As an agency owner, you’re overwhelmed. Just managing the everyday stuff – client emails, strategy sessions, vendor and freelancer partnerships, and even students who want an internship can be a challenge. We know you need help, too. Whether it’s advice from industry pros, access to more information, training, or industry news, a marketing and advertising association can be a good choice. Here are the top marketing and advertising associations to join right now.
These associations will give you access to people who have been there before. The people who understand the complexities and processes of running a marketing firm. Networking with other executives and having open conversations about the challenges you’re facing can not only help you gain insight into better managing your business, it can also tremendously impact the success of your growth in an ever-changing landscape.
Below, we’ve curated detailed information on the top marketing and advertising associations we think are worth your time to explore, along with their top recommended events.
The ANA arms members with the skills, tools, and resources to grow their careers. With best-in-class content, events, and training, the ANA helps members build stronger brands and provides leadership that advances marketing excellence and shapes the future of the industry. Founded in 1910, the ANA’s membership includes more than 680 companies with 10,000 brands that collectively spend over $250 billion in marketing and advertising.
The ANA also includes the Business Marketing Association (BMA) and the Brand Activation Association (BAA) which operate as divisions of the ANA, and the Advertising Educational Foundation which is an ANA subsidiary.
As one of the leading associations within the advertising and marketing industry, we highly recommend joining the ANA if you’re an agency executive. Their events are highly relevant to agencies and companies and most of the members are corporate marketing executives.
Save The Date
Event: 2019 ANA Masters of Marketing Week
Date(s): October 2-5
Location: Orlando, FL
Mirren works closely with CEOs and their management teams to support agencies through consulting and training regarding best practices in new business development. Their membership gives you access to their resource center of On-Demand Learning and Advanced Webinars. Although Mirren is technically not an association, we included them because they are a household name for agencies.
Save The Date
Event: Mirren CEO Summit
Date(s): November 7-8
Location: Chicago, IL
Founded in 1917, the 4A’s is the national trade association representing the advertising agency business in the United States. As a management-oriented association, the 4A’s offers members the broadest possible services, expertise and information regarding the advertising agency business. Its membership produces approximately 80 percent of the total advertising volume placed by agencies nationwide. Although virtually all of the large, multinational agencies are members of the 4A’s, more than 60 percent of our membership bills less than $10 million per year.
The 4A’s is the ultimate organization for agencies of all types and sizes. They offer valuable training, conferences, and best practices in how to drive agency sales, profits and develop new business.
Save The Date
Event: 4A’s Mothers@Agencies
Date(s): August 28 – December 4
Location: Online Program
Event: Launch for Leaders
Date(s): September 18-19
Location: New York, NY
Event: 4A’s Stratfest 2019
Date(s): October 15-17
Location: New York, NY
The Insights Association is a founding member of Privacy for America, a coalition working with Congress to modernize data privacy protection via a bold new national paradigm. Their members are the world’s leading producers of intelligence, analytics and insights defining the needs, attitudes, and behaviors of consumers, organizations and their employees.
IA more wide-reaching content designed for easy consumption. You’ll find videos and case studies on particular trends, as well as frequent editorials on the latest marketing news. Membership is divided into multiple levels, but the focus is primarily on research and data as opposed to more social aspects of marketing.
Save The Date
Event: CEO Summit Europe
Date(s): September 11-13
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Event: CRC 2019
Date(s): October 22-24
Location: Orlando, FL
Date(s): December 10-11
Location: Los Angeles, CA
The IAB empowers the media and marketing industries to thrive in the digital economy. Its membership is comprised of more than 650 leading media companies, brands, and technology firms responsible for selling, delivering, and optimizing digital ad marketing campaigns. The trade group fields critical research on interactive advertising, while also educating brands, agencies, and the wider business community on the importance of digital marketing. In affiliation with the IAB Tech Lab, IAB develops technical standards and solutions.
The IAB has many tools and classes for free without requiring membership or certification which is always a plus. This includes fee calculators and ad view-ability guides. Certification is divided into several different specialties and levels of expertise, allowing you to customize your training based on your position and goals.
Save The Date
Event: 2019 NewFront West
Date(s): September 11-12
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Event: Direct Brand Summit
Date(s): November 20-21
Location: New York, NY
Founded in 1995, AMI provides training, consulting, and original survey data on salaries and benefits for small- to mid-size agencies. But the core focus is the owner peer networks, where members meet for two days twice a year to discuss financials, business development, marketing, and staffing.
AMI wants to help agencies “increase their AGI by at least 25%, attract better clients and employees, and best of all — exceed the agency owner’s life/financial goals.”
Save The Date
Event: Build a Better Agency Summit
Date(s): May 18-20, 2020
Location: Chicago, IL
You hear it all the time – brands are moving more advertising and marketing functions in-house. From media buying to SEO to full service offerings, every day brings news of another brand deciding it’s better, and cheaper, to do it themselves. Brand experience is the same. As brands embrace experience-led thinking, they tend to hire internal experts who understand creative through the traditional experience lenses of activations, pop-ups and live events.
This leaves your agency with two options – either expand your offerings and cast a wider net for more opportunities or waste time going against the current. But moving out of your niche causes your agency to be spread too thin. As a result, you’ll find yourself relying on freelancers to fill in the gaps and run the risk of damaging relationships and reputations by underdelivering. We’ve also seen agencies start to create friction with clients’ internal agencies who are trying to protect their shrinking piece of the pie. Both approaches can create barriers to sustainable agency growth.
We suggest a third option for success.
Focus. It’s not a dirty word. Go narrow, clearly identify where you excel, and make it your mission to be absolutely best in class in that area. All too often we see agencies who have a fear of focusing and differentiating themselves because they are afraid of leaving money on the table.
Brand marketers continue to turn to those who know a subject area, a target audience, a technology or tool, or a sub-discipline of marketing and advertising. They want genuine expertise over generalization. This should resonate with you more than anything. Whether you are partnering with in-house teams or part of a multi-agent effort, in order to adapt to today’s landscape, narrowing your focus should become your new normal. While it may mean closing off certain revenue streams (in the short term), it ultimately future-proofs your agency by making you an ideal partner with valuable expertise.
But how do you narrow your agency focus? To get started, here are two things to consider.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
This one is trickier than most think. If may seem risky to lower the number of revenue generating avenues in front of you, especially when times get tough, but the truth is, expertise will always be valued. It is critical to assess what your agency does well, and strengthen in these areas. At the same time, be intentional about removing offerings that aren’t at the core of your business, or within the capabilities of your own team. Expertise will ultimately lead to increased trust and more honest, profitable relationships.
Build relationships with trusted partners.
“It’s only by saying “no” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”
We know you don’t want to say no to a prospect or client, but it doesn’t mean you should be quick to say yes. As you eliminate your non-essential offerings, reach out to partners that are experts in that field, and cultivate new relationships with them.
If clients ask you to take on something outside your narrow focus of expertise, suggest sharing the load with a trusted partner. The benefit of this is you keep your trusted relationship with the client while also building a strong relationship with partner agencies. As a result of this, there could be reverse opportunities as those partners begin recommending your team when in similar situations. It can feel risky to ask for help, but if you’ve laid a solid foundation, you should be able to avoid a situation where you underdeliver.
Here are the benefits of narrowing your focus and finding your true point of difference.
When you offer everything, you’re really competing with everyone.
A few things happen when your agency finds the importance in narrowing your focus and becoming the best at your niche. You may notice your competition is virtually eliminated. The more you focus on your niche, the less other companies will offer what you offer. Once you determine your focus, your competition will be a fraction of what was there before, and you’ll realize only a handful of agencies are doing exactly what you are.
When you narrow your focus, your competitors can become partners.
After eliminating thousands of agencies that were once your competition, you’ll find you now have many potential partners. You’ll also realize there are so many companies with complementary services to a similar client. This aspect of narrowing your focus could lead to the greatest amount of growth for your agency. Coming together with other partners who specialize in different skills in the same industry can help achieve the greatest outcome for clients.
Improvement at a faster rate.
Practice one thing for hundreds of hours instead of hundreds of things for one hour.
Once you eliminate the other things that were dividing your attention, you’ll soon realize your can spend so much more time learning and practicing on your area of focus. You will find you can keep up with the latest methods and trends within your niche that you never had time for before. A narrow focus helps you improve at a much faster rate.
The most important benefit of narrowing your focus is the increased value you can bring to your client. When you provide a specific service for a specific industry, you are better and faster at solving problems. You’ll understand the needs of your client quicker with less of a learning curve on each new project. It may seem like you are eliminating potential clients once you find your niche, but remember how valuable you’re making your agency to the clients that are right for you. Ultimately, you’re growing your pipeline and your business.
We are all living in a world of sameness that needs more specialists.
Think of all the revenue generating opportunities you will create when you excel in your uniqueness. A tight focus on your core expertise ensures your agency is easy to buy and difficult to dismiss. That’s what true differentiation is all about.
This was my 6th consecutive year attending the Ad Age Small Agency Awards, and it is consistently one of my favorite conferences. Year after year, I enjoy celebrating those agencies that take a risk, build a team, and create phenomenal work. Additionally, the curated perspective and insights I walk away with make the conference an even more valuable investment. Here are my key takeaways and the list of winners from the 2019 Ad Age Small Agency Awards.
1. Making it to the stage requires years of hard work.
This year’s conference award recipients were honest about the work involved in building a small agency. Not a single speaker, panelist, or awarded principal made their journey sound easy. It’s a big risk venturing out, being “small”, and remaining independent. Brands likely aren’t beating down your door, there are challenges in retaining top talent, and, ultimately, you’re responsible for closing the clients that will move you forward. But the Small Agency Awards is a reminder of the incredible success stories! When strategic planning, passion, and perseverance collide, great things happen.
2. Congregating is essential.
The Small Agency Awards especially showcased the importance of congregating. It’s about finding inspiration and leadership insights. It’s invaluable to spend time connecting with other agency principals that are wearing the same shoes as you. Additionally, the Ad Age team develops relevant content and programming to facilitate growth, learning conversations, and insight that will bring a new dynamic to your agency.
3. Winning the right client is everything.
What I always recognize during the award ceremony is that agencies don’t win awards on their own; it takes the right kind of client to “win.” That doesn’t mean you have to be awarded, but winning is a successful engagement with the client. You can’t innovate with a conservative client. It’s hard to get the exposure you want when a client that wants to do it the way it’s always been done. Ambitious agencies require ambitious clients in order to facilitate effective work, to challenge your team, and to maintain a healthy client/agency relationship.
The winners of this year’s awards have proven their adaptability in an environment where the only constant is change. These agencies are small, but their results are huge. Here is the complete list of the 2019 Ad Age Small Agency Award winners.
Small Agency of the Year
Gold winner: JohnXHannes
Silver winner: DCX Growth Accelerator
Gold winner: Opinionated
Silver winner: Interesting Development
Gold winner: TDA
Silver winner: Noble People and Badger & Winters
Gold winner: Via
Silver winner: The Escape Pod
Gold winner: B-Reel
Silver winner: Swellshark
Gold winner: Borders Perrin Norrander
Silver winner: Copacino & Fujikado
Gold winner: Highdive
Silver winner: Mono
Gold winner: Erich & Kallman
Silver winner: Siltanen & Partners
Gold winner: Preacher
Silver winner: Bandolier Media
Gold winner: Creative Energy Group
Silver winner: Peter Mayer Advertising
International Agency of the Year
Gold winner: We Are Pi
Experiential Agency of the Year
Gold winner: Imprint Projects
Silver winner: IW
Best Agency Culture
Gold winner: Imprint Projects
Silver winner: Orci
Campaign of the Year
Gold winner: Association of Graphic Designers, “Speak the Truth”
Silver winner: Admirable Devil, “The Operation: A Data Lifecycle Story”
Gold winner: We Believers, “Burger King Traffic Jam”
Silver winner: No Fixed Address, “The Public Toast”
Gold winner: JohnXHannes, “Corazon”
Silver winner: Walrus, “Feats of Middle Age”
Gold winner: Bensimon Byrne, “The Healing House”
Silver winner: DCX Growth Accelerator, “March for our Lives, Bulletproof Schools”
Gold winner: DCX Growth Accelerator, “Palessi”
Silver winner: Zulu Alpha Kilo, “The Away Game”
If you’re a small agency owner or executive, cheers to you. When it’s hard, remember why you started. Build your network, and even if you can’t attend conferences, find a network of agency principals with whom you can grow. And make the investment in your agency’s success. Don’t hope the client that will put you on the podium will just walk right into your office. Proactively commit to the strategy and resources that will expose your talent to the brands you set out to work with.
Be your best, invest where it matters, and the work will follow.
Agencies that follow the 40% rule are more successful in consistent growth over time.
The rule is simple: No more than 40% of your agency’s revenue can come from one client.
The better you understand your current revenue and forecast of new revenue, the better prepared you are for bumps along the way. It also ensures you don’t end up with a client whose loss would significantly affect the health of your agency. Trust me, I know there is nothing more rewarding than landing a large client. It allows you to grow your resources and capabilities and provides an influx of new revenue. However, leaning on that huge client without balancing their portion of your total billings can also bring future challenges.
In 2017, we hosted a webinar focused on driving agency growth and building value before the sale, and the information is just as relevant today. In the webinar we highlight how to follow the agency 40% rule and stress the importance of why you need to live by it.
If your agency is not following the 40% rule, you have an elephant in the room.
Think about it: what happens when the business from your major client dries up? Or it could simply go away due to things entirely out of your control – your work is great, they love you, but then there is a corporate change in agency relationships. This situation is one nearly every agency faces, especially during key growth phases. I’ve worked with many who got their start by landing one big client who contributes most of the revenue and forgot about the 40% rule until things were in the danger zone.
Here’s how to ensure your agency doesn’t fall into the trap.
There are two primary strategies to help balance your revenue streams – proactive new business development and active diversification. A well-balanced agency will have solid programs in place for both. These programs will create a planned buffer of new business opportunities in a robust pipeline for new clients, and generate organic revenue growth from a diverse base of existing clients.
New Business Development
A focus on client service provides your agency the best opportunity to do work, however, by its very nature, the focus on billable hours often gets in the way of an active new business program, dedicated resources, and an overall strategy for developing new business. Agencies that find a balance between client service and self-preservation typically have a proactive new business development program.
A healthy new business development program typically includes the following three steps:
1. Clarify Your Positioning
To potential prospects, agencies often look quite similar. This isn’t surprising since most agencies market themselves based on their list of services and projects. Your positioning is ultimately about creating a unique impression of your agency in the mind of your prospects. It provides the “elevator pitch” that could lead to your next client.
Positioning allows you to clearly define the unique niche your business will serve. Achieving simple ad agency positioning requires you to answer these essential questions.
- What verticals have you worked with where you’ve seen the most success?
- In what areas does your knowledge of the customer truly make you unique?
- What types of proprietary tools or methodologies has your firm developed that may be unique?
Creating intellectual capital and content is much easier with clear positioning. You’ll also find it makes building your own strategy much more effective.
2. Create Intellectual Capital
Well-deployed intellectual capital can dramatically increase awareness of your agency by leveraging the strengths of your team. The right intellectual capital involves tapping the knowledge of each team member within your organization and helps stir interest in your agency, strengthen current relationships and ultimately attract new clients.
Like knowledge, intellectual capital is gained through experience or association. It’s basically a way of sharing what you’ve learned by teaching it to others. Intellectual capital also demonstrates your expertise in a specific category and provides credibility for your agency. In its truest sense, intellectual capital helps explain why your agency exists and what is important to your team and your clients.
Minnesota-based agency, Brandpoint, leverages their intellectual capital in a big way with their Brandpoint Blog. Brandpoint’s speciality is content marketing and provide expertise from their team regarding content news, developments, best practices and emerging ideas.
3. Develop an Inbound Marketing Methodology
Brands are bombarded by various agencies, data analytics providers, and business consultants with new solutions every single day. Despite the competition, most agencies still promote themselves with their client portfolio and awards they’ve achieved. Instead, what if you focused on providing a clear view of your agency and what you stand for?
The best way to accomplish this is by demonstrating your knowledge and providing it to others. A dedicated inbound marketing program will allow you to create a systematic approach to reach your prospects. In addition, it can help you evaluate the most efficient content and distribution platforms.
By sharing your knowledge and educating your prospects, you are demonstrating your proficiency, creating awareness and establishing trust. Inbound marketing can be the catalyst for a consistent flow of new ideas and new potential prospects.
Diversified Revenue Streams
I know I have said it before, but diversification is key. Diversification of your revenue streams allows you to gain more fiscal predictability through more efficient income. In the book The Marketing Agency Blueprint, Paul Roetzer provides three primary options of diversified revenue streams including software development, education and publishing, and VAR programs.
Software and product development are an alternate revenue stream for agencies who have the resources to build and market these types of products. Therefore, by generating consistent recurring revenue and licensing fees, software products provide a predictable business model to offset the ups and downs of a service business.
Developing a solid intellectual capital gives your agency the opportunity to monetize your knowledge and capabilities. Roetzer suggests online courses, webinars, digital publications or speaking engagements. All of these options are an opportunity for recurring revenue through education and publishing.
Value-added reseller (VAR) programs are those in which your agency provides services for third-party products. Your agency can earn compensation through licensing fees and referrals by providing your expertise on products and tools you are already using. Many marketing software companies offer affiliate programs including Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot, ConstantContact and MailChimp.
Consider all of this the next time you’re close to landing a large new client.
If you find yourself with an elephant in the room and not following the 40% rule, it’s probably time to begin thinking about your new business development plans. Waiting on referrals will kill your new business efforts, however, putting a new business strategy in place will consistently generate new clients for your team. Once your strategy is supported by consistent implementation, your agency will be protected from the extreme highs and lows of client wins and losses.
All of this should be an absolute priority for any agency that wants to be more stable, more predictable, and more valuable.
While it’s exciting to win an award within your industry, most people question whether applying for awards is worth the expense and hard work it takes to submit them. Awards help boost your agency’s reputation, earn credibility, and differentiate your agency from the competition.
At Catapult, we believe today’s agencies are creating incredible work that needs to be seen. How will your agency benefit from winning a prestigious award?
According to Forbes, here are five ways your agency benefits from entering awards competitions.
- Winning an award boosts your credibility.
- Awards distinguish you from your competition.
- Award recognition raises your organization’s spirits.
- Award ceremonies allow you to network with fellow honorees.
- Awards prompt you to take a closer look at what makes you qualified for an award and identify areas for improvement.
Big brands are looking for innovative outside partners. By highlighting your agency’s specific design, social, creative or activation capabilities, you can demonstrate your work to a large audience and stand out in the competitive landscape. Yes, it’s a lot of work. And you’re worth it (to borrow a famous advertising line). Here are five tips to keep in mind when you apply for agency awards:
- Follow all instructions. Many entrants fail because they miss the award entry deadline.
- Label everything carefully. Proper labeling can give your entry the edge it needs to win.
- Speak with someone who knows what the judges are looking for – nuances can make all the difference.
- Keep things clear and concise.
- Be sure to answer every question exactly as asked. Coloring outside the lines is fine, but add content only if word counts allow after you’ve answered the question.
Similar to our Q2 list, here’s a quick glance at award shows with an application deadline starting in July of 2019. These awards have high standards, are widely recognized by the industry, and if won, are guaranteed to enhance your credibility among clients and prospects. Apply for these agency awards in Q3:
Believing that summer is the wrong time to proactively prospect could be detrimental to the growth of your agency. We hear it all the time, “everyone is on vacation; budgets are locked down; no-one picks up the phone.” Our experience is just the opposite. Brand marketers are “on” 12 months a year, and when summer approaches, many of them are either getting a head start on 2020 planning, or better yet, figuring out how to spend any remaining budget in 2019. Summer is their time to try that one tactic they’ve been putting off, double down on a program, or invest in a targeted campaign. Yet many agencies slow down or stop their prospecting entirely over the summer months.
In fact, summer is a prime opportunity for you to break away from your competitors. Growth driven agencies who continue a steady pace of proactive business development into Q2 find significant success in overall revenue goals by creating conversations and opportunities with their prospects.
Here are three reasons to continue prospecting through the summer:
1. Consistency drives results.
The Q1 emphasis on business development – emails, phone calls, events, blogs – burns everyone out, and agency after agency will put their new business efforts aside as Q2 approaches. We typically see 50% of agencies stop their proactive outreach for new business completely after the first quarter. There are two reasons this is alarming. As we’ve already mentioned, summer is still a rich time for prospecting, but being in front of your right to win clients over and over again is the key to getting and keeping their attention on you and the problems you can solve for them. The other reason to stay consistent is your competitor’s lack of momentum will leave a gap you can fill.
Of course, sometimes you just need a break. But don’t shut down all your proactive efforts. Here are two ways to keep the momentum going:
- Build content 2-3 months out. Work ahead to have as much content planned, created, and scheduled as possible so your prospects won’t forget about you in months where you are less proactive.
- Utilize technology as much as possible. Marketing Automation is key to ensuring that even when you aren’t proactively contacting prospects yourself, your new business efforts aren’t affected.
2. Brands still have money to spend in 2019.
We see a significant number of brands still planning Q3 and Q4 projects in June. This is a huge opportunity for your agency to take advantage of available funds in your prospect’s budget and impact your 2019 revenue goals. According to our sister company, Winmo, 3,065 brands are currently planning for Q3 and Q4.
Here are the numbers by industry:
|Vertical ||Number of Brands
We tell our clients not to leave money on the table – be there in front of your ideal prospects to help them spend it!
3. Brands are planning for 2020.
They say the early bird gets the worm, and the phrase couldn’t be truer in proactive prospecting. How can a brand marketer choose your agency as their partner in 2020 if you aren’t on their radar? As you approach the end of Q3, the focus of your outreach should be on creating relationships that ensure you are in consideration as brands plan for 2020. This approach will impact your own 2020 revenue early in the year.
Below are just a few of the top companies planning for the new year in Q4:
|Packaged Goods||Financial Services||Technology||Beverages||Food||Entertainment||Healthcare
|3M Company||BB&T||Dell Technologies||Anheuser-Busch||Kellogg Company||MGM Resorts International||Pfizer, Inc.
|Mars, Inc.||Mastercard||HP||Starbucks||General Mills||Stubhub.com||Johnson and Johnson Family of Companies
|Flowers Foods||Quicken Loans||Microsoft||The Coca-Cola Company||Frito-Lay||Turner Broadcasting System||Bayer Consumer Care Division
Are you still thinking summer is a bad time for proactive prospecting? I’d love to chat and share some stories that illustrate why it is a myth!
At Catapult, we believe today’s agencies are creating incredible work and are always looking for ways to ensure that your prospects see it. Awards are a great way for an agency to gain exposure and recognition. Although entering award competitions takes time and money, it’s one of the best ways to showcase your work, energize your team and grow your brand. Winning an award adds prestige, builds the agency’s reputation, and helps you stand out among your competitors.
According to AMI, more than a third of companies are looking for an agency with specialized experience. Awards that highlight specific capabilities – design, social, creative, activation and so forth, are an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the other 25K+ agencies out there. Not to mention it adds third-party credibility behind your work.
Winning awards also helps your agency attract top talent. Britt Fero of Publicis Seattle speaks to the importance of awards in attracting quality employees and energizing an agency:
“Our success at shows has helped us recruit and retain top creative talent from around the country. In addition, creative awards can be energizing for the entire agency. Competing against the best advertising in the world keeps us focused, informed and sharp for our clients.”
In the first of a series, we’ve compiled a list of award shows that have an application deadline in Q2 of 2019. These awards have high standards, are widely recognized by the industry, and if won, are guaranteed to enhance your credibility among clients.
|Award ||Sponsor ||Category ||Application Deadline||Entry Fee
|How's Promotion & Marketing Design Awards||How Magazine||Graphic Design: Self-Promo||April ||$395
|Communicator Awards||Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts||Audio, Video, |
Digital, Mobile, Marketing Effectiveness, Integrated Campaigns, Design & Print
|PR Daily Digital & Social Awards ||Ragan's PR Daily||Digital or Social Media Activity ||April ||$395
|OMNI Intermedia Award ||Media Corp., Inc.||Film, TV, Video, Interactive, Animation, and Web||April/October ||$65
|Content Marketing Awards ||Content Institute||Content||April ||$249
|VM+SD Retail Renovation Competition ||VM+SD||Retail Design||April ||$200
|The Telly Awards ||Telly||TV Commercials, Branded Content, Non-broadcast, Social video, ||April |
|Pro Awards ||Chief Marketer||Promotion, Shopper Marketing, Brand Activation, Regional ||April||$495
|The Cresta Awards ||AdForum ||Interactive; Packaging, Branding, Design||May||$490-$1000
|WEBAWARDS||Web Marketing Association ||Web Design ||May ||$195-$250
|Stevies B2B ||American Business Association||Integrated Campaigns, Public Relations and Communication||May ||$55-$570
|The W3 Awards ||W3||Websites, Advertising & Marketing, Digital, Social, Mobile||May ||$135-$255
|Communication Arts Advertising & Design Annual ||Communication Arts ||Advertising: Print, Posters, Radio, TV||May ||$45-$220
|Design of the Times ||Path to Purchase Institute||P-O-P|
Agency new business development is at its peak of importance for several reasons. To start, clients understand the significance of marketing more than ever, and with there being over 77,500 agencies in the US alone, there is more competition today than there ever has been before.
To stand out among the heavy competition and get your agency in front of the brands you want to work with, old business development practices need to be put away, and new ones need to be implemented. Optimizing these efforts begin with five areas to focus on.
If you are ready to take the plunge towards a predictable and sustainable pipeline of new clients, read on:
Hire a New Business Director
It may sound obvious to say that you need someone concentrating on new business, but building demand for your agency is a full-time role. It’s not OK anymore to have five entry-level employees spending 10% of their time on new biz. At minimum, one person needs to spend 100% of their time owning the proactive outbound process and as the agency owner, you have to supply them with the tools they will need to be successful.
When searching for this person, there are three qualities you will want to seek in your new hire:
- High Energy– Your agency needs someone who can sustain a high touch point outreach plan. No one and done emails, but an intelligent multi-touch outreach program. This takes someone willing to put in the time and energy (and hear a couple “no’s” along the way).
- Strong Communicator– A strong communicator in any situation. This isn’t selling a subscription. There is no one size fits all for agency new business so you need someone who can change up the pitch at any given notice to fit the prospects needs and pain points.
- Process Driven– You want someone who will build a repeatable and scalable process over time that will allow your new business engine to be running, regardless of turnover.
Time is a leading agency growth challenge, so if taking the time to hire and onboard an additional employee is a problem for you, check out outsourced options that may be a better, more convenient fit for your agency’s needs.
Positioning Your Agency
With the increasing amount of competition, positioning your agency to be different than the competition has never been more critical. Simply saying you “can do it all” tells clients that you haven’t quite figured out your niche, and if you have, why hide it under a cloak of vagueness?
Many agencies fear that narrowing down their focus will make them seem small or may result in missed business opportunities. The reality is, highlighting the services you thrive in will position you as a leader in that space and lead you to more desirable, better fitting opportunities.
A few questions to ask yourself when building your agency’s positioning include:
- Why does your agency exist? (less about what and how)
- How are you different for every other firm?
- What are you an expert in?
- Why do you get hired?
- Which brands do you have an absolute right to win?
- What DON’T you do?
- What problems do you solve better than anyone else?
If you can’t answer these questions clearly, succinctly, and in an interesting way, then you aren’t quite ready to proactively reach out to new business prospects.
Know Your Audience
Regardless if you’re going to be driving new business in a vertical that you’ve been servicing for 10 years, or if this is your first foray into a new vertical…you need to know everything possible about the audience group you want to attract.
A couple of questions you may want to ask when researching your audiences include:
- What problems are keeping them up at night?
- How do you solve those problems for them?
- What’s happening within their industry?
- What’s your POV on their industry changes?
After answering these questions, you will want to segment your audience so that you can create messaging that appropriately fits each ideal customer’s needs. These three groups serve as a good starting point segmenting your lists:
- Right To Win
Your right to win clients are those that are a perfect fit for your services. To identify them, set parameters for what a perfect client for your agency looks like. What issues do they have? Where are they? What do they specialize in? If a prospect fits all your criteria, you need to be working with them. Keep in mind a “perfect” client is hard to come by – so this list most likely will be smaller than others.
- Great Fit
This will be a much larger list, probably the largest you have. These prospects have problems you can solve, but may not be a “perfect” fit. Maybe they are outside of your geographic region, have slightly lower revenue ranges, or they’re in an industry you have limited experience in. But if they reach 90-95% of your criteria and you can recognize/solve their problems, you should be highly considering approaching them.
These are those whale clients your team dreams of working with. While chasing them isn’t where you should spend the majority of your new business time, landing one could be a game changer for morale and/or revenue. Keep these prospects in your drip campaigns to get them warm and keep your agency top of mind, but put most of your focus on those potential clients that will build a stable base of revenue in the future.
Other ways to segment your audiences may be by industry vertical or even by job title. These are just some examples that will help you get started. Take the time to really think about who you want to work with, and more importantly, what your prospects care about. This will help you determine just how your agency should be dividing your prospecting lists.
Content That Supports Your Positioning With Your Audiences
Many business development pros give a prospect a call, send one follow-up email and move on. Why doesn’t this work? Well, on average, it takes 7-12 touchpoints to generate the first meeting. Decision makers are busy people and if you aren’t sending content that is eye-catching or relevant to them, you’ll be lucky if they even skim your emails.
The content you are sending can come in a variety of forms including:
Your prospects are not looking for you when they visit your website, they are searching for themselves. If your website doesn’t immediately indicate that you understand their needs, they will find someone else who’s website does.
There are marketing emails and sales emails, and there is definitely a difference between the two. Marketing emails are about awareness while sales emails are about stirring up a conversation. Any content you create on your website should be able to be used as a call to action within your marketing or sales emails.
Blogs, again, are not supposed to highlight your agency and it’s culture. Your blog should show that you are an expert. Share your knowledge, experience, and expertise to be a teacher. Don’t hide your knowledge from competitors, but educate your prospects on how you solve those problems for them.
- Case Studies
Keep these simple. Make sure your case studies are easily digestible and that they show real results. Three main things to focus on in your case studies is the problem your client had, the solution you provided, and the results you drove for your client. If it is any more than one page, you will begin to lose people’s attention so be sure to keep it simple and to the point. Highlight the results, not the solution!
- White Papers
White papers are all about educating your prospects, showing that you understand their problems but remember, you are not writing a novel. It just needs to be interesting and add value to your prospects. This is an education tool, not a sales pitch- write them solely to provide extended insights and value to your audiences. On that note, write white papers for specific audiences so it really hits home with your readers. If you are writing a white paper for everyone, it will most likely resonate with no one.
Webinars are a great way to drive third-party advocacy to your audience. You are interacting with your audience in a very personalized way, that can eventually lead to a lot more word of mouth referrals, something we all want more of. They can be key to getting social credibility and are a fantastic way to educate your audience.
At the beginning of a sales strategy, your prospects are likely not familiar with your agency, and they don’t care about your awards or your culture- they care whether or not you can solve their problems. Your content should serve to effectively answer that question to assist your sales process.
Here are some key ways to position your content in a way that will provide your audiences value while also demonstrating what your agency brings to the table:
This is arguably the most important, as a trigger is defined as the problem that is keeping your prospect up at night. Your prospects are actively seeking solutions for these problems (triggers), so you better be speaking their language. These are great for capturing the interest of your prospects when they visit your website or even through a prospecting email.
The Wedge in your content is the proprietary solution to fix a prospect’s triggers. This content provides insights on how your prospect should go about solving their problems. The Wedge is the least important as it is about you and your agency, mention it in order to get to the proof!
- Proof Point
Exactly what it sounds like, proof points are content pieces that show how your agency has solved these problems before with dramatic results. This might be demonstrated through webinars, case studies or even white papers, but the point is that they are firm numbers and results that speak to your expertise and ability to solve your prospect’s problems.
It’s important to hold your team accountable for producing content that will be of interest to your prospects. A good way to do this to have a mix of both junior and senior level members of your team responsible for writing one blog per week. You can rotate the responsibility in order to prevent burn out on writing posts and also to ensure that fresh perspectives are bubbled to the top.
Invest In Technology
You are investing a lot of time and money in a new business person, strategy for the business, and content to back up that positioning…don’t forget to invest in your new business lead’s success by providing them the correct technology to actually get the job done in an efficient and effective way.
This means they will need a Sales Automation technology CRM, a research database, and possibly a marketing automation tool. Check out our webinar on top technology, but the point is, don’t send a hitter to the plate without a bat!
Setting up a sustainable and scalable new business development program takes strategy, dedication, and patience, but once it’s up and running, there is nothing keeping you from hitting those aggressive revenue goals you’ve set for the agency.
Growth is not optional. It’s essential to the survival of your agency. As the landscape continues to change and become more competitive for agencies of all sizes and stripes, the challenges to growth are increasing at a rapid pace.
With 15+ years of agency business development experience, I can safely say that most if not all of the challenges faced today are much the same as in years past. Whether your agency is struggling with where to focus your business development efforts, whether or not to do proactive outreach, or how to position your agency for accelerated growth, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are solutions you can implement to impact 2019 growth.
Here are the top 4 agency growth challenges with actionable solutions:
1. Lack of Bandwidth
Hubspot’s 2018 Agency Growth Report found that the number one barrier to agency growth was lack of time/money to spend on their own sales and marketing efforts. It’s a fact that as the agency space grows more and more competitive, sales and marketing are an essential element to standing out. And yet, most agencies are working on extremely thin margins and have their employees doing twice the amount of work they were doing a few years ago. This leaves agencies with very few resources to market or proactively sell the agency itself.
The report also indicated that agencies have limited time to focus on tasks such as staffing plans, new business investments and finding top talent. Without these resources, leadership is busy putting out internal fires and scrambling to find employees. The old adage of a disproportionate amount of time spent “working in the business vs. working on the business” rings true.
The solution? If time is the biggest challenge, invest in the right tools and hire the proper people to handle growth channels such as marketing and business development. If hiring is a problem, consider outsourcing the tasks to a qualified and trusted company. That way these areas aren’t getting pushed the backburner and you can begin creating an inbound and outbound strategy that will drive leads and eventually revenue into your pipeline.
If budget is the challenge, make the time (and consider an outside perspective) to develop a strong strategy that clearly identifies the optimal allocation of the budget you have to the tactics that will net the best return.
- A strong, differentiated positioning that will resonate with your prospective clients.
- An investment in technologies and/or training that will streamline effort and investment.
- A communications plan across multiple channels (ex: email, social media, cold calling, etc.) with clear KPI’s and budget allocation.
- A resource plan to execute on all of the above, whether internal assignments or external resources.
2. Challenges Maintaining Consistent Lead Generation
One of the keys to successful lead generation is a sustainable, repeatable and scalable effort over the course of many months, especially if you’re are using inbound marketing tactics. In Hubspot’s 2018 State of Inbound Global Report, 40% of respondents said getting a response from leads was more difficult today than it was just a few years ago. While outbound efforts should also be included in your business development program, inbound is crucial to staying top of mind at the beginning of the buyer journey as well as in the final stages of decision making, when prospects are looking for confirmation that they’re making the right decision.
And yet creating a consistent pipeline is difficult without a structured process. The solution that works best is when the agency aligns both marketing and sales tactics as core elements of the business development strategy. Marketing content attracts the prospects considering or ready to make a purchase. Sales tactics convert and nurture by providing more customized content to demonstrate your value.
As you build your strategy, create an account based marketing approach that builds campaigns around your right-to-win clients, or clients where your services best provide an answer to their problems. For example, if your agency has a portfolio that primarily consists of successful retail work, retail brands might be right-to-win clients for your agency.
Here are a few tips for attracting your right-to-win clients and fuel your pipeline with more leads:
- Create targeted landing pages around long tail keywords
- Offer content based on search intent (side banners on certain pages of your website, pop-ups, etc.)
- Update heavily visited web pages to increase search traffic
- Offer value through free tools and consultations to get prospects on the phone
- Automate your outbound efforts by building email and cold call templates and investing in technologies that will make research more efficient and identify prospects at scale.
3. Working With Clients That Don’t Excite The Team
Every agency has a “bucket list” of clients they dream of working with, and agency leaders know that winning these kinds of projects will energize their creative and account teams. But when agency leadership stops pushing to win those dream accounts and begins responding to any and every RFP, top talent tends to lose morale and walk away.
Most agencies have experienced this at some point or another. They take on clients for the sake of a check and soon realize that they aren’t a great fit for your agency. Maybe these clients constantly made changes, had roadblocking projects, or even poor communication. Either way, working with even one of these clients can make someone not want to go to work on any given day, so it’s crucial you try your best to keep your employees from dealing with these types of clients.
So how do you attract the kind of clients you actually want to work with?
1. Be clear about your culture and values
Only choose to work with clients whose values align with yours. As Buffer said, “Your values tell the world what you’re about. They give your employees a reason for what they do—and your customers a reason to cheer for you.”
2. Create personas that clearly identify your ideal clients.
Some questions to consider while creating these personas include:
- What type of business is my client in?
- How big is their business?
- What is my client’s role there?
- Where is my client located?
- What are my client’s pain points and how do I solve those problems?
3. Get comfortable with the term “no”
Saying no the wrong clients is as important as saying yes to the right ones. Develop a robust onboarding process so that you and the client can get to know one another and determine whether the relationship is a good fit. Sort through the terms of any agreements so that you have a full understanding of what the client expects while outlining the scope of work.If they turn out not to be a good fit, advise them that it’s in their best interest to find an agency partner who can better fit their needs. And help them find that partner with introductions and referrals.
4. New Business Resources Continue To Be Overlooked & Limited
In 2016 Hubspot reported that only 66% of SMB agencies did not have a full-time new business executive. For many smaller agencies, the CEO takes on the responsibilities of driving new business. When C-level officers are asked, many admit they do not have enough time to properly be dedicated to new business efforts.
At Catapult, we can’t stress how important it is to set yourself up for new business success. We’ve seen it many times where an agency only relies on referrals and when their largest client leaves, they are desperate to quickly crank out a new business plan. Unfortunately, this is a one-way street to failure. Setting up your new business resources is a lot like trying to get in shape. It takes consistent work over the course of many months before you have the engine up and running.
Stay out of this cycle by setting up your new business process sooner rather than later. Start by hiring or promoting a dedicated new business person or an outside resource to help you set the correct strategy. And make sure you have the proper resources in place that will enable proactive business development to be successful.
Setting up a new business process is a journey that takes a great amount of time, resources and dedication. Your agency’s growth is dependent on it so it’s not really an issue of if, but rather when and how. Hopefully, the above tips are helpful.
My very first day at my very first job was as a holiday sales associate at Best Buy.
The 16-year-old me was nervous to say the least. It was my responsibility to persuade customers to buy a $2,000 computer. That seemed like a massive among of money to convince someone to spend. And if by some miracle, I succeeded, my job wasn’t over. Best Buy then wanted me to upsell them a $200 product insurance plan.
I felt unprepared and had no sales training. I dreaded people telling me no.
Even if a customer came in knowing the computer they wanted, I was still supposed to upsell them the insurance plan.
After hearing excuse after excuse — “No,” “I’m not interested,” or “I’ll think about”— I stopped trying to sell the insurance plans for fear of rejection.
When the season was over, Best Buy politely told me that they would not need me any longer. Rejected again.
We’ve all experienced rejection in relationships, school, and work. If you’re a sales professional, you think you experience rejection multiple times a day, every day.
But what many of us perceive as rejection is really an objection. And an objection is not rejection.
Objections are familiar, tried-and-true phrases we hear frequently:
- I don’t have time right now
- We’re not interested
- We don’t have the budget for that
Whereas some examples of rejection are:
- Take me off your list and don’t ever call me again!
- You and your agency suck
Objections are signs of concern, confusion, risk aversion, stalling or a fear of change. They are a natural part of the human condition and our decision-making process. In many cases, they are instinctive responses. But objections actually can be a sign of engagement.
Rejection is very different. It’s an outright refusal to accept an idea or request—a firm no. At times, it’s delivered with a harsh and deliberate tone. Sometimes it comes off as a personal insult.
While rejection and objection can and often do feel the same, it’s important to be able to tell the difference and know how to respond. If not, your sales work will suffer, and you’ll lose the opportunity to close more deals.
Successful sales people understand the reasons behind the kinds of responses to prospecting. Follow these 3 rules of overcoming objections and you’ll be adding more wins.
Rule #1 – Sales Objections Are Emotional
The human decision-making process is emotional first and then logical. The challenge is to not respond emotionally to your prospect’s rejection. Prospect objections are among the most difficult. That’s why so many salespeople avoid prospecting like the plague, fearing the rejection and the impact on their careers and income.
Average salespeople respond by either fighting back or giving up. The fight becomes an argument with prospects trying to persuade them that their concerns about change are unfounded. It’s an emotional response to those objections.
Remember: In a sales conversation, the person with greater emotional control has the highest likelihood of getting their desired outcome.
High-performing salespeople understand this fact, don’t take it personally and exert emotional control.
Rule #2 – Not All Objections Are the Same
Sales trainer Jeb Blount, in his book aptly titled, Objections, breaks down objections into three categories he calls RBOs:
R Reflex Responses
O True Objections
These are your prospect’s rote reactions. It’s not an intentional slight or attempt to deceive, but they are an automatic response to your pitch and probably those of any other salespeople.
Here are some examples:
- We’re not interested.
- I’m busy.
- We’re all set.
- We’re good.
The prospect is not responding. They are running on autopilot.
A brush-off is your prospect’s way of telling you to bug off nicely. It’s about avoiding conflict. Examples:
- Call me later.
- Why don’t you send me some information?
- Send me an email in a month.
Salespeople often misinterpret brush-offs as a sign of accomplishment. “She must be interested because she told me to call in a month,” the deluded salesperson thinks. “I’ll put that in my calendar right now.”
While the prospect might indeed be interested, they have not really given you any real indication of interest.
True objections on prospecting calls tend to be more transparent and logical. They typically come with a reason and seem genuine. Here are a few:
- We just signed a new contract with your competitor, so there’s no reason for us to meet right now.
- I can’t meet next week because I’m going to be at our industry’s tradeshow in Chicago.
Do you hear the difference between the reflex responses, brush-offs, and the true objections? Knowing the distinctions between the three leads to a better sense of where your prospect mindset and how to respond.
Rule #3 – Objections Follow the 80/20 Rule
When I ask salespeople to tell me how many types of objections they hear, the answer is usually the same: an infinite, never-ending number of objections.
Too many salespeople think each RBO is unique, special and one of a kind. They end up winging it when it comes to a response. In reality, each industry has a rather common set of RBOs. Usually, there are 3-5 RBOs that make up 80% or more of prospecting objections.
What are the most common RBOs you face in your agency?
- “We’re all set.”
- “Just send me some information.”
- “We handle that in-house.”
- “I’m not the right person.”
- “We have an agency.”
The key to overcoming objections is to identify what the most common objections are that you and your team hear. Create great answers that get prospects past the RBO. Then practice and refine your responses.
Here is what high-performing salespeople do:
- List common RBOs encountered in their prospecting and script answers to each, often working with sales colleagues to get the best possible answers drafted.
- Practice those scripts. Role-play the answers with a colleague and refine your answers. Memorize them until they become natural.
- Use the scripted answers on some prospects and continue to modify your answers.
Having scripts prepared in advance helps you stay in your logical brain, rise above disruptive reactionary emotions and regain control of the conversation.
Back to Best Buy
In the months after I was let go by Best Buy, I stopped looking at what happened as a rejection, but rather as an objection that could be overcome. The next summer I asked my former manager if they needed help. It turned out they were short-staffed.
I began to listen to customer objections in the computer department carefully and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I was going to succeed no matter what.
The other sales associates and I began to compare the objections we heard and created responses that we role-played with each other. Here is one that I heard regularly and a reply that worked great.
Customer: I don’t think the computer will break. There’s no need for the insurance plan.
Me: Did you drive to the store today?
Me: Do you have a spare tire in the trunk?
Me: I drove to work today, and I don’t think I will get a flat tire on my way home. But, like you, I have a spare tire in my trunk just in case. It’s better to be safe than sorry. How about we take another look at that insurance plan?
It worked incredibly well.
I went on to lead not only our Best Buy store but the entire Midwest in insurance plan sales that year. At the next holiday season, I didn’t get fired. I got a raise.
As a sales professional, remember that objection is not rejection. Work with your colleagues to create a list of the most common objections you hear and categorize them as Rs, Bs or Os. Get to work on scripting and spend the next three months testing and refining your answers. You’ll retain better emotional control, learn more and find a dramatic uptick in your prospecting work.