Episode 408

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In-person networking and relationship building are not dead. For agencies, it remains one of the most important methods of building your client base. And unfortunately, odds are you’re not doing it enough.

Showing up is a huge part of the biz dev battle that a Zoom call or Slack channel just can’t fix. And in a time when many of us have to rely on current clients to keep ourselves afloat, cutting corners on new business opportunities won’t get us very far.

For Hank Blank, some of the biggest red flags from the clients’ perspective directly result from our increasingly virtual ways of doing business. In his eyes, you will struggle to find new clients if you’re not attending events, doing in-person networking, inviting people into your agency’s space, or making philanthropic efforts in your community.

If you want to learn what always stands the test of time for agencies battling it out for new clients, don’t miss this conversation with one of the best in the business.

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.

in-person networking

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How smaller agencies can stand out against large agencies with in-house teams
  • The biggest mistakes agencies make when searching for new business
  • How agencies make themselves look unavailable or uninterested in new clients
  • Why in-person networking is still imperative for growing a client base
  • How agencies can develop a meaningful brand for themselves
  • Letting creativity guide you in your networking and biz dev
  • The 3 things that win new business
  • Making working at an agency fun again
  • Getting ahead of the competition to educate clients on new technology

“When I go to networking events, I rarely meet an agency. Agencies just don't network.” @hankblank Click To Tweet
“75% of all revenue bill comes from your network and relationships. Your relationships become your referral network. But you find those relationships initially at networking events.” @hankblank Click To Tweet
“What I have found is what wins new business is experience, chemistry, and sweat equity.” @hankblank Click To Tweet
“Advertising is still a magic. It's creativity. And you have to present the promise of that.” @hankblank Click To Tweet
“Clients want somebody that will come and lead them like anything else. Agencies with the longest relationships with their clients are always the best leaders.” @hankblank Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Hank:


Speaker 1 (00:01):

Running an agency can be a lonely proposition, but it doesn’t have to be. We can learn how to be better faster if we learn together. Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast presented by White Label iq. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-size agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market with 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, drew McClellan.

Speaker 2 (00:36):

Hey everybody. Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for joining us. Uh, we’ve got a great episode, uh, today I am excited to introduce you to our guest, but before I do that, I do wanna remind you that now is the time to grab your Build a Better Agency Summit Ticket for 2024. The conference is May 21st and 22nd in Denver for the first time. And the tickets are never gonna get less expensive than they are right now. They’re the early, early, early, early bird tickets. You can go on to the Agency Management’s Institute website. The very first navigation button is Ba A BA Summit. Click on that and you can grab that super early discount for tickets. Again, May 20th first and 22nd. Family Day or Member Day will be the 20th. Uh, we’re in Denver this year, downtown Denver. So brand new venue, venue, new brand new experiences.

Speaker 2 (01:30):

We already have some great speakers lined up, so if you know you’re gonna join us, if you’re a regular attendee or you’ve missed out the last few years and you’re like, I am not missing out again, then grab your ticket now and save yourself some money. Okay. All right. Let me tell you about our guest. So, Hank Blank is a guy that I have known for eons. Um, he has had, he’s worked in many large agencies. He started his career at j Walter Thompson and worked for several large agencies before, probably 20 years ago. He went out on his own as an agency consultant. He does a bunch of agency searches. So he is talking to agency people and clients who hire agencies all the time. So, I’ve known Hank forever, and he’s always insightful and interesting. Always has some great stories. So I asked him to join us and give us his sense of what’s going on in the space today, where agencies are making mistakes when they are pitching for new business, and how we can deal with some of the challenges that we’re facing today with all the changes that have brought, been brought about in the last couple years.

Speaker 2 (02:33):

So, I think you’re gonna love his insights and his inspiration and his ideas. All right. So let’s get to it. Hank, welcome to the podcast.

Speaker 3 (02:43):

Thank you very much, drew. Nice to see you.

Speaker 2 (02:46):

I’m pretty sure that all my folks know you, but just in case somebody’s not familiar with you, why don’t you give everybody a little bio background on the work that you do with agency folks and, and your

Speaker 3 (03:00):

So, I’m Canadian. I don’t say a too much, but you know, I, yeah. I started my

Speaker 2 (03:05):

Career. I’m, I’m Minnesotan, so I say it as often as you do. I think.

Speaker 3 (03:08):

So I started my career in Canada working on the McDonald’s restaurants account, which was a great, great, great experience builder. And then I worked for, uh, 10 years at J W T Toronto in Chicago. The Chicago office was in the Hancock. They had 700 employees. J w T was founded in 1896. It has gone away. Yeah. Who would believe that? You know?

Speaker 2 (03:31):

Yeah. A lot of them have.

Speaker 3 (03:32):

Yeah. Now it’s called Wonderman Thompson. When I think about that, you know, we used to talk about branding. I could sit on a plane and say, I worked for J W T, and person next to me say, oh, that’s an ad agency. Yep. If I sat on a plane out and said, I worked for Waterman Thompson, they’d say, is that a med device company? Yeah. You know, I know. No clue. Then I ran the National Domino’s Pizza business at an agency group 43 slash r Ross Roy in Ann Arbor. And, you know, uh, like most Canadians, we all wanna move to, uh, to the US and I mean to California. And so I moved to, uh, Southern California where I am now in Orange County, halfway between LA and San Diego. And I was a executive, uh, partner at, uh, at Townsville O’Leary, which we grew to about 70 people.

Speaker 3 (04:21):

And, uh, and for about the last 20, 25 years, I run, uh, blanket Associates. And one of the things that, one of the services that I provide and Blanket Associates, it’s all driven by my network, you know, and I do, you know, help clients build websites and strategy and those types of things. But one of the things that I’ve done and I’ve really enjoyed, uh, is one of my, uh, one of my offerings is agency searches. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and I’ve conducted about 25 reviews for companies like Jacuzzi, toy Tires, really supermarkets, the u p s store. And that is, uh, you know, out of that, I used to have a presentation that I called Why Agencies Don’t Want New Business. Yeah. And it’s about some of the simple but stupid things that agencies would do. So that’s kind of my, you know, I’ve been able to see it from a review consultant. I’ve have been able to see it from the agency, the agency world.

Speaker 2 (05:19):

So I know one of the things that you and I have known each other for years and talk about agencies all the time. I know one of the things you believe is that one of the greatest threats to agencies today is actually their clients. So can you expand on that provocative thought?

Speaker 3 (05:35):

Well, I think it is where I live in Orange County, if if we had visual on this, I could hit, I could show you the book A list. Yeah. Which everybody goes to, you know, the business generalist of agencies and the top three agencies are all in-house agencies. It’s an ocean that handles Hyundai, and it’s owned by the Hyundai Holding Company. Yep. It’s Ingram Micro. Ingram Micro, which is, you know, a big technology firm and distributor and a reseller. They have agency Ingram Micro with over a hundred employees. Yeah. A hundred employees. And then there’s Allegan that has p om, so you have to go down a number four s c s, which is a legitimate agency. And you know what, in the past they have fed maybe, you know, maybe Ingram Micro, you know, they would have fed a number of agencies, some small Yeah. Small, medium size size with a steady flow of work. Yeah. And now they’re doing it all in house. And I get emails from them. I say, do you ever go outside? And they say, no, we’re on a mission to cut down external agencies that we use globally. Yeah. So I think that’s definitely a threat. And you know what, and, and, and you work in your agencies, they probably work with clients that the social, social media work is done by the clients, you know, often. Right. Or Right, right. You know, the, they’re

Speaker 2 (07:06):

Always pieces of the pieces of the work that clients are taking in house for sure.

Speaker 3 (07:09):

Yeah. 100%. And in the past, you know, agencies could combat that. When they did things the clients couldn’t do, like clients couldn’t shoot, you know, a major TV commercial Right. That was gonna be, you know, done, you know, remotely, you know. Yeah. Right. We’re gonna go shoot it in New York City or take care of all the permitting and all that kinda stuff that you needed to do. Yeah. So agencies need to focus things, uh, focus on what clients can’t do. If clients have internal video departments, then you have to do animation or 3D or something different. But I definitely see that that is taken revenue out of the pool of dollars available where I am locally.

Speaker 2 (07:56):

Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. Um, we just finished up, uh, the 2023 Agency Edge research series that, you know, we do research every year. And the question we ask clients this year was, what prompts you to give your existing agencies more money? And so as part of that, they also talk about what they don’t give cl agencies money around. And you’re right. There are some things that they think they can do as well as agencies, if not better. And they are not inclined to change that opinion. So it is incumbent upon us to figure out what it is they’re not doing in-house that we can provide for them.

Speaker 3 (08:32):

Sure. Yeah. 100%. Yeah. And that varies with every client, right?

Speaker 2 (08:36):

Yeah. Right. Which is challenging then, right? Because you as an agency when have a core set of services, but it does require some sleuthing, if you will, to figure out where the client perceives that an outside perspective or team or set of hands is actually more valuable than what they do inside.

Speaker 3 (08:56):


Speaker 2 (08:57):

So, I know when you do your searches, uh, I’m sure you see all kinds of crazy things. I’m sure you have all kinds of stories of, you know, how agencies sort of stubb their toe, and I know, like you have a whole presentation on, clearly people don’t want bus business because of all these dumb mistakes you make. Yeah. What are some of the things that agencies are doing that translate to a client or a prospect that they’re really not as interested in their business as they say they are?

Speaker 3 (09:26):

Well, I’ll tell you a couple of things. I was gonna, it’s not just popped in my head from a client. I write, write that down. So, you know, from my agency reviews, and I think I first met you when I was doing a presentation called Why agencies Don’t Want New Business. Right. And it was really an assembly of all the little mistakes that agencies make when they pursue new business. And I have to tell you, so when I’m a search consultant and I engage with a client, they generally have a problem. Right. And they want a rapid solution. Right? Yeah. And, you know, so it’s like they’ve come to me, Hank we need agencies, and I, you know, I get emails from agencies and some of the smallest mistakes that they make is the new business person doesn’t have their cell phone number and their salutation. Yeah. So, you know what, I’m at a stoplight, you know what I mean? I wanna just hit that number so I can call them. Right. But you know

Speaker 2 (10:20):

What I, or shoot ’em a text or whatever.

Speaker 3 (10:22):

Yeah. Shoot ’em a text, but I can’t. So it’s as rudimentary as that. And you know, it’s sad, but it’s true. And, and, you know, we’ve always heard about cobbler’s children and everything like that,

Speaker 2 (10:35):

And I’m, I am pretty sure that is my very least favorite sentence that comes out of an agency’s mouth.

Speaker 3 (10:42):

Yes. Uh, and, but people still say that, oh, yeah. And you know what, and so let’s say I’m doing a review, right. So how do I find you and how do I know if you’re credible? Right. I’m gonna Google you. Right, right. Right. And if I don’t see any thought leadership, if I see other people that buy, you know, or have, you know, purchased keywords around your site, you know? Yeah. And some of it is ludicrous, you know, because I’ve done often and searched and I, I, I really, Google is the last way I try to, I go to my network first Sure. And all that. But you know, what, if I still need, if I still need to add candidates to the long list, I’m gonna do some research online, right? Yep. And I’ll see agencies say, I’m looking for healthcare agency in la and they pop up one, one or two, and I look, and they’re based in Denver.

Speaker 2 (11:34):


Speaker 3 (11:34):

Right? Not in la I mean, want a waste of time. Right. You know what I mean? If somebody’s that specific that they want the locale and you’re in Denver, what are probabilities that you’re gonna get it? That’s right. So I think, you know, I see bad seo, I see rarely any I do from some, some agencies are fantastic from it, but I always use myself as an example. I have over a hundred YouTube videos. So, you know what, if you’re a 50 person shop, you can Right. You can better me. You know what I mean? I’m just a, a, a single individual. So, and the other thing is that there are so many, you know, over-promising and overstretching. Yeah. I always believe that, you know, what the best, one of the best ways to get new business is to say no and to grow your existing client versus being stretching and trying to get business from somebody that you’re really not, you know, you’re not capable of servicing them efficiently and what That’s right. You know? So I, I think that’s another mistake that agencies make. And, you know, and then the other thing is I find that agencies are contin when I go to a networking event, I’m a big networker. So obviously Covid not with Jesus out of networking, right?

Speaker 2 (12:55):

Yeah. That’s for sure. Yep.

Speaker 3 (12:57):

The ad club here didn’t have an event for two years.

Speaker 2 (12:59):


Speaker 3 (13:00):

And I don’t go to the ad club, I go there for community versus getting business. Right, right, right. If you’re an agency, but it’s a great way to get find up and coming talent, right? Yeah. So when I go to networking events and I go to a variety of business events, and, you know, and I rarely meet an agency, uh, new business person at those events, very, very rare.

Speaker 2 (13:25):

Isn’t that interesting? Right.

Speaker 3 (13:27):

Agencies just don’t network. They don’t network. And, uh, oh, they might come, come up at the, you know, at the ad awards and those types of things, but generally at other events, I rarely see agencies.

Speaker 2 (13:41):

Yeah. Yeah. That is very true. You know, I think, I think the other, the other challenge that agencies struggle with, and you, and you’re absolutely right, I, I think 2023 is, is the year where agencies are really having a hard time with, uh, getting new business. And it is absolutely a time we have to be turning our attention and focus on how do we help grow the existing book of business we already have. Which is exactly why we focused on it for the research.

Speaker 3 (14:09):

Yeah. I, I, I, uh, I just was on a call earlier with somebody and they said, you know, I, I know some agencies are doing extremely well. Yeah. But it’s like this, our pipeline, we’re good for next couple of months. You know what I mean? Right, right. Yeah. And that’s not a long time. We’re gonna make payroll for 50 people, you know, twice a month.

Speaker 2 (14:29):


Speaker 3 (14:29):

And so it’s tentative, and, you know, if you listen to the press, everybody, although we’re we’re not, certainly not in one compared to 2008, 2009. Right. You know, they used the recession word a lot, right? Yep. Yep. That kind of makes clients tentative, you know, they’re gonna go, well, we’ll give you a little bit, not a lot, you know, we’re gonna, you know, be, you know, they’re, they, you know, they have to, maybe on their end, they need to get it reauthorized or, and, uh, reallocated. So there’s a lot of tentative stuff out there. And the only way that you fight, you know, that you do it, you know, the best way, 75% of all revenue bill comes from new, uh, uh, from your network. Right. From your relationship. Yeah. Cause your, your, your relationships become your referral network. But you find those relationships initially at networking events, you know, I think cold calling doesn’t work, even though some agencies cold call, you know, like, who are you gonna call? You know what I mean? There’s no receptionist.

Speaker 2 (15:31):

Well, and who’s gonna take, and who’s gonna take the call? And the odds of you getting them on the phone, having something relevant to say in the moment they’re open to hearing it, you know, not great.

Speaker 3 (15:42):

I wanna share one story that I said I, I asked a client whether they ever take a a call, you know, that comes through or not a call or an email when a person says, Hey, I’d love to have a 10 minute chat with you. Yeah. Right? Very senior company, no enterprise level company. And she’s a very se, she’s a C M O, right? She says, on occasion I do. But when I speak with them, I’m surprised how little they know about my business.

Speaker 2 (16:12):


Speaker 3 (16:13):

For instance, that she was franchised. She, they go, like, she said, do you have any franchise experience? And go, oh, are you franchised? Right. Like fundamental, you know what I mean? Fundamental.

Speaker 2 (16:26):

Yeah. Don’t pick up the phone if you don’t know.

Speaker 3 (16:28):

Yeah, yeah. You know, that type of thing. And I’ve seen, I work with, you know, like I’ll tell you, when I did a review once for, uh, the u p s store, and that’s their brand, the u p s stores, everybody in the R F P would write back. We’d love to work with u p s stores. You know what I mean? It would be plural, you know what? Right. And

Speaker 2 (16:50):

Driving sloppy mistakes. Right.

Speaker 3 (16:51):

Sloppy mistakes, which the client translates and they say, well, they have my business. They’re gonna be making sloppy mistakes they have no attention to. That’s

Speaker 2 (16:59):

Right. Yeah. They, yeah. I think, I think that’s a, I think that’s a killer for sure. Yeah. Absolutely. Yep.

Speaker 3 (17:05):

You know, little things like typos and RFPs and, you know, not proofing it or, you know, anyway, and, uh, dead links and all that kind stuff.

Speaker 2 (17:16):

Yeah. Well, and I think too, I think the other part of networking is, you know, you mentioned before, boy, back in the day, you would get on a plane and if you said you worked for J W T or y and r or any of the, the big agencies, we all started our careers at, everybody knew who you were talking about. And today, you know, a couple agencies might have some recognition, but I think really only within the agency space, 100%. And part of the other net part of what happens in networking events is you do begin to develop a brand. How are you seeing agencies develop a brand and have it mean something in the marketplace? Is it all thought leadership? Is it something different?

Speaker 3 (17:58):

Well, I’ll, yeah, I, I thought leadership is certainly a big part of it, right? Yeah. Yeah. And I, I’ll picture an agency in my brand that I think is very strong first when you first, they have a physical office outside the office is a very cool, it, it’s got cool signage, cool space, you know, cool part of the town, you know what it mean. And they happen to be hybrid. And they, when you walk in, everything is an integrated brand. They got a mixing board, and they’ve got this. And then the other thing is they’ve held, they hold, they’ve done things like open houses to, uh, and then they hold events and, you know, try to get people walking through the door, right? Yeah. And some of those people may not, you know, some of them, you know, they might do educational events for the marketing community and offer to host it there.

Speaker 3 (18:52):

Yep. And so it gives them some exposure, but the other way the brand is Yeah. Just the way their office is. I’ll tell you what, a lot of it is, you know, getting sloppy, but the way that people dress, you know, COVID has made everybody like sweats and, you know what? And bad guys, bad people. You know what, face it, we’re creative people. You have to look creative. Yeah. You know, you have to be look creative. You gotta have some game, you know, you know, you and, and then yeah, the thought leadership that they put out, how they promote themselves. And, you know, another way that I do it, are they involved in any philanthropy? You know, do they take on any pro bono accounts that Yeah. You know, it may be, you know, the, the people that are involved in pro bono and philanthropy are well connected, generally well-resourced, know a lot of people. Right. And so they become part of your word of mouth.

Speaker 2 (19:52):

Yeah, that’s right.

Speaker 3 (19:53):

So that’s some ways I think that they, you develop a brand, you know, you gotta, when I come into your office, I don’t, I, I don’t wanna say, is this, uh, an accounting firm,

Speaker 2 (20:04):

Right? So, so I’m curious in your, well, let’s take a break, but when we come back, what I wanna ask you is, with so many agencies going completely virtual and not having, not having a physical office, you know, part of the search process used to be the agency or the client or the prospect wanted to come to your shop and meet your people and get a feel for you and all of that. So I want to take a break, but when come back, I’m curious what you are seeing agency substitute for that agency visit or drop in if they don’t have a space. So let’s take a quick break and we’ll come back and talk about that. Hey, just wanna take a quick minute and tell you about a resource that we have on the website that, uh, I don’t talk about as often as I should.

Speaker 2 (20:47):

So it’s an exercise called My Future Self. And the reason why you would do this exercise is if you are in planning mode, and this is really for you as either an agency owner or an agency leader, but you really wanna think about what your future looks like, not the agency’s future, your future. I find so many agency owners struggle with how they are spending their days, and is it fulfilling and is this what they wanna do? You know, in five years that we created an exercise, and I, I will tell you a a very brief story, but I first did a version of this exercise probably 15 years ago ago, and it basically walks you through some thinking, and you have to do some journaling around what your future self looks like. And you have to sort of give yourself into it. You have to really suspend like the reality and talk about what it is today.

Speaker 2 (21:42):

But I’m telling you, when I did it, how it was different from my current moment in my life was pretty dramatic. And I was working with a coach at the time, and I said, this is great, and this is the life I want, but it doesn’t look like my life now. And we talked about just sort of being open to the possibility of transitioning in some of those directions. And I will tell you, for the last 10 years, I have been living that life, the life that I created in this exercise. So it can be very powerful and very eyeopening, and I’m not a woowoo kind of guy, but once I understood what I wanted as opportunities presented themselves, I just took advantage of them in different ways than I would’ve had I not done this exercise. So, head over to the am I website and go to agency management institute.com/my future self.

Speaker 2 (22:32):

And you can read more about it. Uh, there’s an intro, a video intro where I tell you all about it, and then some questions. It’s $197. If you don’t like it or you don’t want, you, don’t end up doing it, happy to give you your money back. But I’m telling you, it can be really transformative if you give yourself into the exercise and really do it with an open heart. So, just wanted to tell you it was there. Hopefully it’ll be helpful for some of you. Okay. Let’s get back to the show. All right. We are back and we are talking to Hank Blank about all things agency. So, Hank, right before the break, I asked you, it used to be common practice, if you got down to one of the final two in an agency review, or even sometimes if you were the only agency they were interviewing, they wanted to come to your shop. And Right. Basically it’s like visiting somebody’s house, right? You, you wanna get a sense of who they are and, and what they’re all about. And today, with so many agencies going virtual, I’m wondering what you’re seeing or what you are suggesting as a search consultant is the substitute for that.

Speaker 3 (23:35):

Well, I’m, let me, let me do, uh, say some things to get to, to that answer that question. Yes. You know, I, and where I am, a number of agencies, and don’t forget, this is Orange County. This is in la San Diego. But, you know, it’s, it’s just a, you know, a very wealthy, uh, three and a half million people live in Orange County. A lot of businesses here, you know, everybody from Taco Bell to Oakley, you know, lots of people, right? So during the pandemic, a number of agencies that I know went virtual and they closed their offices. Some of their leadership even moved to other cities. Yeah. And it could be some, I know had prominent logos on their buildings that if you drive down to, uh, the highway, you would see their local, right? Yep. Right. And some of them, they became invisible. And then I would run into people that I would be networking with or having coffee or a glass of wine, and I, I’d bring up the name of the agency and they’d go, are they still in business?

Speaker 2 (