and the purchase journey, and of course all of the digital technology and mobile and online and whatever else you want to call it. I mean, the fact of the matter is that’s almost the price of entry now. You have to have a good solid understanding of that, but it really does boil down to having an integrated team that can almost answer each other’s sentences, not cutting each other off, not trying to be the center of attention. I love when I see somebody that just takes over the meeting. No, it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work. It comes off really, really raw to the client, and they’re looking for a team, not an individual. It’s a lot of little things, not so much one big thing.
Why You Don’t Need a Goofy “Shtick” to Stand Out from Your Competition
Drew McLellan: I think a lot of agencies think they have to do something different, or they need a gimmick or they need some sort of shtick in their presentation to be memorable. Does that work?
Lisa Colantuono: No. You know, it’s funny. Over the years now, there’s no shtick that works. Again, there’s lots and lots of little tactics when you add them all up that help you to, quote, stand out. Everything from putting name cards on the table, so that everybody remembers each other’s name as they’re sitting there. Little tiny things like that go a long way, but it’s also … the fact of the matter is, over the years … let me put it this way. Over the years, I looked at one particular agency that won three reviews that AAR invited them into. Okay, three reviews out of I want to say four or five, over maybe a six-year span. I started thinking, “What is this agency doing different? What are they doing that’s so different from everybody else?” They’re not a huge agency. They’re maybe 50 people, small, a small, midsized agency, smallish anyway. I was looking at them as a case study, like what are they doing differently.
I think what it came down, what it boils down to, is they’re not pretentious. There’s nothing arrogant about them. The team is a true team. The partners are true partners. They allow each other to speak. They can finish each other’s sentences. They respect each other. They respect their employees and they give them a platform. They don’t monopolize the meeting. One of the partners, owners in the business, I recall there was a chemistry meeting, and he sort of stepped back away from the table and just sat almost in the corner of the room in a sense, and didn’t say anything and allowed his team, his group, to take over the conversation. He trusted them, and that’s another big word, “trust.” If a client can’t trust you … and I said earlier, you know, they’re entrusting you with their baby … if the client can’t trust you, it’s not going to go. It’s just not going to go. The chemistry has to be there.
For years and years we’ve always said, “It all begins and ends on chemistry.” Everything else in between is absolutely vital, there’s no doubt about it, but it begins and ends on chemistry. If that group can’t work with this client, or this client can’t work with that group, it’s not going to happen. You can have the best strategic planning and blah, blah, blah in the world, but if the chemistry is not there and they can’t see themselves working with you and rolling up their sleeves and working, whatever, 82 hours in a week with you, no. It’s not happening. It’s just not going to happen. I mean, again during a recent review, one of the quotes from the client was, “I loved the process, I loved the strategy, I loved the creative. I’m not sure I can work with the team.” That’s sad, you know. It’s a sad thing. It’s sad to hear that, but sometimes it is what it is, and you can’t pretend to be somebody you’re not.
Drew McLellan: Well, and I think that people … you know, again to your point from earlier … the clients are putting their job on the line. They have to be able to know that, A, they want to trust and hang out with these people, but B, that they’re going to have a great working relationship, because literally their job is on the line.
Lisa Colantuono: Absolutely. Their job is definitely on the line, and listen. Clients, there’s almost this perception that clients are out to ax the agency and bring in somebody new. No. Quite frankly, most clients, if not every client they work with, they don’t really want to do this review process. It’s not number one on their list. They have a million other things to do, and if you think about the entire job of the CMO, for instance, advertising and communications is one small sliver of the whole thing. They have operations to worry about. They’ve got all sorts of things to worry about, distribution strategies, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This one small sliver. We think everything of it because we’re knee-deep in it, but quite frankly it’s just one part of the whole pie.
No, they don’t really want to call reviews and go through this whole process. It’s not the number one thing on their to-do list. Obviously, once they’re in it, they have to do it. Some of them enjoy it. Some of them are battling us, quite frankly. We’ve had conversations with clients where they’ve said, “Oh, do we really have to do that part of the process? Maybe we can cut that out and save a few minutes or a few days or whatever,” and it’s like, “No. No, no, no. You can’t start bastardizing the process here. The process is the process for a reason, and there’s a rationale behind every step, so let’s be careful what we’re doing.” Clients, sometimes they get a bad rap.
Where Agencies Miss the Mark when Trying to Find Right-Fit Clients
Drew McLellan: Yeah. You know, there’s a lot of agencies who will never interact with a search firm and will never … I think most agencies are involved in some formal pitch process, but for most agencies, a lot of their pitches are more informal or more direct than some of what we’ve been talking about before.
I know you work with agencies around that as well, and in fact I know that your whole product in terms of the comprehensive research tools and all of that, that’s all about, as you say, avoiding the pitch by really finding perfect fits and cultivating those relationships, so that you can bypass some of that. Let’s shift our conversation a little bit to that kind of a pursuit. Where do agencies miss the mark in really doing the legwork on the front end to find right-fit clients, so that they can avoid the pitch?
Lisa Colantuono: That’s fabulous. I mean, the fact of the matter is that’s the reason for the whole Access Confidential product, as you just said. That was developed to help agencies with their new-business growth by avoiding the pitch. How do you avoid the pitch? By prospecting smarter. How do you prospect smarter? What I call the four T’s. You teach, you build trust, you make sure your agency can be, quote, told apart, that you can tell apart from the crowd … and I’ll talk about that in a minute … and then the final T is probably the most important, being timing. It’s all about timing. I talk a lot to agencies, obviously, throughout the week, but I probably talk about this one thing at least a dozen times a week, meaning new business is almost like media planning 101. What I mean by that is it’s the right time, with the right message, to the right person, and that’s what this is about.
Well, what about these four T’s? Well, you want to teach. You don’t want to constantly sell somebody, so how do you build the relationship? You build the relationship by teaching, having fun, showing that you’re passionate about them and their brand. Well, what do I mean, teach? Writing content. Sharing insights about a particular consumer or category. Maybe you went to a trade show or you went to a conference and you learned something, and then you realized that could be very helpful to share that bit of information. Maybe there’s some new trend happening. It’s sharing insights. If you can teach and share those insights, and almost identify an unacknowledged problem … it’s actually called provocation-based selling. You’re provoking this problem that they don’t even realize they have. You have to do your homework in order to be able to do that well, but you’re not really selling, you’re teaching.
Once you start teaching … and I talk about public speaking all the time to agencies. You should be speaking, you should be writing, you should be out there, because once you start doing that, you become a resource. What do we know about resources? Well, they become trusted sources. They’re trusted. Once you’re trusted, now you can be told apart. I can’t think of a better way of saying that. They tell you apart because you’re a trusted source. Now all of a sudden, because they can see who you are … and you have to do some homework in terms of making sure that you internalize what your agency is all about. What’s your reason for being?
I talk about this all the time with agencies. What’s your reason for being? Why you, out of 36,000 agencies in the United States of America? Why you? Why do we need another agency? Know what you’re really good at and why, and know what you’re not good at and why. That’s just as important, if not probably more important. Determine how you see yourself. Determine how others see you. Have a positioning, a mission statement, but have a position. Don’t just do cookie-cutter stuff. You know what the other thing is? There’s a lot of agencies that almost … they have this tone, in a sense.
What do I mean by a tone? Sort of a style. I think of Cliff Freeman. God rest Cliff Freeman’s soul, the days are long gone for Cliff Freeman, but we know Cliff Freeman with all sorts of hysterical, humorous commercials and TV spots over the years. Wendy’s, “Where’s the Beef,” and so forth. That was a style that they had. I won’t take up too much time with this, but Cliff, it just so happened that that became a style. Cliff used to talk about how, “Well, it’s what clients want from me. I do have a whole reel of all types of other styles,” I should say, characters and what have you, “and it’s not all about fun and humor. I can do more than just humor.” He became almost pigeonholed into that, into that area. Especially today, you have to be flexible. You have to be nimble. You just have to know who that consumer is, because the consumer is smart today, and that’s what’s so different.
Then with that happening, well, then it’s about timing. Like I said, going back to your original question, how do you avoid the pitch and prospect a little smarter, it’s about timing, and timing could be a lot of different things. It could be there’s a current review going on for … I’ll give you an example, Smashburger. At the beginning of last year they did a review, a small review for a creative agency. Okay, fine. Now, if you’re following that brand and you realize that they’re doing a creative agency review, typically they’re going to start thinking about other disciplines. Well, if you push forward about ten months, they started a public relations review within the same year, so that happens all the time. They do one kind of a review and then they do another type of review. The number one low-hanging fruit, I’ll call it, is executive changes.
Drew McLellan: Absolutely, the thing agency owners dread.
Lisa Colantuono: Yeah. Well, it’s a double-edged sword, right? People change, and right away you get the knot in the stomach and, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to lose this account.” Well, no. As an incumbent, you need to call the review, and you need to prove your value right away to that new client team. I’ll go back to … well, I didn’t name any names earlier, but one of the brands I was talking about, one of the reasons for the review was there was a change. Now, in this case there was a change on the agency side, not the client side but the agency side, and the new executive team did not go introduce themselves to the client. Within months, within months.
Drew McLellan: That’s crazy.
Lisa Colantuono: Yeah, it is. It’s just like, “Well, why don’t you just shoot yourself in the head now?” They ended up losing the account. There were other variables, of course, but that was one of the primary reasons. People changes, executive changes, on either side. If the client changes, then the onus is on the agency to instantly, instantly build that relationship, introduce themselves, but more importantly, introduce everything that they’ve done for this firm in the past 24 months, 18 months. Where they were, where they’ve been, the return on that investment, how they’re doing, where they’re going. Prove your value. Show your worth, and show how you’re going to help this new person with their position and their role. I mean, it’s just something that you have to do as an incumbent.
Drew McLellan: As you say, it’s a double-edged sword.
Lisa Colantuono: It’s a double-edged sword. Right, exactly. I was just about to say. Now, if you’re not the incumbent, well, here’s the opportunity to try to build that relationship and show who you are and introduce yourself. It’s all the same thing, it’s just the other side of the fence. Not every new CMO, I’ll just say, that comes in, they don’t all run out and do a review instantly. Some of them don’t do it at all, and that’s fine. We know many, many stories and many, many cases where agencies have gone through multiple, multiple changes, and that’s great. That’s terrific, and obviously the agency is a solid agency, but that’s a big one. You know, executive changes. Current reviews, what does that mean down the line?
The other thing that I talk about is project work. You know, project work. There are so many times that clients do in-house work on their brand, and in time it’s either a bench strength issue or a resource issue, and they end up going outside. I’m always saying to agencies, “Listen, go find out who’s doing what in house. It can’t hurt to knock on the door and just introduce who you are and show how you could help alleviate some of the work on their plate.” Certainly give more rationale than just that, but show how you could help them in their day job, and build a relationship by doing some project work. Now, the trick is to make sure that you work on brands where there’s growth, so you’re not stuck just doing project work after project work after project work.
That’s another way to grow the agency. There’s tons and tons of ways. Product launches, another way, anniversaries. Huge, big-brand anniversaries, is what I’m talking about, but there’s tons of different things, tons of them.
Why it’s Important to Constantly Seek Out New Business Opportunities
Drew McLellan: Yeah. It’s all about, really, having an eye on a certain subset of businesses that you think you would be a great fit for and watching for those opportunities, right?
Lisa Colantuono: Oh, yeah. I’m always saying, again, when we’re out speaking with agencies, “You should have your set of prospects, why this group.” You have to know yourself before you can help anybody else. That’s rule number one. Then from there is, okay, what are you good at? Here at AAR we talk about the spiderweb, and we’ll go and help agencies with what we call the spiderweb. The spiderweb is, “Okay, let’s think about creative breakthrough. What have you done creatively that, quote, broke through?” Winning awards is not the biggest thing in clients’ minds. Most of them could care less, but have you increased sales by X number of percentage while the category was going down? How did you creatively break through?
What about marketing challenges that you are really, really strong with, certain types of marketing challenges? What about a particular discipline? Are you really an expert with social media? What about category experience? What about consumer insights or a specific target audience? What about purpose-based brands or certain missions for brands? Look at all of this stuff, and are you an expert in any of these areas.
Drew McLellan: Right, stories to tell.
Lisa Colantuono: Yeah. Do you have stories to tell, and stories go a long way. It’s funny. I had a conversation with four CMOs at a Forbes conference one night about a year or so ago. We were just hanging outside, shooting the … shooting the stuff. I’ll keep it clean. I had asked the question, “I’m sure you get bombarded by agencies all the time.” I’ll tell you who they were. They were Arby’s, Louisville Slugger, Harley-Davidson and DISH Network. The CMO or VP of marketing or SVP of marketing, all of them sitting there. I said, “You must get bombarded by agencies all the time, and I’m just curious. Who stands out to you? What agencies have you answered that cold call, or that sent a cold email, or have you? Do you delete everything? What happens?”
It was funny. They had said, “You know, everybody seems to send these emails about, `I know your pain points and I know what keeps you up at night.'” What was so funny, the pain points that they each had were so far from marketing that you cracked up. For instance, the Arby’s guy says to me, “You want to know what my pain point is? I worry about clean bathrooms at the restaurants.” I’m like, “That’s hysterical.” He goes, “Do you think any agency has ever sent me, `I know that you’re worried about clean bathrooms at the restaurants’?” You’re like, “No, never.” Louisville Slugger, baseball bats, his biggest problem was a specific beetle eating the tree that they needed to have the wood to make the baseball bat. Do you really think anybody knew that? No.
Drew McLellan: Or had a solution to the beetle problem?
Lisa Colantuono: Right, exactly. It was very, very funny. Wow, so I said, “Well, what would help you to look at an agency?” It kind of came down to three C’s, consumer insights, category insights and cultural, company compatibility. If there was a fourth, then it’s that creative execution that stands out, that creative breakthrough that I was talking about. That’s what they boiled it down to, and that was the answer. It was very, very simple. You know, it’s very funny really. We sit here and have these major discussions like the world’s coming to an end, and all these pain points, and meantime it’s beetles eating trees.
Drew McLellan: Well, I think there’s a risk of coming off as arrogant when you, without really knowing the brand, to the CMO imply that you do know what keeps him up at night.
Lisa Colantuono: Exactly, and it’s that fine line of, “Yes, I have the knowledge and I can help you,” versus arrogance, as you just said. Yeah, so there’s definitely that fine line there. The other word that pops into my head sometimes is “desperation.” I mean, let’s talk about that for a second, where agencies come across as, “I really want your business, please give me your business, I’m desperate for your business.”
Drew McLellan: “I’ll do anything for your business.”
Lisa Colantuono: “I’ll do anything for your business. I’ll pay you.” That’s just a major, major turnoff. Nobody wants to work with somebody that’s desperate. The one thing that I would leave an agency by saying, “Keep in mind that they need your expertise just as much as you want their business.” Make sure you stand tall. If they’re not for you, they’re not for you, and that’s fine. You know, cut your loss and move on. Learn and keep going, but don’t appear as desperate.
Drew McLellan: Yeah. One of the things I think that the recession did, the way I refer to it with agencies is that I think a lot of agencies sort of lost their swagger.
Lisa Colantuono: Yeah.
Drew McLellan: I think you sort of have to walk in thinking that, “We’re deciding together if we’re a good fit, but you need to prove to me you would be a great client, just as much as I need to move to you that we’re the right agency.”
Lisa Colantuono: That’s exactly right. I was speaking to one of the recent clients I was working with just about that. I looked at them and said, “Listen, you could be … if you’re not the best client, you could pick the best agency and they’re not going to be able to do anything for you.” That’s just how it works. You are 50 percent of this solution. It’s not all, 100 percent, on the agency. It’s nice to see … I feel like I’m saying this more recently than not, where agencies are evaluating the clients as well. I feel like that’s starting to …
Drew McLellan: They’re getting healthier, I think, and so they’re feeling more free to do that.
Lisa Colantuono: Absolutely. They feel a little bit more strong, where they can say, “You know what, if they’re not for me, then no, I’m not going to put myself on the line there,” and that’s great. That’s a really good attitude.
Drew McLellan: Yeah. It’s amazing how long that’s taken for that to come back, though, a little bit.
Lisa Colantuono: Yeah, you know. I mean, we really did get beat up there, and listen, there’s still a turbulence here. Let’s face it. There is definitely still a turbulence here, but I think if you really do put yourself out there in terms of going back to those four T’s of teaching and building trust, sharing information, identifying unacknowledged problems, that’s where you become a resource and that’s really, really important, along with the timing of course. It really does have to do with timing, but stop … to the agencies out there, stop talking about your process. You know, stop talking about yourself. Stop talking about your proprietary tools. You don’t have any proprietary tools.
How Your Team Could Be Your Biggest Agency New Business Tool
Drew McLellan: Your proprietary tools look like everybody else’s proprietary tools.
Lisa Colantuono: Exactly. You and every other one of the 36,000 agencies have the same exact proprietary tools. There’s only one tool that you have that nobody else has. Well, what is that? People. Your team, your people.
Drew McLellan: Yeah, and their experiences.
Lisa Colantuono: Exactly. That is your distinct positioning. That’s your distinction, is your people. Well, then make sure your team works as a group, that they have the internal chemistry, that they’re building momentum together, that they want to solve problems together, that they want to have healthy debates. When all of that comes into play, well, that’s where agencies start to get on that roll, if you think about it.
I was just reading something today that Leslie, my business partner, sent to me from “Adweek” about Venables, Bell & Partners. You know, they’re not a huge agency. They’re around 150 people, give or take. Not huge, but good sized. Last year they won 70 percent of the pitches that they entered. That’s a huge number. I’m thinking, “Huh. I know that agency. They have some really great creative, they have some really strong strategy. What caused that?” As you read through the article, they talk about that independence and variety are key, that we don’t have what I was saying earlier, a particular house style, that we don’t have off-the-shelf solutions, that we don’t staff our approach to business the same way for every single brand that we work with or pitch. There’s a sense of individuality with every brand that they are pitching, and they’re looking at brand-building as an art form that shouldn’t be lost.
In a way it somewhat is today, because we’ve all gone into this technology world that’s obviously not going away and it’s only going to get stronger, and everybody feels that they need to know every little bit about mobile and digital and whatever else that’s coming next. Yeah, true. Absolutely you need to know your stuff, but really? Let’s just think about the basics. The basics is to sell, and the way to sell is to solve problems, and the way to solve problems is to understand the consumer on a behavioral level. That’s branding. That’s actually bonding, not branding, so how do we go about that? It’s the consumer journey. It’s understanding that story and helping them with their day-to-day life. That’s an interesting way to look at everything.
Kudos to Venables, but what are the lessons that we can learn? Well, I think there are some pretty interesting lessons, to be independent, to have variety, to not have off-the-shelf solutions, to make sure you’re understanding that brand and bringing the right people to the table, not the same people to the table. I don’t know how many times I hear “the pitch team,” and I just want to cringe. I say, “No. There’s no such thing as the pitch team. You have to have the people in the room that are going to work on the account, period, end.” That’s it. If they’re not going to work on it, do not bring them in that room. Don’t even think about it. Clients see. It’s a huge, huge concern for every single client.
Drew McLellan: Well, we get back to what you said before, which is chemistry is such a critical part of that. I want to spend that time when I’m evaluating the agency with the people that I would work with.
Lisa Colantuono: Absolutely.
Drew McLellan: It makes perfect sense.
Lisa Colantuono: Absolutely.
3 Ways to Improve Your Agency New Business Plan Immediately
Drew McLellan: Okay, so we’ve bounced all around and I think we have tons of great ideas and thoughts for agencies. If agency owners are listening to this and they want to kind of dig in and they want to really do new business differently in 2017 than they have in the past, what’s one or two things that they could do on their own right now that would begin to propel them in a better, stronger direction?
Lisa Colantuono: First of all, number one, make sure that someone … someone, not everyone … is dedicated to new business. I hear this all the time, “Well, we’re all responsible.” No, then nobody’s doing anything.
Drew McLellan: Absolutely.
Lisa Colantuono: If there’s not a particular person that’s responsible, then nobody is considering it as their primary responsibility, and that is massive. That’s the number one rule that I would say to any agency, and especially a small agency where everybody is … you know, all hands on deck. “Well, great, love the attitude, but when it comes to new business, no.” You need somebody that is dedicated, that is responsible, and quite frankly somebody that everybody’s going to listen to. Not that they’re going to argue with them and not that they’re going to debate everything, no. You have to give that person the power to say, “This is what we need to do.” I would say, number one, make sure somebody is dedicated to new business, otherwise it’s not getting done.
Drew McLellan: How about number two?
Lisa Colantuono: Oh, gosh. There’s a million things. Number two, don’t try too hard. Make sure you have your specific list of brands or companies or whatever that have rationale, that have rationale behind. Make sure you put yourself through the effort and through the wringer, so to speak, of why that company, why this company, why that company, why this company, and go through that exercise. You have to have a reason for wanting to work with that brand, and when you have that reason, that real passionate, deep down, my heart of hearts is into this, that shines through, versus mass-blast emails. Everybody gets them, and what do we all do? Delete, delete, delete. Make sure that you’re not sending mass emails. Rather, make sure you individualize everything. Send out … “personalized” is the word I was looking for. Be personalized with your mailings and your emailings.
If there’s a number three, have an integrated new-business plan. You have to. Just the way you have an integrated communications plan for your clients and your current clients, well, you are a brand too. Don’t forget that. You are a brand, so what you do for them, you need to do for yourself. We’re the shoemaker’s children type of thing. Make sure that you have an integrated new-business plan, and that means being very diligent about, yeah, the emails, the cold emails. Okay, fine. Following up on calls, doing the cold calling. I’m not a big fan of cold calling after cold calling after cold calling, unless you have something to say or share or follow up with. Emails, mail. Mail stands out now, oddly enough.
Drew McLellan: It’s the new media.
Lisa Colantuono: It’s the new media. Mail stands out now, so emails, mailings, calling, white papers, share things on the internet, blogs. All of it, yeah. Going to select conferences. Be careful about all of that, because you can spend a fortune on conferences in five seconds. Be selective about your conferences.
The other thing that I’ve been looking at is trade shows. Not every trade show, again, but certain trade shows. There’s some value to that, and trade shows, it’s really just about swapping cards, but that gives you the reason to follow up and call and build that relationship. Use everything in your arsenal, and put together that integrated plan for yourself just the way you would do it for your current clients.
Drew McLellan: Yep, absolutely. This has been a great conversation, packed with actionable items, which are the exact kind of podcasts that I love to do. Agency owners hopefully are furiously taking notes and are fired up to do some things differently, so thank you so much for not only your time but sharing your expertise and your good counsel. I appreciate it so much.