Episode 3:

Peter Levitan builds successful brands, digital technologies, publishing and advertising environments, and highly effective marketing programs for Fortune 500 companies. He has 30 years of experience running Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide, his own Portland Agency, and as the CEO of two Internet start-ups.

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • The major mistakes agencies make in regards to bringing on new business
  • How to create distinction using your website and the reason most agency websites aren’t attractive to clients
  • The ways agencies are doing sales wrong and what can be done about it
  • Specialization vs. generalization: how to specialize and still have fun
  • The kind of research Peter’s agency does that helps them look better than their competition
  • Why you should stop using the term “full-service” if you want to position your agency against your competition
  • They ways many agencies and agency owners are failing when it comes to their content

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Using the term ‘full-service’ doesn't allow you to be competitive.” – @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet

Click to tweet: Peter Levitan shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!

 

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Recommended books and resources:

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Books (not his):

Ways to Contact Peter:

 

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Speaker 1:

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 McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Thanks for checking out this episode of Build a Better Agency. Drew McLellan here, and I am really excited about the topic today. This is a topic that I love to talk about, agency owners are obsessed in talking about, and our guest today is a huge expert in the area of new business and pitching and positioning your agency. So we’re going to dig into all of that. Build a Better Agency is all about helping agency owners just like you do it a little bit better, so you can make a little more and worry a little less. And so with that, I want to introduce to today’s guest, Peter Levitan.

Peter is a builder of successful brands, digital technologies, publishing and advertising environments, and highly effective marketing programs for Fortune 500 clients, ad agencies, tech companies, and publishers. He spent 16 years at Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising, running their business development and some major accounts. He owned his own agency, I believe, up in Portland and was CEO founder of two internet startups. Many of you are familiar with the Levitan pitch by this book, Win More Pitches, which was a great read. And we’re going to really dig into Peter’s expertise around how agencies can grow their business. So Peter, welcome to the podcast.

Peter Levitan:

Well, thank you very much. Thanks for the introduction. One thing you didn’t say was that I did all of that in two years.

Drew McLellan:

And you’re only 29, right?

Peter Levitan:

I’m actually 26. Thank you.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. Sorry. I didn’t mean to overshoot. Peter, give us a little more background. Have you always been in the agency business for the most part? Is that the lion share of your professional career?

Peter Levitan:

Well, it’s interesting. I was thinking the other day, what is the string? What ties my having left college to where I am today? And I realize that to a certain extent I could call it creative selling. I started as a photographer in San Francisco, I had a commercial photography studio. Then I moved back to New York City where I grew up and went into advertising. Then I had two internet companies and then my own advertising agency and my own business today, which is helping agencies develop better, smarter business development programs. And across that entire lifespan, I realized that I have been selling. So whether I’m selling my photography to agencies or today selling my consulting practice to agencies, it’s all about selling. So I think I’ve really come down to the conclusion that I know how to sell stuff.

Drew McLellan:

Well. And when you think about it, isn’t that what agency’s job are too, is to help clients sell their stuff. So it makes sense that you hung out in that space for as long as you have then.

Peter Levitan:

Right. Well, it certainly helps.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I know one of the things that a lot of our listeners are thinking is, “Oh, Saatchi and Saatchi, and he did big brand, big new business.” So help them understand maybe a little bit about your own agency after you left Saatchi and just how some of this translates. Everything we’re going to talk about today, if I’m a 10 person agency in a second tier or third tier city, how do I scale this stuff down?

Peter Levitan:

Well, it’s really about fundamentals. And as I say that word, I’m thinking about the start of the NFL football season. To a certain extent while the NFL is different from high school football, essentially, they’re trying to get the ball from the, what is it called, wherever they start into the goal. And to a certain extent, that’s all that agencies do. And it’s consistent whether you are a thousand person agency or a 10 person agency. What it comes down to is understanding what your goal line is, understanding what your objectives are. And I don’t think frankly, that’s any different in my conversations with major agencies down to small shops, 2, 3, 10 people. It’s really understanding what the objective is and then focusing on it. And I think that’s in particular critical for small agencies that are time stressed, management is stressed. It’s really all about focusing and understanding what the objectives are and being realistic.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. If anything, smaller agencies are trying to do the same job. They just have fewer resources to do it with, right?

Peter Levitan:

Exactly. I mean, it’s interesting, the Saatchi bit. I haven’t worked there in about 20 years, but it becomes the way people position me. So I’m positioned as a Saatchi guy and I certainly use those words because frankly let’s face it, it helps me position myself.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Great cache.

Peter Levitan:

Exactly. But the reality is, I probably learned more running two internet companies and running my very own agency, which fluctuated between about 25 and 35 people over the course of seven years. So I learned more running an agency than I ever did actually working at Saatchi and this is in respect business development.

Drew McLellan:

Give us an example of something that alluded you when you were at Saatchi, but you learned, you got punched with it square in the forehead at either your own shop or one of the startups.

Peter Levitan:

Well, I had an interesting point in time near the end of my career at Saatchi. I was running business development in Europe, and we were at the same time, we were a very successful London agency but we were having trouble in our New York office. In fact, things were falling apart. It was the last year that Morris and Charles actually owned and ran the agency and New York itself was having problems. So I moved from London back to New York to run business development.

I started to ask around to see what the plan looked like, P-L-A-N. And people said, “Well, we don’t have a business development plan.” I realized something, well, two things, one, you need a plan. And when I started to talk to management about having a marketing plan for the agency, they couldn’t wrap their head around that. I think that they were so used to doing things the old way and the idea of actually having a plan with objectives and strategies and target audiences was something that was alien, strangely enough, to an advertising agency. So, that was my big lesson. It’s important to have a plan.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Absolutely. And yet, most agencies that are listening to this podcast and most agencies that you and I interact with on a regular basis, don’t have a plan. When I talk to agencies and I say, “Well, tell me about your new business plan.” I get the, “Oh, well.” First, I get the cobbles children excuse and then I get the, “Most of our businesses is word of mouth referral.” So in essence, I translate that to, we sit around and wait for opportunity.

Peter Levitan:

Well, I agree completely. I think the problem with the word referral, unfortunately, is on one hand it works. There are a couple of agencies in Portland that have been around 30 years and they are very well known and they get incoming calls. That’s nice. The other problem with referral, which is really a problem is it becomes the default. So if you don’t do anything else and I ask an agency, “How do you win business?” And they don’t do anything. They say, “Well, referrals.” Well, of course it’s referrals. But if you were to turn it into a dating situation, it’s like sitting by the phone, waiting for the phone to ring. It’s not a particularly robust technique in terms of growing your agency. So referrals, I think, are good. It’s nice to be referred to, because I think your reputation is the most important thing you have. On the other hand, you’ve lost control of the process at that point.

Drew McLellan:

Well, my perception of that is, is you don’t have the volume that you need and they’re choosing you versus you choosing who you should be working for. So you’re taking whatever comes through the door, as opposed to saying, “Here’s who we should or shouldn’t work for.”

Peter Levitan:

Exactly. I’m sure you’re, even though you said it, I’m sure you’re tired of the analogy of the cobbler’s children. It’s absurd. It doesn’t make sense. And frankly, if I was a client looking at agencies, one of the things I would look at and I’m not everybody, is how do they promote themselves? I’ll go to the website. The first thing many clients look at as an agency website.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Peter Levitan:

It’s mind blowing to me how similar they are. And they’ve gotten even more similar as a lot of agencies use similar WordPress themes. It’s just bizarre. I don’t understand it, but it’s such an easy fix.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and even worse than the themes are the language they use to describe themselves. I was poking around on your website and your blog, and you had a great blog post where you basically showed how different agencies refer to themselves and they use, every agency it seems like use the same 10 words to describe themselves.

Peter Levitan:

Well, I’ll be kind to agencies. It’s very difficult to find new words to express what you do when what you do is very, very similar to the guy down the street. So I get it.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Peter Levitan:

But I’ll point your audience to two websites that I think are interesting. A friend of mine in London has an agency, great name for the agency, London Advertising. It’s essentially a one page scrolling website. They have a video, which is something I always recommend agencies to do. Just figure out a way to get a short video on your website to introduce yourself. I suggest people look at London because these are very strategic guys. And I found a website the other day that I thought was, just the way it was drawn, and I used actually drawn as an illustrated, is a website for a public relations agency, international agency called Frank PR. And right off the bat, you’ll see that these do not look like all other agencies. And you don’t have to build a website that is wacky. You just have to find an angle. And both of these companies have done that.

Drew McLellan:

I think we’re in agreement that a lot of agencies struggle with new business and where they struggle is they don’t apply the resource to it in a thoughtful, planned way. I’m curious your take on how that comes to be. When I look at the situation, I think every agency owner will tell you without hesitation that new business and cash flow and having enough work to keep their good people busy is the heart of what makes their agency thrive. In theory, they’re saying it’s their oxygen, and yet they don’t do anything to make sure they get more oxygen. So from your perspective, what gets in the way of agencies having a robust new business plan or marketing plan, and actually doing all of the things that they tell their clients to do to help grow their business?

Peter Levitan:

Well, I think one of the issues and believe me, there are many, so it’s hard to completely generalize, but I think one of the issues is that many agencies actually do not understand sales. I often find and laugh at the idea that we call sales in the agency business, business development, and it becomes a euphemism. The bottom line is it’s sales. I just don’t think a lot of agency CEOs or leaders actually understand the sales process. Frankly, I think that they should read sales books. And I have to say, I know many of them do that, but they need to read them. They need to look at videos online. They need to go to conferences where people are talking about sales to both be conscious and be stimulated to do it right.

I’m going to say that since easily 60% to 70% of agencies don’t have business development plans as in a plan, even a one pager, frankly, guys, one page. They also don’t really understand sales. I invented three words today. I’m sure they’re somewhere out there, but smart sales pressure. I thought, gee, okay, that’s really what it’s about it. It’s being very smart about who your potential customer is, or in this case client, what their needs are, how you’ve positioned your agency to meet those needs. And then you got to apply little pressure to it. And it’s not cold calls. It’s more like warm calls. And it’s very much about thought leadership, something that you’ve just mentioned. It’s not that hard, but I just don’t think a lot of people, because you own an agency, you actually understand how to sell.

Drew McLellan:

Well. And again, if the way you’ve built your agency is the friends and family model, which turns into the referral model, you haven’t had to sell aggressively, certainly, because you’ve had opportunities present themselves. And in often cases in that situation, there is no shootout or pitch or whatever. It’s yours to lose, if anything at all.

Peter Levitan:

Well, I did some math recently and I use it in a presentation I give on pitching. I try to find an average agency, 10 RFPs a year, six pitches a year plus business development can cost an agency $500,000. Somebody might say, “Well, how is that possible?” Well, how much does it cost to do 10 RFPs? How much to do six pitches? And either you’re paying yourself or you’re paying a business development director some money, it’s not the out hard to get to $500,000. Some of that might be soft costs. But it’s imperative that agencies figure this out.

As a side note, another agency I point people to is an agency that just got purchased called G5. The letter G, the numeral five, based in Bend, Oregon, which was one of the two cities I had my agency in Oregon. And they’re worth looking at simply because they picked a niche and they stayed with it. And it’s a niche that has not only a business development plan, but more importantly, a business model to it that will make money. So it can be done, but it requires a great deal of focus and an understanding that this is an expensive business and you better get it right. I think it’s about staying hungry, frankly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, I think it’s about recognizing that you’ve got to keep the pipeline full because at any moment you’re at huge risk of the big one walking away. I think when we went through the recession and talent was cheap, it was easier to let people go and hire new people and all of that. I don’t think it was easier emotionally, but it was easier just from a supply and demand point of view. But as agencies are facing a real crunch in finding and keeping great employees, the ebb and flow of business that requires agencies to lay off and hire, layoff and hire gets to be a very expensive proposition.

Peter Levitan:

Yes. I live in Portland, Oregon where, and it’s famously known as the city where the young move to retire. And one of the reasons we say the at is that people come here looking for jobs and even in a city which is very desirable and has a relatively low cost of living, the agencies here are really hungry for talent. A key reason for that, unfortunately, are the somewhat lower margins in the agency business. So it’s not only incumbent that you are active in seeking clients, but it’s certainly seeking the right clients. It’s really understanding what kind of clients you should have, what are the ones that are going to be higher margin. And again, I mean, it’s just really all about focus.

Drew McLellan:

So, a lot of experts out there are talking about agency new business, and some believe that a good strategy for small to mid-size agencies is to, as you describe the agency in Bend, to niche themselves in a category or an industry and ride that industry or category. And others suggest that it’s dangerous to just pick one niche and that you should have multiple legs on the stool, if you will. So I’m curious, what’s your take on that?

Peter Levitan:

Well, we’re in the agency business for different reasons. One is to make a good living and another is to have fun. So when I point people to G5 sometimes, and they look at them and they go, “Well, wait a minute. They’ve really only concentrated on four or five categories. One of which, for example, is storage units. Another are apartment rentals.” And they say, “Well, that just doesn’t look like a lot of fun.” Well, okay, I get that. So it is a balance between fun and making money, but the bottom line is you got to make money first.

I think that it’s imperative for agencies to figure out what is it they want. Let me give you an example. I talk to a lot of agencies and I say, “Well, what do you specialize in?” And I would say, half of them say healthcare. Now, why healthcare? One, it’s obviously it’s a huge industry. Two, it’s very local. It works for smaller agencies. And I ask them, “Well, how are you getting healthcare business?” And the great majority have not employed a very smart thought leadership process to sounding and looking different and looking like an expert in that category. So, I think that you have to specialize a bit in categories. It doesn’t necessarily, you have to be a healthcare only agency, but if you’re going to say, “I want a healthcare account,” you better walk the talk.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. And I think oftentimes too, they jump into a broad category like healthcare, as opposed to sort of carving that down even deeper and saying, “You know what, we’re in the pharma side of healthcare.” Or one of the agencies in one of my networks, they work with small and regional hospitals so they’ve narrowed their niche to a more definable category that allows them to have a deep expertise in that.

Peter Levitan:

Right. Well, you have to look desirable. I mean, it’s kind of like going out to the bar, assuming most people still go to the bar and they don’t just use Tinder to find dates these days, but you have to look good. I’m just not sure that just saying I’m a healthcare agency is enough these days, there’s too much competition out there. How do you look and act different?

One of the things my agency did, and this is a few years ago, and actually it’s still a relevant strategy, was we studied the major healthcare brands in our region and nationally on the basis of how they were doing in social media. We created a thought leadership program that was very compelling to marketing directors. They wanted to see not only how larger organizations were using social media, this was very quantitative, but how their competitors were. And we wound up winning two fairly major accounts based on that alone, because we look like experts and we were giving them exactly the kind of information they wanted. Did it cost us a lot of money? No, but it cost some time, but it was very focused. So there are lots of interesting ways to get this job done. One of them, isn’t just saying we’re a healthcare agency.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, in that example, how did you package that data? Did you hold an event? Did you create a white paper? Did you do a webinar? How did you, A, let them know you had the data and then B, how did you deliver it?

Peter Levitan:

Well, we did two things. We created a digital document and we created a physical document that we sent. So we knew who the, let’s say the top 20 marketing directors we wanted to talk to. If people go on SlideShare, look up my name, Peter Levitan on SlideShare, that document exists. So at this point it might even be, man, seven or eight years ago, but you’ll see how we created some charts and created a very compelling look at a category.

Now, let me tell you that we borrowed that idea from a company in New York called L2, which did the same thing for the luxury market. So I urge your audience again, to take a look at L2 in New York and see how they did it. And really what it’s about is educating your market and by educating them, they realize that you’re smart. Of course you have to follow it up, frankly, with some phone calls. I mean, you still have to nurture them. As we all know, marketers don’t necessarily put two and two together and then make the call. You’ve got to call them, but you’ve warmed them up at that point.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. You actually have to try and sell.

Peter Levitan:

You have to sell. Correct. Smart sales pressure.

Drew McLellan:

I like it. You better patent that right away. Get a trademark on it.

Peter Levitan:

Warm calling. I should have patented it that way too, but, okay.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, what about the idea of every agency that presents itself refers to itself as a full service agency regardless of if they have three employees or 300 employees, what’s your take on that?

Peter Levitan:

Well, there are a few things going on now. Most agencies were full service once upon a time. Then we started to see a move into direct marketing which has been happening for years. But I’d say about 10 or 15 years ago, direct marketing started to look really attractive as digital marketing started to happen because analytics, all of a sudden we could really track everything. So there was a move into that. In fact, at one point I renamed my agency, Ralston 360 from Ralston Group. The 360 moniker, which I think became overused, was really about understanding the full spectrum of marketing. The problem, unfortunately, today with full service while most clients need it, it just doesn’t provide enough of a niche basis for them to be able to position you differently than the other guys.

The reality today is most of the digital agencies I know are being asked to do full service work, but they’re at least being able to position themselves in a niche. I like full service. The problem, unfortunately, is while the clients probably want that, what they don’t get out of that is any differentiation between you and the next guy. I don’t like those words full service.

Drew McLellan:

Well, we go into the field and do some research with CMOs and different attitudes they have about agencies and how they work with agencies and everything every year. And last year, we explored the idea of the words full service. And what we heard from the folks who participated in the research was, they don’t believe it. When they look at an agency of 20 people and they know how complicated marketing has gotten, especially on the digital side, they say, “I don’t think so.”

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. To an intelligent marketer, I agree completely. I mean, really, nobody’s figured out mobile marketing yet. So how could you conceivably say that you understand the full spectrum, because there are elements that are changing so fast today that very few agencies that actually lay claim. Now that said, I’ve seen agencies that just say we’re a mobile agency and they’re doing very, very well. So I avoid the full service. There might be other ways to express that. The one thing going for full service is that clients are a little bit concerned about having too many agencies. There are a lot of factors here. It’s just really understanding where your internal skillset fits into the spectrum.

Drew McLellan:

So when you work with agencies, I believe where you start is, “Hey, what do you want to get out of this? What are your objectives? And then how do we position you to help you achieve those objectives?” Yes?

Peter Levitan:

Yes. Well, it’s very much about positioning, but I’ll even take it to the next step. It’s not enough to have a good positioning. It’s how you express it. I’ve been moving into an interesting world and it’s very much back from my Saatchi and Saatchi days. I ask agencies if they want to be famous. And what does that mean? Do you want to be well known? And then what do you want to be well known for? I suggested, yes, let’s get you to a positioning that makes sense, that’s based on a business plan, which means, if you get those kinds of clients, you’ll be making a very good living. But part of having a positioning and the most important part, I think, because you can have a positioning that no one hears, is to make sure that you get the word out. So how do you express it in your inbound and outbound marketing is probably the most critical element.

Yes, you need an objective, then a positioning, but then how do you get the word out? And I think unfortunately that’s how many, many agencies fail is they just have not figured out again, back to the sales point, unfortunately, how do we enunciate the position? How do we get those words into people’s heads?

Drew McLellan:

I know one of the things you do a lot of work with agencies around is the whole idea of how to pitch different and better. What are two or three mistakes that most agencies make in their pitching activity?

Peter Levitan:

Well it’s funny, I knew this was coming. I have to admit it. So I put up a poster I made from the 12 cartoons on my website, which are the 12 mistakes that agencies make. So I’m not going to say all the 12 mistakes, but it’s a pretty funny cartoon. I mean a couple of examples. One is load the room with agency staff. It’s that disproportionate, we’re going to have six agency people and three clients. It doesn’t work in dating and it doesn’t work in a pitch. Another certainly, is agencies are actually, are afraid of being distinctive, “Oh my God, I’m too different.” The bottom line is clients need that.

And another is that agencies don’t really think very hard about how to build chemistry with the clients. And I’ll say based on the range of agency consultants that have provided input into my book, in many cases it comes down to two things. One, agencies are not listening. They’re talking about themselves, which also creates the problem of agencies are not building chemistry. Most accounts are won on a chemistry basis. Yes, sometimes if it doesn’t work, there’s not much you can do about it. But I suggest to agencies that they really have to manage the chemistry process, which by the way, starts with the first time the guy goes and looks at your website.

Drew McLellan:

What are some ways that an agency can focus on and improve the odds on the chemistry side? What are some things they can do to try and up their game in that arena?

Peter Levitan:

I think it’s critical that you understand the personas of the people that are going to be in the room with you. I used actually an interesting angle, which I found by accident one day. We all go to LinkedIn and we read the profile, we read the recommendations of other people. So you go to my profile in LinkedIn and you can read what other people said about me. What I realized one day was I would learn more about someone if I read what they wrote about someone else.

Drew McLellan:

Ah, interesting.

Peter Levitan:

And I have a really good example in the book of a CMO who, when he recommended his ex-employee said, talked about the things that he appreciated about those people. So now it’s his voice telling me what he values and I’m not a genius, but somehow I stumbled into that and I thought, “Wow, that’s a very interesting way of understanding the person I’m pitching to,” because now I’m hearing him talk about what he likes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right. In his own words he’s describing [crosstalk 00:28:18].

Peter Levitan:

In his own words. Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

… what he values. That’s great. Another thought about chemistry.

Peter Levitan:

Well, it’s an interesting problem. First of all, let me say that agencies, it’s really any smart business meeting, you should do some rehearsal. In a pitch you should do a lot of rehearsal, but here’s a potential problem.

Drew McLellan:

Wait, wait a second. So you mean rehearsing in the car on the way to the pitch is not enough?

Peter Levitan:

No. And I’m willing to say that I’ve probably done that myself. I will say in the days that I worked at Saatchi in London, where we thought we were really hot shit, we didn’t rehearse very well. And in fact, in the book is the story I called the worst pitch ever, where we did no rehearsal and lost the opportunity to win the Adidas global business. Yeah, I’ve got a good story about that.

Here’s the downside of rehearsing. And it happens in agencies where not everybody is super glib and the great presenter, is people get so locked to what they rehearsed that they can’t break out. They’re not listening to the client in the meeting and they can’t ad lib. And I’ve seen that happen, unfortunately. On one sense you need to rehearse. And the other is you need some ability, if the client says something that’s not in the script, you need to be able to get off script.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. In a hurry.

Peter Levitan:

In a hurry. And this is not easy stuff because, I think we’ve all had our, I’ll just pick on one person, the creative director who completely goes off track and talks for 20 minutes about some shoot he did in Brazil.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Or the person who’s rehearsed so badly that they forget their line in essence and freeze.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

When you think about agency new business, how has it changed over the years? What’s different today than say back when you were with Saatchi or early in your career? What do the agencies need to be thinking about today? Because a lot of agency owners have been doing this for a long time and I suspect whatever new business activity they have, whether it’s they belong to their local chamber or they sit on a trade show, a committee for the industry that they service, they’re doing it the way they’ve done it for the last 20 or 25 years. So what’s different?

Peter Levitan:

Well, without question, the biggest difference is inbound marketing. It used to be reputation. “Gee, you work at Saatchi and Saatchi, we’re going to give you a phone call.” Or it was outreach where I knew the people I wanted to work with. Certainly an issue at big agencies, not small frankly, is you get into the conflict problem. Okay. What are the categories left that I can go pitch? So you better be going after the clients in those categories.

The biggest difference today is the world of inbound marketing, whether it’s search engine optimization or understanding how to use LinkedIn and Twitter and other tools, it’s imperative. And I think it’s a missed opportunity for too many agencies. They just don’t understand it. They don’t know how to create lots of content. They don’t know how to create the right content. And when I say right content, a lot of agency blogs talk about things that other agencies talk about. They’re not talking about things that are of great relevance to the kind of client that they want to attract. So I think there’s a slight failure there. While agencies better understand inbound marketing for their clients, they’re not using it intelligently for themselves.

Drew McLellan:

Do you think that’s because, again, back to our cobbler’s children example, do you think that’s because they don’t invest enough time in it, or that they don’t give it enough thought, or that they’re not willing to narrow the focus and discourage somebody with a buck in their pocket from calling?

Peter Levitan:

Well, I’m going to say it’s all of the above. I think the biggest issue is time. I’m a good inbound marketer. I’m good at search engine optimization. I’m a writer. Now those to a certain extent are my personal traits and not every agency owner is going to have those personal traits. But I think that they have to think like a manager and figure out how to be able to attract, and it’s an attraction strategy, how are we going to attract the kind of clients that we want? I don’t think you can just live on attraction strategy alone.

There’s this concept of winning without pitching. The bottom line is you’re going to have to pitch and you’re going to have to do outbound marketing, but there’s ways to tie all of that together. There’s no reason that inbound marketing and outbound marketing aren’t the same. I talked about my healthcare analysis. Well, that was both inbound, people found it and it was outbound, we sent it out. But I think the key difference today is, and this is unfortunate, some prospects will go to your website, figure you out and choose never to call you up on the phone. And that’s the big difference today versus pick a number, 15, 20 years ago. A lot of decisions are made outside of your control.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Before you even know they [crosstalk 00:33:27].

Peter Levitan:

You don’t even know they showed up.

Drew McLellan:

You don’t know you’re on their radar screen.

Peter Levitan:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Right. One of the things we were chatting about before we started the podcast was this idea of thought leadership. Where do you stand on all of that for agencies and how could agencies do it better than they’re doing it now?

Peter Levitan:

Well, I think it’s critical and there are so many, it’s a very broad subject. Let me just pick one aspect, which I think a lot of agencies haven’t figured out, unfortunately. And that is, and I’ll use just two words, guest posting. There is such a need for content across all types of websites. I mean, advertising websites, marketing websites, Huffington Post, Forbes, there is such a need for contents. These sites are so voracious that there’s absolutely no reason that an agency leader cannot write for Forbes. I mean, if you look at the people who are writing on forbes.com, there are agency owners, there are consultants, lots of people. Business 2 Community is another big site. I mean, the list goes on forever. So I think one of the things that people don’t realize is while your website is somewhat limited in terms of the amount of attraction it has, there is absolutely no reason you can’t be writing for broader websites.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. That’s a strategy that I have employed for years and it serves me well. It’s sticky, it serves you well for years and years and years.

Peter Levitan:

And if no one in your agency is a great writer, then someone in your town is. I mean, unfortunately, a lot of very good journalists that are out of work.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, absolutely. One of my goals with the podcast is to make sure that we give agency owners who are listening some next steps, some action items that they can take to advance the topic. If someone’s been listening to us and we’ve touched on a lot of things, we’ve touched on positioning and pitching and thought leadership, and niching yourself, all of those things. If an agency owner wants to take two or three steps on their own to begin to get better at any or all of that, what would you recommend that they do in the next 24 hours, 48 hours, to begin to improve the way they think about and create activity around the idea of new business?

Peter Levitan:

Well, this is going to sound a little pat, but my suggestion is go back in time and even if you can speed read, read two or three Seth Godin books. I mean, that maybe sounds simplistic, but-

Drew McLellan:

He’s brilliant.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. There are a few writers out there who I think nail it. And I really suggest that just really getting inside his head. We’re very lucky in Portland, we have Powell’s Bookstore, which is an enormous store. I just go for an hour and speed read business books. So, that’s something I’ll suggest.

Another is to really understand this concept of pain point. Again, sales people really understand it. What is the pain point that your perspective client has? Whether it’s his personal pain point, he’s got to save his job or he’s got to sell a new product or a new service, or he is up against some competition, really figuring out what this means, this concept of pain point, because pain points are what sales people use to sell.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. Awesome. Any last thoughts for our listeners in terms of this topic in general?

Peter Levitan:

Well it’s interesting. Advertising people can be negative. “Oh, whoa is me.” I think that there is so much confusion and change in the marketplace today in respect to digital marketing and its effect on the entire industry. I hate to say it, I’ve got an application on my Chrome browser which avoids advertising. It’s incredible. I think 30% of the population today has some ad block on their machine. That freaks out advertisers. So we have a tremendous opportunity where we’ve got very worried client. Tap into their needs and tap into their fears because we’re the guys that actually can create the programs that’ll solve those problems and help them build sales. And that’s a great pitch.

Drew McLellan:

Amen. Peter, if listeners want to find you, they want to track you down, they want to read some of your writing. Obviously, they can find your book on Amazon. What’s the best way for them to reach out to you?

Peter Levitan:

Well, the easiest, it’s interesting, I chose a while back to brand myself. So if you search Peter Levitan, L-E-V-I-T-A-N on Google, you’ll find me, my Twitter feed, my website, you name it. And if you want to talk, I have something I call a Corleone offer, which is an offer I assume most people can’t refuse. Let’s just talk and I’ll certainly give you at least one good idea.

Drew McLellan:

You’re right. How can I refuse that? So everybody, go check out Peter’s website. If you have not read his book, it’s a great read. I highly recommend it. Peter, I know you’re super busy working with agencies all over the globe. Really appreciate you taking out the time to do this and to share your insights with everybody. Thank you.

Peter Levitan:

Thank you. And great luck with the podcast.

Drew McLellan:

Thanks much.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free e-book and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible here on Build a Better Agency.