As agency owners, the topic of new business prospecting is one that’s always on your mind. How do you do it in a way that’s different from every other agency out there? Is there a better way? Can you truly differentiate yourself? Who is your right fit client?
The value in finding the right prospects for your agency is invaluable, both in terms of time and money. Chuck Meyst understands the importance of finding that match and has spent the past 20 years perfecting the matchmaking sales connection between agencies and clients, which is why I was eager to get him on our Build A Better Agency podcast.
Chuck shared his expertise that comes from years of experience working with agencies and their clients. Some highlights include:
- how a clear focus of your goals and priorities can create something of value for your client and create a better match between you and your client
- how the word “sales” is not something to fear, but something to embrace, and how to create maximum impact from it
- how agencies make themselves valuable and different by being good listeners and asking pertinent questions to their clients
- how to make your agency available for potential matches at his online tool, AgencyFinder without adding extra work.
Chuck Meyst has been in sales all his life, from his childhood bike route to CEO and founder of AgencyFinder.com, a matchmaking service for agencies.
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/chuck-meyst/) 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.
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25-plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Drew: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. As you know, the reason I am putting together this podcast series is because I know all too well the risks that we all take owning agencies, and I want to make sure we mitigate those risks, and maximize the rewards that can come with agency ownership.
One of the topics that, when I’m hanging out with agency owners, always comes up is the topic of new business prospecting, and how to do it different. How to do it better. How to differentiate yourself. And so I know that today’s guest is going to strike a chord with all of you.
So Chuck Meyst has been in sales his whole life, and he doesn’t think that sales is a dirty word or a bad word. He started with a morning paper route when he was a kid, went into engineering sales, magazine publisher work, voice recognition technology, and then found himself in the agency new business space. He’s worked in that space for quite a few years, and about 20 years ago started the organization called AgencyFinder.com, and basically that is a matchmaking service for agencies.
So what Chuck’s going to talk to us about today is the things that we do right, the things that we do wrong, and how we can be better at agency new business. So with that, Chuck, welcome to the show.
Chuck: Thank you, Drew. I’m glad to be here.
Drew: So tell us a little bit more about AgencyFinder.com and your role as a sales guy and your background.
Chuck: Well, I was involved in the agency new business process starting back in 1990, working with Sanders Consulting. And at that time we were the be-all, end-all to teach agencies new business process. I was there for four years.
I left to start my own firm doing something similar, but different in terms of principle, but came to the conclusion, in doing many on-site engagements and teaching new new business people the proactive outreach process, that basically, pardon me, but agencies don’t like doing new business. Now what I mean there is that they don’t like to have to pick up a phone and reach out to somebody who is, for the most part, a stranger.
And I realized that my consulting business at that time, and the staff we had, we were never going to be able to address all the agencies, or stay in touch with agencies that we taught. And as a matter of fact, all of this came from…I was returning from Campbell Ewald, where I’d done an engagement to teach two new new business people to replace two new business people that I had taught two years prior. And I thought, “I just can’t do this.”
So flying home, I was reading a book on entrepreneurialship, and the long story short was I said, “We need to reverse this process.” Agencies say, “You just get me somebody who can get me an opportunity, and I can close.” So essentially, long story short, I came up with the reverse idea for new business development, which is AgencyFinder. I could keep talking. Do you got a question in there somewhere?
Drew: Yeah, just tell us a little bit about AgencyFinder and how it works.
Chuck: Okay. Well, we launched AgencyFinder back in 1997. We were the first finder service. And actually, in terms of format, we continue to be one of the few finder services in the agency community.
Essentially what we do is we’ve got a database. Agencies are invited to build profiles. A profile gives them about 500 data fields that they can check off to identify their experience, their services, and on, and on, and on. There’s also seven essays they write, typically 500 words. In the end, that profile is the largest data file on an agency in the industry. So that’s what we’ve got to start with.
Clients then are invited to come and register. And when they come in they’re asked to outline their search requirements. And essentially they are working on the other side of the Chinese wall from that same data set. So they check off what they want in an agency. What vertical market experience, what services, what market specialization. So they build their search outline.
Our search engine finds those that satisfy or appear to satisfy. We look at those. We further edit that list. Eventually the client gets to see those that satisfy the criteria. They tell us who they want us to invite. We invite them.
And at that point, essentially we kind of walk away from the whole process. It’s meant for the agencies to respond to the invitation, either call and conduct an interview with the client. We call that a due diligence interview. Or they’re meant to let us know that they have to decline for some reason – workload, budget or conflict.
So from that point forward, we kind of back away. But the whole process is to introduce and connect agencies that appear to be great candidates, based on what the client has told us through their data entry. End of story.
Drew: So you’re the eHarmony of agency new business prospecting, is what you’re saying, Chuck?
Chuck: Drew, that’s so well spoken. The funny thing is in the early days, people used to say, “Well, tell me how this whole thing works.” And I would say, “It’s sort of like a dating service.” And before eHarmony came on the scene, you won’t believe how many people said to me, when I used that analogy, “Oh, that’s disgusting. People would never do that,” blah, blah, blah. Then along came eHarmony, and from that point forward, I would just say, “Well, essentially, we’re the eHarmony of the advertising industry.” And they’d go, “Oh, I understand.”
Drew: Yeah, right. That’s awesome. So I’m curious, how many matches? The eHarmony commercials always tell you how many marriages there are. So how many matches over the last decade do you think you guys have successfully done?
Chuck: Well, successfully, that’s an interesting expression. According to our counter on the website, we’ve got in excess of 10,000 such introductions and presumed matches. We’ve got quite a few that have lasted a long time. And we have some that have come back to do subsequent searches when a relationship…in one case that I’m thinking of, it didn’t last beyond, say, three years. But somewhere less than 10,000.
Drew: Well, honestly even a three-year relationship for most agencies is a pretty good client relationship. So it sounds like when you finally make the match, they work pretty well. And I’m curious, how accurate do you think clients are? When the clients come to you in search of an agency, how clear are they about what they need and want? And how often is that actually what they need and want?
Chuck: Well, that’s an interesting question. We’ve had agencies say, “Well, what should we call our self? Should we be an ad agency, or an integrated, or a digital,” because those are options on our site. I try to explain it frankly. When clients come to us, they’re seldom looking for a specific type. I don’t see them come, “Oh, I need a digital agency.” Clients tend to say, “I need to improve my sales.”
And I’m often suspect if somebody is trying to be so specific as to say, “I expect to increase my sales with this kind of an agency, with these services, with this experience,” because in fact, as I said, most of these CMOs, VP of Marketing, whoever it is that comes to us, they’re looking to increase their sales. And as a matter of fact, I say to them, “What metrics are you going to use? In other words, when you hire this agency, what will constitute something successful?” And even there, they struggle to identify what that might be.
Drew: Yeah, the agencies I work with too find that with clients. But interesting, one of the things we talk a lot about in some of our workshops and our peer networks is that agencies spend too much time trying to describe themselves as opposed to talking about how their clients are better after working with them. So exactly what you’re saying is, talk about results rather than worrying so much about the label you put on yourself.
Chuck: Well, and case in point, we’re doing a search right now for a consulting firm that their process, business process, is pretty complicated. But talking to the woman who’s the VP of Marketing, who in turn is telling me about the three conversations that she had with three of our identified and invited agencies, she talks about how distinctly different they are. One happens to be in Iowa, one’s in Florida, one’s in New York. The client’s in New Jersey, but she’s okay with all locations.
But according to her, and even the agency is telling me, most of them all essentially ask her questions. They did not make sales presentations. One agency didn’t even ask what the budget was.
Drew: Ah, that’s interesting. So as agencies and clients come together, and as you observe this dance, let’s look at each side of the equation. What are clients or prospects doing to come to that dance that they could do better? And then I’m going to obviously ask you what agencies should do better, too. But if you wanted to be a great client, looking for a great agency match, what should they be doing better than they do today?
Chuck: Because we do all the work we do by telephone, which by the way is important to mention…because as a search consultant, which is what AgencyFinder really is, we’re a search consultant. We use the internet. We use the database. That’s our fly-paper. That’s what we use to stick to a client, or in the case of agencies looking for us, stick to an agency. So I wouldn’t say we don’t have the luxury, but the fact of the matter is, we don’t get to sit with them and see if they’ve got a stack of paper or a check-off sheet.
But I would say, based on what our conversations become, I don’t hear from them that they’ve got a check-off sheet. But we’ve given them a menu that develops a fairly precise check-off sheet, which helps them articulate their requirements.
But I also would say, incidentally, that the person who comes to us is supposed to be authorized to conduct an agency search, and to take it to conclusion. And unfortunately many of these people believe that’s true, only to find out near the end that the chairman of the company steps in and takes over. And that’s a very unfortunate situation, and it’s also the agency, particularly if it changes direction, the agency’s not at all happy.
But I would say that the person who comes to us needs to make sure they have discussed what they’re going to do with their supervisor and their management, however that happens to be, and that they’ve developed a checklist that they can use to conduct intelligent conversations.
Drew: Okay, and I think we see that in most new business prospecting opportunities. That often times, the decision-making committee, if you will, shifts around a little bit in the process. So let’s look at the other side of that. What could agencies do better in this process? How are they stubbing their own toe?
Chuck: Well, I can answer the question as it relates to AgencyFinder, but let me broaden it out a bit. Believe me, we’ve looked at thousands of agency websites. And there are some that are outstanding, there are some that are incredibly poor.
I notice a couple of things at agency websites, which is good for AgencyFinder searches or a Google search. And that is incredibly so, when you go to the contact page on an agency website, what I abhor, and what is probably the worst thing that they can do for new business, they’ve got a text box fill-in-the-form that basically says, “Tell me who you are, and if you’re lucky, I might get back to you.” That’s what it implies.
Now on that same page, there is no indication of where that agency is. There is no physical address. There is no phone. There is no e-mail. There is nothing. No client who is looking for an agency is comfortable dealing with an agency that hasn’t represented where they are. So that’s step number one, and that applies whether it’s an AgencyFinder search or a Google search.
Second thing, I think, if you ask agencies, if you ask clients, I think you’d say that for any search of any magnitude where the client wants to have three final presenters, that ultimately however they got there, the three agencies are going to be quite a bit alike. So the deciding factor, Drew, is what?
Drew: Yeah, do I like them?
Chuck: Yeah, we call that chemistry, don’t we?
Drew: Yep, yep, right.
Chuck: So if we all acknowledge that chemistry is probably the most powerful single factor to selecting an agency, and on an agency website they don’t mention their name, they don’t show their picture, there is no indication other than a paragraph that says, “Our people have the combined experience of 412 years,” how ridiculous.
So what an agency needs, whatever the tab is, it’s a Team tab, or Meet Our People tab. And then whether they’re caricatures or photographs, and by the way, in both cases, particularly with photographs, there must be a name there with a title there. The clients don’t want to have to click on every damn picture of 35 to find the CEO.
So the two big missing links that are killing agencies at new business prospecting is the lack of an addressed location, and the lack of any presentation of their people.
Drew: Boy, I don’t disagree with you at all, but it’s such basic stuff. Agencies who do this for a living for other people, that they can’t get it right for themselves is in some ways sad, in other ways, staggering.
Chuck: Well, I understand. Yeah, and before we present our candidates using our process to a client, we actually look at each one of those agencies the same way the client is meant to do that. But we do it before because we have discovered that if we don’t do that, clients are going to say, “Chuck, why did you include that agency? We were looking for a B2B shop, and I landed on one, and it says we are food, F-O-O-D.”
So we now go through and look just like they, and if we find that kind of disconnect, we take them away. Or if we find that they don’t have a team representation or a physical address, we’d take them off. I’m tired of fighting their battles.
Drew: Yeah. No, it makes perfect sense. I’m not quite sure how to ask this question, so let me stumble around a little bit. How or why, what gets in the way of agencies doing new business better? Why in the world, in your opinion, from your perspective, why in the world would agencies make these what you and I would call rookie mistakes? And then what are the other mistakes they make through the process, beyond the website, that get them disqualified even when they’re actively pursuing an opportunity?
Chuck: Well, Drew, I think my observation and my position, I am basically a sales guy, I have been all my life, but when I worked for Sanders Consulting, Stuart Sanders, who was very successful at agency new business, said to me, “Chuck, don’t use the word sales. They hate it.”
And one of the things I noticed as I traveled, I have never, in all my years in this agency interface, been at an agency where there’s a door panel or something that says “Sales Department.” They don’t like to use the word. The word scares them.
This same client I mentioned a minute ago, with the three agencies, this is a client speaking now, she said, “Chuck, I just hired a young fellow, 22 years old, to do sales for us.” But she said, “You know what? He’s a millennial. I can’t use the word sales. Do you know what his title is? Brand advocate.” And she said, “I’m teaching him sales,” because she’s a sales person herself, “I’m teaching him sales.”
I said, “Don’t you have to bite your tongue?” “Oh,” she said, “yes, but it’s working fine. As a brand advocate, he’s more than comfortable to spread the gospel.” But she said, “One day, I’m looking forward to telling him, ‘Hey, you’re a salesman now.'”
So I think, to come back to your question, you say, “What are the different things?” First of all, I recognize that over the years that, number one, they hate to admit and they hate to embrace the expression “sales.” Number two, they seem to think that sales is somehow a talent that is naturally learned by making a series of telephone calls, or having conversations, or a face-to-face meeting, and you’re going to learn on the job.
And the answer is, “No, boys and girls. It doesn’t work that way.” That is a taught specialization, and yet they don’t want to be taught. Most agency owners themselves feel the same way about sales, so they’re reluctant to seek out sales solutions.
I remember, Sanders Consulting is still around and doing, Stuart is retired now, but we had a program, Stuart introduced something called the spark and torch. And the spark was meant to be the person who did the outreach, and the torch was the more senior person who accompanied the spark, and that’s an important word, accompanied the spark on first meetings with clients.
Well, we taught that process at seminar locations around the country. But it was meant to invite the spark and the torch, the two were meant to come together, so that the spark could learn the daily grind, and the torch could learn how to come in as the savior and close the deal.
Well, guess what? Half the time the torches were too busy to come, “Just send the spark.” And I spent a lot of time, after the sparks had been trained, they’d call up and say, “Chuck, help me! My boss says, ‘Forget the mailing pieces. You just make phone calls. You don’t need a brochure.'”
So they fight themselves, and I don’t think that fight has changed. It seems to be the same. So my point is, I hate to beat this dead horse, but they’ve got to embrace the fact that it’s a sales situation. They’ve got to be trained in the sales process. And they need to apply sales-trained people to the new business process.
Drew: Yeah, I find it fascinating. So the agency owners that I hang out with all the time, the one thing they all want to talk about is new business. But they all want a magic bullet that doesn’t exist, which is, “I want clients to just fall like manna from heaven, and land at my feet.” Or, “I want to hire a salesperson, but I’m not going to give them process. I’m not going to give them resources. And if they don’t make a big sale within six months, I’m going to call it a failure and fire them.”
Chuck: That’s right. Well, I meet lots, not so much anymore I suppose, but historically I used to meet lots of agency owners that would tell me, “Oh, I’m hiring this new guy, and he’s going to do everything for us,” and I would then find myself having to talk to this new guy.
And I could tell in my first conversation, this guy was a loser, or whether it was a woman. Okay? They were arrogant. They didn’t know what they were talking about. They didn’t want to listen to anything that I was willing to share with them. I’ll mentor anybody. But when somebody is an off-putting smart aleck, I’m not too excited about that.
But in years past, I used to say nothing. But now, if I detect that early on, I tell the agency president, whoever, “You’ve got somebody there you need to get rid of.” And I say that. It sounds rather outspoken.
But over the years, for instance, if I identified somebody who was like that, and then a year out I’d call and, “Oh, Tom’s not there anymore.” So I talked to the president, “Hey, Eddie, what happened to Tom?” “Oh, Chuck, he was terrible.” I said, “Well, I recognized that.” He says to me, “Chuck, you should have told me.” So number one, that kind of a mismatch is terrible.
And by the way, there’s a new business consultant that I know that does what I might call outreach calling on behalf of. He’s a solo practitioner, not a couple of the firms that do this with multiple people. But he said the same thing, Drew, that his agency clients all expect overnight success. And in many cases, they’re not willing to hang in to let it begin to mature.
Drew: Yeah, I equate it to planting a seed, and then standing over that seed and being mad that it hasn’t broken ground in the next day. So you just dig it up and throw it away, rather than let the roots take hold and do their job.
Chuck: That’s right. Well, and here’s another thing, by the way, you reminded me. Invariably what I find is that when an agency is looking to hire a new business person, number one, the agency does not have a process that they have been using, or that they have been taught, or that they have the tools to put into practice. So they don’t have any of that.
So now they’re interviewing for new business. So now we’ve got the new business applicant who’s sitting there, and thinking to him, herself, “Oh, this agency probably has a really neat new business program that I can use. God forbid, I don’t know what to do without such a thing.” So they both are talking to each other thinking that the other guy has the process. Then they hire, and find out, unfortunately, that neither one of them knows what to do.
Drew: Right. And then they both get frustrated with the process, and so it doesn’t work.
Drew: Yeah. So let’s talk about the happier side of it. So you talk to a lot of clients every day. What are agencies doing that make them the right choice? How are they engaging differently? How are they coming across differently? How are they presenting themselves, or what are they doing in the actual presentation that clients come back to you and say, “We picked agency ABC, and they did this, which really knocked it out of the park”?
Chuck: Well, you might say, surprisingly, we don’t hear as much about those out-of-the-park hits that we would like to hear. And if we become persistent in asking, we get the impression that they’re annoyed that we’re asking. They want to move on, now. But the characteristics that certainly bring favor are good listeners, agencies that ask questions that are pertinent questions.
I’d say another thing, by the way. In the initial telephone interview that we arrange, the due diligence interview, that’s where both parties are meant and given freedom to ask an answer of each other. There’s nothing off limits. So it’s the agency’s opportunity to ask about budget, ask about client expectations. And the clients are impressed when the agency has done research on their company.
And again, I come back to the one that’s current. One of the agencies, this is a PR firm, did an incredible amount of research. The principle at this consulting firm, the client, as the PR agency described him, he said, “Chuck, this guy is like a Donald Trump in his industry.” He said, “This guy has incredible cred,” he said, “and frankly I can’t imagine what remains to be done for this client, why they’re looking for an agency. It seems they’re getting everything.” But when he talked to the client, because he had done such research, she was really impressed by how much he knew.
And by the way, all three of these agencies in this initial interview, according to the client, did not sell themselves at all. They asked questions. And to that point, she liked all three of them, and is planning to invite all three to come forward to compete for the business.
Drew: Yeah, it’s counterintuitive, in some ways, not to sell when you’re selling and working on new business prospecting. But at this point it really is, again back to our eHarmony analogy, it very much is like a date. And so we find people fascinating when they talk about us all the time, right? When they want to know more about us. That’s just human nature. And so the agencies that come in, especially when they’re doing live presentations, and burn up 30 minutes of their 60 minutes talking about themselves really get themselves in hot water, I think.
Chuck: Well, by the way, that reminds me. We seldom are present at final presentations, but we did a search for DuPont Corian countertop materials a number of years ago. The budget was, I think, $20 million, and there were 3 finalists. One was Kirshenbaum Bond. One was an agency out of Baltimore, and now out of business. And the third was Doner.
At that time, the gent that was the new business head at Doner, he’s now deceased, I’m struggling to remember his name. But the setup for the presentation, this was in…anyway, they’re up north somewhere. Anyway, so the room was set up with a series of eight-foot conference tables, and they were set out in such a way that it was a big horseshoe arrangement.
And not only were DuPont people there, but they had their distributors there. So around the outside of all these tables were chairs, and people sitting, and then up forward in the center was the presentation table.
Now it was interesting because the first firm, again, whose name escapes me, they gave me goose bumps when they were presenting their stuff. I can’t even remember exactly what it was, but God, just emotionally it just really wrinkled my back. And I thought, “How can anybody beat this?”
Well, then Kirshenbaum presented, and there was a lot of chemistry and jocularity, and I thought that was neat. And the woman, Jon Bond was still there, but there was a woman who I think has come and been president, she’s British, and her accent was appealing. But the last round was Doner. And again, I wish I could remember his name.
But Ellen Coulter was the CEO, and the second guy was a salesman. And what he did, Drew, in this presentation, he walked around the inside of those tables, that horseshoe I talk about. And it was incredible. Talk about chemistry.
He walked that circle, and I don’t think he shook anybody’s hand, but emotionally and verbally it was almost that much of a contact. And he just swept that circle, and it was incredible in terms of the chemistry of it. They won the business, by the way, much because of that. They were the winner. It was beautiful.
Drew: Yeah, when I listen to that story, I think about what he did was he moved inside the circle, and connected with them at a different level. And figuratively or literally, that’s what agencies need to do, is they need to get out of their own way and move inside that client’s circle and make that connection.
Drew: Yeah. So when you talk to clients, and they’re talking about their agency relationships, and they’re talking about their own search, when they articulate what they’re looking for, do they understand it’s chemistry? Or is that the unspoken?
Chuck: Well, I volunteer it. I don’t hear them saying it that often. And again, back to the question, “What are clients looking for?” Are they looking for an experiential agency? Are they looking for a digital agency? No, they’re looking for a marketing partner to help them improve their business.
And what I think is important is, back to the agency now, is an agency that doesn’t come to the table with a specific service in mind such as digital marketing. As a matter of fact, this day I ask a lot of people, “What does digital marketing mean?” And it means nothing anymore. Everything we produce is done in a digital platform. So it’s now become vague as to what it means if you’re a digital agency. Does that mean you don’t do print, that you don’t do outdoor? You tell me, Drew, what does it mean to you?
Drew: I think agencies are struggling with that. I think it used to be 5, 10 years ago, a lot of agencies put that in their name or somewhere to prove that they had the chops to do work online.
But I was just with a bunch of agency owners yesterday, and we had the same conversation about, “What does digital mean?” And it can mean anything from social, to search, to programmatic buying, to websites and web dev, to apps. You know, the list goes on and on. And there are very few agencies in today’s day that, if they don’t have some capability in that, are still around. You can’t survive today without having digital chops, either internally or a great partner.
Chuck: Not to diminish it, but it’s just another service.
Drew: Or another medium, right?
Chuck: Well, yeah.
Drew: Yeah, absolutely. Yep. Okay, so let’s talk about, you see all these profiles of agencies, and we’ve talked about some of the things that they do wrong. So we’ve talked about actually putting your location on your website, which is crazy, and your people and all of that. What do you observe that the good agencies are doing well, in terms of attracting the right kind of clientele to their business?
Chuck: Well, again, our relationship with these agencies is almost exclusively with and through AgencyFinder.
Drew: So whether it’s on AgencyFinder or elsewhere, is it how they present themselves? Is it how they talk about themselves? Is it that they have compelling case studies?
So you’ve got this huge database for new business prospecting, right Chuck? So when you’re culling through to find the final X number that you’re going to invite to this initial discovery call with a client, what is it about what they say in the database, or about themselves or their work that puts them in the yes column rather than the no column, beyond they have the capacity to do the work?
Chuck: Well, that’s an interesting question. Because we have something called a power index. And this is a whole topic, by the way, that’s quite interesting. Power index, as we say, is a measure of new business readiness. And it’s an algorithm. It’s a real-time number calculation that reflects the completeness of their profile. Eighty-five percent is attributed to that.
In other words, “Have they filled in all the blanks?” It’s not a question of what they’ve said in the blank. It’s just a question, “Did they fill in the blank?” Making the argument that if an agency comes to us to use our service of their own volition, and then fails to finish filling in the blanks, that doesn’t say they’re pretty sharp at new business.
Drew: Or very committed to the process, right?
Chuck: Right. So the power index, 85% of the score is a function of their completeness. There’s another 15% that is experiential. Such things as, “Have they paid their bill to us on time?” Number two, “Do they return our phone calls?” Number three, “Do they accept our business model?”
And in the beginning, we give them full credit for that. So if they’ve filled in all their check boxes, and we don’t have any experience, their score is 100. But as we get to know them, and if they maintain a good relationship with us, their score is still 100. But if they start failing to return phone calls, or if they argue with us about our business model for some reason, they start losing points and they can drop down. So number one, the power index is important.
And what I am saying, Drew, this is a whole different topic, but within the different industries, the advertising industry is one of the few that does not have any kind of regulatory, and I hate the word…but when you think about it, a doctor has to have a license. So does a chiropractor. Even the women that put on acrylic nails have to pass a test in most states, and then be licensed to do it.
Now, without belaboring the point, “What does an agency have to do or have to represent itself as an agency that will devote fiduciary responsibility to the client’s money?”
Drew: Right. You’re absolutely right. They have to hang up a shingle.
Chuck: Right. And to that point, I’m not trying to damn the industry, but I’m just saying that poor clients, how are they to know when they’re meeting three or four or five…they may be nice people. They may have good chemistry. They may present good materials. But how does that client know that this agency knows what they’re doing, and has the education to do it?
So that’s why we…end of story for a moment. That’s why we developed the power index. So we say to a client, “If their score is 100, you can be fairly comfortable, at least as far as new business, that they score well.” And if they got a 64, which some do, that means this agency hasn’t done their essays. They shouldn’t even get to the surface.
Drew: Right. So what you’re saying is oftentimes agencies are their own worst enemy. I often describe it as they get a little shiny object syndrome problem going, and so they would come to a service like yours or start to engage with a prospect. And then something draws their attention, and then they’re not as attentive to the detail as they need to be.
Chuck: I don’t want to overwhelm things with what’s wrong. What’s right? Customer service, they’re responsive. In other words, when the client reaches out and says, “I have an issue,” they’re responsive. They’re also proactive in many cases. Now there’s some clients that frankly don’t want this, and there are clients…I describe the extreme.
There is the Kinko agency, the Kinkos. That’s the agency that essentially, much because the client doesn’t want it differently, the client is so infused with great ideas that they almost overwhelm the agency. So the agency doesn’t need to do much thinking at night. They know the client will do it. So the client will get in touch with them the next day and say, “Look, I need this.” And the agency does it, does it well. That’s not a bad relationship. That’s a good relationship the way that one is couched.
But there are many clients that don’t have a clue what to do. They wouldn’t know a headline if they bumped into it. So they need an agency that’s proactive, that thinks about that client at night, that comes to that client the next day with some thoughts.
And that’s the other extreme of a client-agent relationship. Nothing better about that one. It’s just that’s what that client requires. So I would just say attentiveness, no matter how the client wants it. And so it’s difficult to say, “Be attentive,” because different clients want to be attended to in different ways.
Drew: Well, but I think in that, you hit on one of the key components, which is agencies need to be very in tune with how their clients want to be connected with, and contacted, and about what kinds of things.
So I need to know that my client responds better to text messages. Or I need to know my client, Mondays are a day that I shouldn’t bother him or her. Or I know that my client wants me to bring him ideas, big ideas, crazy ideas, and then we’ll talk through them together. Or my client really, “Look, here’s the program. We’ve agreed upon the program. Just do it.”
Chuck: Yeah, and that reminds me. Don’t let Stuart Sanders hear this. But I learned so much from working for Stuart.
Drew: Yeah, brilliant man.
Chuck: And the things that he knew about the intuitive, and the chemistry, and the piece parts of agency new business relationships…and then it reminds me that, for instance, he taught something. Well, I can’t remember what we called it. But he taught a chemistry process, and it was a derivative of the Myers-Briggs four quadrant idea. But the essence of it is, “Birds of a feather flock together in business.”
So if you’re a type A agency, in other words if you’re led by somebody who’s a type-A, who runs a tight ship, if you look at your client list, you’ll probably see that your best clients are also type A. And if you’re looking for new clients, however you do that, whether you come to us, or whether you do it proactively, or whatever, you should be seeking more type-As. Because a lot of the connectivity tissue is already there in place.
Drew: Right. Oftentimes we talk about every prospect is not a good prospect, and sometimes the best thing an agency can do is walk away if they don’t think the fit is good.
Chuck: Absolutely. And again, since it’s top of mind, this search we’re doing right now. The client wrote in their…we call it RFD, a Request for Dialogue, not an RFP. We abhor those things. The RFD, this woman wrote that “We’ve had very unfortunate experiences with some public relations firms in the past. We are now rather jaded, so we will have to be convinced.” Well, that was a true expression of both her feelings and their opinion.
But interestingly enough, and maybe I should have known better to take it out, because a number of agencies said…what do you think some of the agencies, Drew, might have said or assumed because of that statement, about this client?
Drew: Yeah, they assumed they were going to be difficult to work with.
Chuck: Right. This is a problem client. So rather than accept the fact that the PR firm failed, which in fact it turns out was the case…it was a solo practitioner PR publicist who promised everything, “I’ll get you front page New York Times.” Got nothing. So it was all the fault, really, of the publicist. But many read that to mean difficult client. And as a result, by the way, they exercised the decision to say, “No, thanks.”
Drew: Yeah. Well, actually, although in this case it might have been misplaced, I’m happy to hear that they actually said no. Because for a long time, over the last decade, as the economy was shaky, anybody with a pulse and a dollar was a good client. So I’m glad to hear that agencies are being more discriminatory in deciding who they want to work with. Even if, in that case, it was a bad choice, I’d rather see them make some bad choices than never make a good choice.
Chuck: Well, and again, in our process, when an agency’s talking to a client and the question is, “What’s your budget?” And by the way, I pre-addressed this with registered clients, because I say to them, “What’s your budget?” Now there’s a place in our form for them to indicate a budget range that we give them pull-downs, less than $100,000, $100,000 to $250,000, $250,000 to $500,000. We’ve got $25 million, etc.
But if somebody, for instance, chooses $100,000 to $250,000, I’ll say, “Well, let’s talk more about your budget.” And if they start playing cagey with me, I say, “Look, you can’t do that. If you do that to an agency, they’re going to run for the hills.” They don’t need a client who’s not willing to discuss the reality of what the budget is, could be, whatever. So we got to do the agencies a favor by addressing that rather aggressively up front.