Episode 376:

Business development will always be necessary for keeping your agency alive. Many agencies are great at marketing for clients but historically fall flat when it’s time to market themselves to prospects.

Peter Levitan knows this very well and has some tips to share to help us get creative about our agencies and prospecting for them. Whether aggressively pursuing a dream client or breaking into thought leadership, Peter knows the ins and outs of getting your agency’s name out there to just about anyone.

Tune into this episode to learn Peter’s business development expertise, hear his thoughts on thought leadership and writing, and see what’s on the horizon for agencies going into 2023.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

business development

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Peter’s strong background in business development and agency consulting
  • The top 3 ways to get more business and keep it
  • The importance of standing out from the crowd when marketing your agency
  • How to do direct marketing
  • Fresh and new topics that your agency can write about
  • Dabbling in thought leadership
  • What’s on the horizon in 2023?
  • Being aggressive and persistent with agency goals without overloading the team

“I think it's critical to have some message that will resonate, that stands out from the crowd.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet “We all know about personal branding, but my point to agencies is, if you're similar to the guy down the street, the something that makes you different is who you are.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet “The only thing an agency can do is put the pedal to the metal because some agencies will get nervous and not want to spend money or time on business development.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet “Fill the gap would be my primary message. Get smart about business development and push it.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet “I think it's a mindset deal. Again, my advice is always to think of the agency as one of your clients.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Peter:

Resources:



Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run; traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable.

Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Super excited to be with you today and really excited to bring back a guest that was a part of one of the early episodes many, many years ago back when we first launched the podcast. So I’ll tell you a little bit more about him and we’ll get to that conversation in a quick second.

Just want to remind you that if you are looking for a way to spend some money in 2022 rather than give it to the tax man, the Build a Better Agency Summit tickets are up for sale. We have some amazing keynote speakers. So I just want to tell you about two of them today, both Michael and Amy Port. Many of you are familiar with Heroic Public Speaking. Michael’s been a guest on a podcast before. They run an amazing business and work with corporations, they teach classes. And if you can think of any sort of world class keynote speaker that you have seen at a conference, odds are they are a Heroic Public Speaking graduate. I mean, the laundry list of people that have run through their program and have improved their ability to present as a result is astronomical.

But many, many AMI agencies have gone to some of their courses and it’s not really about wanting to be a keynote speaker, although that’s certainly an option as well, but what Michael and Amy teach you is sort of how to own the room and how to present with power and conviction and influence. Whether you’re sitting across the table from someone and it’s a one-on-one conversation or it is you’re sitting on a stage in front of 6,000 people or anything in between. So for any of you that present, which is pretty much all of you, I think you would love to hear what both Amy and Michael are going to say. One of them is on Tuesday and the other one is on Wednesday. In terms of keynotes, they’re going to take very different avenues of attack on presentation skills and how to be powerful from the stage no matter what the stage is.

So not only will you love hearing their keynotes, but you’re just going to love them as human beings. They’re going to be with us for the entire time, so you’ll get to interact with them and ask them questions and they’re just lovely human beings, really lovely human beings and I’m really excited to have them as a part of the summit. So if you are so interested, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and the very first tab on the navigation up in the upper left is BABA Summit. Click on it and you can get squared away right away. Grab your tickets before they go up in price and give yourself an early holiday gift by getting those tickets now.

All right, so let me tell you a little bit about our guests. So Peter Levitan, most of you have probably heard of him or know of him and his writings. So Peter owned an agency for many, many years, worked in big agencies and then eventually owned his own agency and did that successfully for many years. And then he exited his agency and has been doing a lot of consulting work for the last several years, working with agencies just like you, particularly around BizDev. That was sort of his core skillset when he was at agencies and when he owned an agency. And so he has a lot to say about how agencies can and should sell their services. And so I had him on the show, he was one of the very first guests we ever had. I knew that I wanted him on the show early and I’m super excited that he is willing to come back and be on the show again. And so really where I want to focus in this conversation is on his tactics and tricks around BizDev. But I’m sure we will get off track once or twice, which will be part of the fun of the show.

So all right, let’s jump in and welcome Peter to the show. Peter, welcome back to the podcast. Thanks for coming back.

Peter Levitan:

My pleasure. It’s nice to see we’re both still around.

Drew McLellan:

It is. I think you were at guest number three, I think we discovered. So that was a way back.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah, I’m going to say I was your training wheels.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. Well, actually what it was I was just starting out, I had no listeners so I needed to invite big names that would attract attention. So you were top on the list so I appreciate you coming back a year or two later to do this again so thank you.

Peter Levitan:

My pleasure.

Drew McLellan:

So tell everybody a little bit about your work today. I think people are familiar with sort of the body of your work, but the kind of work you’re doing today. And then I want to dig in because I have a lot of topics I want to cover with you.

Peter Levitan:

I work with generally smaller to mid-size agencies. They find me online, which is nice. I was sort of an early SEO kind of guy, so that works. I primarily help agencies with business development, but our relationships morph into agency management, importantly these days talent management which is increasingly an issue. And I haven’t gone here, although I’m starting to write about it, what I call boss burnout. We’re talking about staff burnout and how do you deal with remote workers. And I’m just realizing when I talk to a lot of the people that run agencies that they’re dealing with stress in their own life. And I know you just had a podcast talking about that. And it’s not like I’m a psychologist, but I think management of an agency these days really is in fact 360 degrees, much more so than before. So I cover a lot of territory.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s interesting, the way I describe agency owners today is that they’re weary, they’re just bone tired weary, I think, from everything that’s gone on for the last couple years. So you’re right, I think the burnout at the top level is a real issue.

Peter Levitan:

Well, people ask me, “Why did you sell your agency a few years ago?” And frankly, I’d been in the business a long time, but I was a little tired of the art of reinvention and I kind of ended up with a model that I thought would make sense, which certainly would make sense today, sort of hub and spoke model. But I just said, “Can I deal with this again?” And I said, “Nah, I got other things to do.” And the consulting popped up after I sold the agency so it’s a nice add-on to other things that I do in life.

Drew McLellan:

So let’s talk a little bit about, you said you focus with most agencies or the reason they knock on your door anyway is BizDev. So let’s talk a little bit about what you are seeing on the landscape of how agencies are successfully landing new clients these days. And when you’re coaching them in that arena, what kind of things are you guys talking about? What kind of strategies are you encouraging them to deploy?

Peter Levitan:

Well, by nature, the people that come to me have a problem. So they’re not coming to me because they’re successful or they think they’re successful. And the problem I would say in general is filling the pipeline. How do I get more business? And so I start out by saying the three things that agencies have to do. Number one is you have to be able to be found. And I’ll use an example, let’s say you’re an hospitality expert agency. If I’m Hilton and I’m looking for an agency, will I find you? So it’s insane if in fact I can’t find you when I’m looking for you. So that’s number one.

The second is, and we all know this, agency’s got a lot of business from referrals, sometimes unfortunately it’s the only way they get business because they’re not doing something else. So I try to instruct agencies a bit in having a referral strategy. Just don’t leave it to chance, have a strategy because people forget that you’re there, even your best friends. And then the third is-

Drew McLellan:

Or they think that you don’t need the help, that you’re super busy and it doesn’t occur to them to try and be helpful.

Peter Levitan:

Exactly. So for both of those I would say it’s generally consciousness. It’s just really being out there and making sure that those two things, can you be found and can you drive referrals, are happening. The third is interesting and it’s a function I think unfortunately of today’s economics is that agencies do not do a great job of retaining and growing clients.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, huge problem, agreed.

Peter Levitan:

Right? And I think a function of that unfortunately is that there is, I’m going to be cautious but I’ll say it, little to no training of client facing individuals at the agency.

Drew McLellan:

It’s really interesting you say that. So we just wrapped up teaching Money Matters, which is we’re teaching agency owners all things money, and we talk about that 60 to 70% of their net new revenue should come from existing clients. Couple that with the fact that their AEs are not taught to think about looking for opportunities with clients, growing clients, they think that they’re order takers and they’re supposed to make the clients happy and they’re project managers, make sure everything gets done is a real problem for a lot of agencies, absolutely.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah, it really does come down to training. I don’t think it has to. When I talk to agencies about training, I say, “You don’t need a three week training program.” 20 minutes a week of even a conversation about how do you present ideas to clients, how do you generate ideas, what do you think your clients need to hear? These are not difficult things.

Listening, I was lucky to have started in a huge agency where there was training and one of the things they taught us was the concept of active listening. Now, if you’re married or you have a relationship or you have kids, it’s sort of basically say to yourself, “Shut up and listen.” The best example I use is we go to a cocktail party and you meet somebody and they start talking and the only thing in your brain is, “Oh, I have my story to tell this other person,” right? So I used to tell my kids you know what you know but you don’t know what you don’t know and the only way to really understand the other person is to listen. And this sounds so simple, but I think it needs to be drummed into people.

Drew McLellan:

What do they say, the most interesting person at the cocktail party is the one that asks you all about you, right?

Peter Levitan:

Yes. Well, I use dating as a metaphor, right? We all know that worst date where one person sits there and all they do is talk about themselves. And of course that folds into, unfortunately for some agencies, the pitch process.

Drew McLellan:

For sure, yeah. Okay, so you help an agency be findable, you help them put together the referral, and then from there, do you help them do something more active, more outbound, more hunting?

Peter Levitan:

Yeah, I am a huge fan of account-based marketing. Let me start at the beginning. I think the base is, it’s important to be conscious of search engine optimization. And that kind of goes back to the can you be found part that I said earlier. And that’s a base. But as you know and I know, that is getting more and more difficult every year. There are more agencies, I mean, what is there left to write about? Although if we put an asterisk on that, I can come back to it. So I think that the inbound aspect is critically important.

On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of the concept of outbound marketing and I tell a story sometimes it’s kind of funny, I had a client in Dubai, really smart ex-Microsoft guy living in Dubai, and this is years ago, he said to me, “What do you think about account based marketing?” And I said to him, “I don’t know what that means. What is it?” And he describes it and I look at him, I go, “That’s direct marketing.” This is not a new invention. So my mantra is a little bit is one, learn how… Well, okay, have a positioning that sets you apart. I have to start some of the things I’m saying here by saying I think we all know the basics, where the rubber hits the road is in the execution.

Drew McLellan:

Right, knowing the basics and applying the basics are two different things.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. And as we both know, it’s fascinating, agencies are very smart at dealing with their clients, sometimes not with themselves. So number one is have a positioning. And you can have, I believe, multiple positionings, I mean, you can be a hospitality expert and an SEO expert at the same time. So I think it’s critical to have some message that will resonate, that stands out from the crowd. And then figure out who your prospects are. And again, you could think this is easy, but really think hard. And again, the art of that science is really understanding who these people are, finding them, understanding their psychographics, understanding their motivations. Obviously there are top level motivations for, let’s do a mid-size company, for CMOs, but as individuals, and this is where personalization comes in, they each have the thing that they need to hear. And I’ll get into the weeds in a second.

One of the things that things I discovered a long time ago was if you go on LinkedIn and you look at a person and you look at their profile, they will tell you what they want you to think. And then something we don’t often do is you go down and look at the, I don’t know if they’re called referrals or whatever, where people-

Drew McLellan:

The recommendations?

Peter Levitan:

Recommendations, read the recommendations because what Tom says about Sally is different than what Sally’s saying about herself. And we could make the case that this is a lot of hard work, but I’m not sure there are any other areas in terms of business development that are more important than once you have a position that resonates, understanding the message to that individual in that company or individuals in the company. I also believe that while you might hit up one guy, you can also broadcast to the other people in the marketing group, even these days the CFO.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, interesting. Yeah, they’re certainly playing a bigger and bigger role.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I don’t want to talk about something really unfortunate, but we also, this Keurig-Dr. Pepper thing run by this week where they’re telling agencies ,”We’re not going to pay you for a year.” So the CFO and procurement are obviously important and I wouldn’t leave them out of the mix.

Drew McLellan:

All right, so I have a positioning that matters, I identify prospects. And then do you have a recommended sort of methodology or way that agencies should do the direct marketing, the account-based marketing? Is there something that you’ve seen that’s really working for agencies in terms of getting on a prospect’s radar screen or getting them to return a phone call or whatever that may be?

Peter Levitan:

Well, I’ll lead with a little story. Years ago when I became the business development director of Saatchi & Saatchi, I called up another agency in New York and I said, “What works for you?” And he said, and so this is pre-data, pre-data land, he said, “I don’t know really what works so we do everything.” All right? So I don’t necessarily suggest that you do everything, but my map is that you start with some information or an insight that will help the prospect that you are reaching out to, that will make their life better. And that could be a current tactic or it could be talking about the future. And of course today, smart agencies are talking about artificial intelligence and figuring out that spin, right? So it’s really figuring out what works and then reaching out.

And so how do you reach out? You can reach out with LinkedIn message, which works some of the time, sometimes doesn’t. I’m a huge fan still of email, smart. Not the silly, stupid stuff that we get every day where you can tell, you probably get the same thing. I get a message from people saying, “Hi Peter, you have an advertising agency, so I want to do something or other for your agency.”

Drew McLellan:

Every day.

Peter Levitan:

And I’m like, well, in about 10 seconds you can figure out I’m not an advertising agency by looking at my LinkedIn profile.

Drew McLellan:

At anything, right?

Peter Levitan:

Right. Now I’m going to say that agencies do that as well. Maybe a little not as poorly, but they do it. So okay, have the positioning, have a prospect list, have the insights that they will pay attention to. One thing I say to agencies, it’s a little pearls before swine, if you have a study about hospitality that a hospitality CMO would want to read, and when I say study, one or two pages max, let’s not get too crazy. The client you want will read it, the client that you don’t want won’t read it. So it’s almost self-selecting. Or they might not want to read it today, but…

Okay, this is another point. I’m a little going to be all over here because it is a complex subject, reach out to them, but continue to reach out with them. This is not a one shot deal. And there are hundreds of pundits on the internet telling you how to reach out, how many touches to make, how to talk to people and so forth. So that’s something I also get into with people. One of the things we do know, unfortunately we’re human, is sometimes we in fact respond to the fifth touch.

Drew McLellan:

Right, that’s right.

Peter Levitan:

You finally go, “Oh, okay, I’ll talk to you,” or, “I’ll pay attention.”

Drew McLellan:

Or, “I didn’t even notice the first four, but today you caught my attention and so here we go,” right?

Peter Levitan:

Exactly. And so email works, LinkedIn works to a certain extent. Again, we don’t know what works. So we do a little bit of everything and of course the data will tell us what works. I am a very big fan of direct mail, as in paper.

Drew McLellan:

Old school, right?

Peter Levitan:

Old school. I get a letter now, I get a letter in July, it’s like getting a Christmas card, right? So those are some of the tools. Another, which I think is highly underutilized, is advertising.

Drew McLellan:

I always think it’s so funny when agencies go, “I should what? I should spend money?” What do you tell your clients every single day?

Peter Levitan:

Oh no, it’s crazy. So I’ll say two things. One, I have an old Saatchi friend from London who has an agency, believe it or not, named London Advertising. And I’ve written about them on my blog about how they use advertising to drive their business. It’s quite fascinating. I mean, I’m not going to say the English are smarter than us, but the London advertising group are really smart. And they actually have done outdoor advertising in London to reach clients and have one business. Now, it also does something else for them, Michael who runs the agency, Michael Masinsky also winds up on the news because it’s so rare for an agency to advertise and he gets written up in an ad week and so forth.

So here’s something that I think agencies should really figure out. Again, let’s use hospitality as a category. Advertise your agency or your insights or something in a podcast related to the hospitality industry. It’s still a pretty new raw area to advertise on podcasts, especially niche podcasts. Now, I have to admit, you can hit me later, I don’t remember who you might be having as an advertiser, but you’re the perfect place for somebody who’s selling a tool. Oh, I know, I’m going to show you I actually pay attention, is it White Label IQ or something like that? Okay, all right. Well, I think I’m going to congratulate you right now and say that you have an advertiser, you can tell them that actually somebody who listens to your podcast has gone to their website and paid attention to them. That’s an underutilized area.

And again, I just say try everything. I get into tactics often with agencies about how to create interest in their insights. And if you don’t stop me, I’ll give you I think a big idea that I’ve never had a client do-

Drew McLellan:

All right, then I will not stop you.

Peter Levitan:

All right, and I’ll use myself as an example. I have a page on my website that I should probably update more, but it’s called resources. So it becomes an omnibus place where I have multiple subjects and I list other people’s websites and white papers and so forth. An example is I’ll talk about every Google tool that an agency should use to develop insights. And that gets, the two probably most visited pages on my website are one about awards. What are the awards? And so this is a list, it’s a list sort of, and then the other is a page on resources.

So the advice I give agencies, and I don’t know why they don’t take me up on it, and again, I’ll use hospitality as an example, create the ultimate hospitality go-to directory website resource list. It doesn’t have to be branded by your agency. Of course you’re going to have some linkage back to you. But I could come up with 10 subjects at any given time. It’s every hospitality website on a list. I’ll make this up. Every white paper about hospitality marketing, every hospitality conference, why not own it? I mean, why are we letting Google own all this stuff, right?

So I call it the art and science. The art there is something, another word, and I’ll tell you the agency I stole it from is how can you be unignorable? Because unfortunately there’s a little bit too much of sameness out there. And this is where we have this problem with search engine optimization. I mean, what is there left to write about? Right? So the agency I point to, and I always just think they were brilliant, you go to YouTube and you search on John St., John and then St., And they have a video that they did a few years ago that has over a million views. Now show me another advertising agency with a video that has over a million views. And it was called Cat, as in meow, catvertising.

Now they told me, so years ago, I called him up, I said, “What’s going on guys? You guys are crazy.” And the creative director said, “You know what? We do these and we get the attention of marketers, we get a phone call from P&G.” And they say, “Who are you guys?” And they were ultimately bought by, and I think it’s WPP because they’re just crazy people out of Toronto. And their whole pitch is, “We make clients ignorable.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s a beautiful line.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. I have a new book coming out in the beginning of the year, I was going to call it Ignorable, but of course I don’t think there’s a title that hasn’t been taken.

Drew McLellan:

No, no, I think you’re right, I think you’re right. All right. Hey, I want to take a break and then I do want to come back. And you had alluded to earlier there are things that you still think agencies can write about that will help them stand out. So I want to pick at that a little bit when we come back. But first, let’s take a little break and then we’ll come back. So everybody sharpen your pencils because Peter’s going to tell you what to write about in a minute.

Hey, sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to make sure that you are thinking about how to connect with your clients by figuring out what they love and maybe a few things that they’re not so crazy about with your agency. So at AMI, one of the things we offer are client satisfaction surveys, we do both quantitative and qualitative. So an online survey, but also interviews with some of your key clients. And then we come back to you with trends, recommendations, what they love, what they don’t love, lots of insights around how you can create an even tighter relationship with your clients.

So if you have interest in that, you can go under ‘how we help’ tab on the AMI website and the very bottom choice on how we help tab is the client satisfaction surveys. You can read more about it. But whether you have us do it or you do it yourself or you hire somebody else, it is really critical that you be talking to your clients about what they love and what they wish was different or better. So do not miss the opportunity to tighten your relationship with your client whether we help you or not. All right?

All right, let’s get back to the show. All right, we are back and we were talking about BizDev. And earlier in the conversation you had said, really, what is there left to right about? But put an asterisk on that. So I’m now calling the asterisk.

Peter Levitan:

Well, I’m going to use the overused word, and sometimes overused words or phrases are overused for the right reason, and that’s thought leadership. So the question is, okay, we all have thoughts, but how do you get into a position of leadership? And I point to the consulting companies who of course have bags of money and can assign people to write about subjects and create these in-depth deals. But, we’re not all sitting on money. I think there are some obvious ways to generate interest. Again, I’m somewhat surprised that agencies don’t do as much research as they should do. And so when I say research, you can use online research tools, you can do an online focus group. There are now companies that help people do long distance focus groups. You can do man on the street interviews, again totally underused, kind of a nineties thing, right? Going out on the street with a microphone and asking people questions.

Drew McLellan:

Right, back then with a big 50 pound camcorder on your shoulder.

Peter Levitan:

Exactly. And I’m going to say something that might scare some people, but I’m just going to say, you can do a fake interview. So what do I mean by that? In the mid 2000s, my agency launched a podcasts way too early, but one of the podcasts, we went out on the street in Oregon and asked people if they listened to podcasts. So it was a podcast about what is podcasting? But what I did was my friends have answers, I told them what the answers to the questions were.

So look, you’re an agency, you’re creative. The line between truth and not truth can float. So I think interviews are a tool. Using Google Insights, Google Trends to know that day what people are thinking about. We just saw in the past, what, two weeks? This craziness of ChatGPT, right? Well, kick some on that tomorrow. Ask ChatGPT a question about something related to the hospitality industry and then send what ChatGPT says to the marketing director and tell him you just used ChatGPT to ask this question relating to their industry or their subcategory, right? I live in Mexico, if you’re a Mexican hotel, ask the question, “Is Mexico dangerous? Should I go there on vacation?” And then take that and send it to hotels in Cancun. So I don’t want to use the word creative, but Google has three or four tools. I forget the name of it. Answer the Public, I think is an interesting tool.

Drew McLellan:

Ask the Public, yeah.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah, Ask the Public. I think it’s really using these tools to get at what people are paying attention to today. Again, I’ll use hospitality, read the hospitality industry websites. What are they talking to each other about? What spin can you do? How can you tell them, here’s another example of something that is so current it just blows my mind, what is going on on TikTok in the hospitality industry, right? And I’ll even roll that back to advertising. It’s very interesting if you do a search now, and we know people use TikTok as a search tool, search advertising agency on TikTok and see what comes up. See agencies are using it, who aren’t using it, how they are using it. There are individuals who are owning the category because they’re individuals and they might be a copywriter at a Denver agency and they just do their own thing. Write about TikTok, write about AI, write about the failure of Instagram for, I don’t know, hospitality, right? Yeah. I don’t know, did that answer because I could probably keep going forever.

Drew McLellan:

It did. I mean, as you know, you and I are very aligned on this whole idea of thought leadership, that thought leadership is having a subject matter expertise, but then using it to help your prospect be better at their job before they hire you.

Peter Levitan:

I was going to say, another element of that is, again, in this book that I hopefully will squeak out early in the year, I talk about personal branding. And I think we all know about personal branding, but my point to agencies is if you’re kind of similar to the guy down the street, the something you’re different that makes you different is who you are. So how can you learn from, yes, a Gary Vaynerchuk, how can you learn from a David Ogilvy or a David Droga, or this guy, I forget his name, F-U-T-U-R. If your audience is not aware of this, go on YouTube and type in Futur, but F-U-T-U-R and you’ll, your mind will be blown by, A, how many people pay attention to him and it’s really aimed at the creative community, and then how much money he makes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, lots of ways to spin the cat.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. It might even be a segue to, you’re an advertising agency and we think we all know how we make money. What other things can you do? Because again, one thing I write about is, I’ll go back to your White Label IQ guys, Basecamp, which used to be an agency built Basecamp because they needed the programming to track client communications. I think I got that right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, that’s how Teamwork came to be too, is they were an agency over in Ireland and they were so frustrated by all the other project management tools out there that they created their own and then decided that was going to be their focus.

Peter Levitan:

And so white label it, and that’s another thought leadership opportunity where you’re saying, “We’re really cool and smart and we built this.” And you don’t have to build it. Plus there are about, what, 45,000 engineers out of work right now.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. So one of the things I know I want to talk to you about before we let you go is what do you see on the horizon? So the agency owners that I’m talking to, a lot of them are projecting based on contracts signed and all of that, that ’23 is going to be a great year. But of course with the economic doom and gloom that we have here in the States and some of the other things that are happening, everyone feels a little bit like they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop and that they’re cautiously optimistic, which was what they were feeling right before the pandemic hit too. So I think there’s a little de ja vu in all of that. What do you see on the horizon for ’23 for small to mid-sized agencies? What do they need to be thinking about? Where do they need to be paying attention?

Peter Levitan:

Well, I subscribe to the old Intel line, “Only the paranoid survive.” So I think it’s worth waking up in the morning, unfortunately, it adds to the stress of what I call boss burnout, be a little paranoid. Agencies tend to be optimistic generally, which is good. I absolutely believe that client types are going to reduce budgets. I think the unknown is too big right now. And of course, you read the financial trade press, it’s all over the place. Everything’s going to get good, everything’s going to suck.

So I think the only thing that an agency can do is pedal to the metal because some of the other guys are going to get nervous and not want to spend money or time on business development. And it’s really fill the gap. It’s the same thing we say to clients, but don’t do for ourselves, which is you say to a client, “Your competitors are going to reduce their budgets so you get out there,” it’s been said for 50 years, it actually happens to work/

Drew McLellan:

Right? There’s a lot of data.

Peter Levitan:

So I’d say fill the gap would be my primary message. It really is get smart about business development and push it. And then again, do those three things I said earlier, which is make sure you’re findable. I challenge agencies sometimes to say to themselves, how could I find you? Open a new browser, a private browser where your shit is not going to come up on Google and figure it out? And I think it is what you and I would call sales pressure, elegant, intelligent sales pressure. And, by the way, I’ll go to the beginning, have an elevator pitch, and so clients go, “Haha, an elevator pitch.” And I say, “Well, I’ll tell you what, get on an elevator and go three floors and see if you can say what you do for in three floors.”

Drew McLellan:

Great. Well, and when you think about the messaging that we do for clients, it’s okay, what’s the most important thing somebody has to understand? One fact, great, say it. And then if they go, “Oh, tell me more,” that’s the ideal. And then that you say a little more. Again, to your point earlier, we’re great at this stuff for clients, we just don’t take the time or put the energy in to applying it to ourselves.

Peter Levitan:

So let me turn this around on you. Why does that happen? And of course there’s a range of agencies from brilliant to maybe not so brilliant. Why are they not walking their talk?

Drew McLellan:

I believe it’s a couple reasons. Number one, I think it’s very much the cobbler’s children have no shoes excuse, which is they never give it the time that it needs, they never give it the focus that it needs. Number two, I think it’s difficult kind of to your LinkedIn story, how Sally describes herself may not be how the world sees Sally. So I think sometimes it’s helpful for agencies to get some outside perspective on how they look to a prospect or a client, even from their own clients asking their clients how they would describe themselves. So to your point, if they do get great referrals, asking those people who give you referrals, what do you say to people about us? How do you talk about us?

And I think too, I think that we as agency people are so deadline driven and when we’re getting paid to do it, then we hit the marks. But when it’s for ourselves and it’s a choice between putting out a client fire or doing something for the agency, I think that’s a challenging choice to make. And last but not least, I think agencies are watching the bottom line and every unbillable hour in their mind is a cost as opposed to an investment. And so I don’t think they apply the resources to it that they should.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. Well I think it’s a mindset deal. Again, my advice is always to think of the agency as one of your clients and give it a number, however you classify your clients.

Drew McLellan:

All of that.

Peter Levitan:

Right, exactly. And when you have a staff meeting, let people know that if we don’t do this, we’re going to go out of business and your children will not eat. And I know that sounds harsh, but I would say it with a smile and they all got it. And people get used to it. My creative director partner at my agency, one day a switch went off and he’d come into my office and he’d say, “We didn’t send the newsletter out this week. Where was the newsletter?” And as a side note, newsletters slash still work, but my mantra is keep it simple, stupid. You can have a four line newsletter that points to something interesting and people will read that. I’m not sure doing that myself.

But yes, again, to your point, what works? Get people on your list. I just started using LinkedIn newsletters, which I’m not sure how well they’re working. LinkedIn tells me I have thousands of followers and I’ve only really managed to get 900 people to sign up for the weekly newsletter. But I’m using the tool, I have to use it because I tell agencies, check the tool out.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, and as you say, you do a little bit of everything to see what works.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. Plus a lot of coffee and some Adderall if you can still get it and everything’s fine.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. The agency prescription of choice.

Peter Levitan:

Maybe I should go in that business. I’m in Mexico. Yeah, just tell me what drugs you need. I’ll send them out.

Drew McLellan:

I was going to say that’s right, you could probably get them wholesale there. So bottom line, what is going to be your mantra and message to agencies in ’23? What do you think if they focus on nothing else, is it about the burnout? Is it about BizDev? Is it about growing new clients? And I know it’s all of those things, but if a client called you and said, “Okay, I have resource and energy to do one thing,” what do you think is the most important thing that they start with?

Peter Levitan:

Again, I’ll go to account-based marketing. And we’re talking about business development here so account-based marketing. As an element of that of course this burnout thing is talent management. So it’s hard to say to your crew, “Kick butt with insights and getting the word out.” On the other hand, you really do have to be very, very conscious as an agency leader in making sure that you’re not all over the place. I used to go into the staff meetings on Mondays and I would come in with an idea and one of my smart guys would say to me, “Okay, Peter, do you want to do this week’s idea or last week’s idea?” So you need to be very conscious about not overloading and stop and think about really being focused.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s interesting, one of the guys in the workshop that we taught this week, he was saying that best thing he ever did was hire a COO who basically put the brakes on his popcorn brain of ideas and did exactly what you just said, which is, “Okay, we have to pick an idea and ride that horse for a while. We can’t change ideas every day or every week because otherwise we don’t get traction in any of them.” So that’s absolutely right.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah, just behave yourself.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. As I knew it would be, this was a great encore conversation. We should probably not wait another five years before we do it again.

Peter Levitan:

No, we’ll do it in 10 years.

Drew McLellan:

All right. Fair enough. We’re just going to double it up every time.

Peter Levitan:

I’m not going to read something to you, but I went to ChatGPT yesterday, and I typed in, “Is there a future for advertising agency consultants?”

Drew McLellan:

Oh. Oh, great. This is good news for both of us or bad news?

Peter Levitan:

No, no. The good news was you will always be needed so that’s good.

Drew McLellan:

That is good news, okay. All right. Hey, this was great. If folks want to find you, if they want to get on that newsletter list, if they want to know when the new book is coming out, if they want to reach out to you, what is the best way for them to connect?

Peter Levitan:

Well, I like email. It’s very difficult. [email protected], L-E-V-I-T-A-N,.com, [email protected] And I try to respond to everybody, you probably get younger people asking you questions, I talk to everybody. I don’t charge people, whatever.

Drew McLellan:

Great, love it. And you also are on LinkedIn. You also have the website, same thing?

Peter Levitan:

Peterlevitan.com, yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome

Peter Levitan:

Personal branding.

Drew McLellan:

I love it. Thank you, my friend. I appreciate you making the time to do this as always, and sharing all of your wisdom. I know a lot of people, especially as they are going into planning for 2023, or I think this might run in early 2023, but nonetheless, they will be gearing up the new business machine as they always do in the beginning of the year. So this was perfect timing, so thank you for your time and sharing your expertise. I appreciate it.

Peter Levitan:

My pleasure. You’re doing a great job, keep it up.

Drew McLellan:

You too. All right, we’ll fight the battle together.

Peter Levitan:

You got it.

Drew McLellan:

All right, guys, this wraps up another episode. Lots of actionable items here so take action. And I think Peter gave you several different recipes for how to sort of crack the new business nut. And so pick the one that fits you best, fits your shop best. And if you didn’t hear it loud and clear, I will say it again, consistency is key to this. This is not a one and done thing. Most people aren’t going to pick up the first phone call or answer the first email or LinkedIn message or however you’re reaching out to them. So a key to BizDev success is consistency and just sort of staying the course, really knowing who you want to be partnered with and really pursuing them with a vengeance for a long period of time. I always say once you’ve got somebody on your list, you should chase them until they either say yes or get a restraining order. So you just kind of keep at it.

Peter Levitan:

And that’s how I dated, by the way. Lot of restraining orders.

Drew McLellan:

Seemed to work, right?

Peter Levitan:

Yeah, I got married, yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, there you go. So there’s hope in all aspects of life With that advice. Big shout out to our friends at White Label IQ, thank them for being a presenting sponsor of the podcast. Head over to whitelabeliq.com/ami. As you know, they do white label design dev and PPPC, really good folks. I’ve known them for over 20 years, salt of the Earth human beings, very committed to helping agencies be successful and to be kind of a right hand for you and your shop. So check them out, they’ve got an offer on that website, if this is your first project, you can get some free hours on that, so that’s not a bad deal at all.

All right. I will be back next week with another guest to get you thinking a little differently. In the meantime, thank you very much for listening. Know that I am grateful that you keep coming back, and if you need to reach me, shoot an email or find me on LinkedIn. All right, talk to you next week.

Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefit survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.