Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Power of Passion

A couple of years ago, I attended the annual meeting of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association (RAMA) in balmy Chicago in mid-February (whoever thought to hold a meeting in February in Chicago must have been crazy. Daytime highs were in the teens, and overnight the low was 4 degrees). Over 1,000 retailers, ad agency execs and suppliers attended, and we spent 2 1/2 days talking about all aspects of retail marketing, and the challenges we all face to grow our business.

The theme of that conference was “Opportunity, Knowledge, Passion”, and the featured speakers addressed each of these three aspects of marketing as they related to their respective businesses. By far, the most impressive speeches were focused on the power of passion and I've never forgotten how powerfully they affected my thinking on how to succeed in business, and in life..

Gordon Segal, founder and CEO of Crate & Barrel, told how he and his wife grew a small storefront in Cambridge into a multi-billion dollar retail chain because they had a passionate desire to provide something that no one else was doing – moderately priced, high quality kitchenware and accessories. He told us stories of 100+ hour weeks searching around the globe for suppliers, and how he and his wife still go on buying trips to Europe and the Far East in search of new items. His passion now is finding the next new thing. The next decorating trend. The next color scheme.

Michael Francis, Senior VP of Marketing for Target Corporation, gave us fun and informative insights on the evolution of the Target brand and their distinctive style of advertising. He talked about the passionate attention to detail in every thing they do, and especially about their strong belief in providing a consistent personality through their advertising. He talked about their passionate belief that the need to differentiate themselves from K-Mart and Wal-Mart was the driving force behind their success. He said that a recent study showed that 96% of U.S. consumers correctly identified the bull’s-eye logo as belonging to Target, which is higher than the Nike swoosh. And, again, he talked about their passionate adherence to the use of this visual symbol as a quick reminder of their corporate brand. Throughout his presentation, he probably used the passion word one hundred times.

And we had many other speakers, including executives from Best Buy, Big Lots, American Girl, Weber Grills, Washington Mutual Bank, BMW, and Yahoo. And all had the same basic belief that passion has been the key factor in their corporate and personal success.

As I listened to each of their presentations, it was easy for me to hear the passion in their voices. And I think it gave me a greater appreciation for the need to have a passion for something in order to achieve your goals, no matter what they are.

Think of the passion that Lance Armstrong must have had to not only overcome cancer, but to become the greatest cyclist in the history of the sport. Think about Jerry Rice, who at 42, was still competing successfully with men half his age. Late in his career, Michael Jordan’s body didn’t allow him to do what it used to, but he still had the passion that every exceptional athlete must have to reach the top. And the championship rings on his fingers to prove the power of his passion.

When I think about the agency business today, I am confident that meeting the new challenges of digital technology, evolving social behaviors and attitudes, changing demographics, and a host of other factors impacting our business cannot be accomplished without all of us developing and maintaining a passion to be the best.

It will take a passion to do better creative work. A passion to write better business plans. A passion to find new ways to reach the target audience. A passion to go well beyond what everyone else is expecting from you, in order to find a better solution.

I hope that everyone in our industry will also develop a passion that goes well beyond the walls of their agency. To be a successful husband or wife takes a passionate commitment to make your marriage work. To be a successful parent, takes a passion that doesn’t give up on your children, not matter what your teenager has done. Heck, to be a successful human being takes passion. You’ve got to want to succeed. To do better. To be better. And you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice something to get something in return.

When you succeed at whatever passion you have, the feeling of accomplishment will go well beyond anything I am capable of describing. But like those businesspeople I listened to at that conference, I’ll bet you will tell others that you couldn’t have done anything without having a passion to succeed that kept you going, no matter what you faced.

Passion is all-powerful. Do you have the power?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Prospecting for New Business

For over 20 years, I’ve been directly involved in new business development for advertising agencies on a national, regional and local level. During that time, I’ve built new business departments for three agencies, completed well over 200 RFP’s, and made formal presentations for accounts ranging in size from a $15,000 web design project to a $100 million national television account. I’ve studied countless new business mailing packages from other agencies, attended 4-A’s seminars, read all the books on how to pitch, and even sat in on the client side and watched some of the world’s best agencies make their presentation. So I’ve learned a few “tricks of the trade” over the years, and along the way I have led teams that won over $250 million in new billings.

One thing I have learned is that there is no magic, one-size-fits-all answer to winning new business. Every opportunity takes thoughtful consideration regarding the prospect’s needs, your agency capabilities and how your agency can help the client grow their business.

There are a lot more than eight major mistakes to be made in planning, prospecting, completing the RFP, and making the final presentation. In this article, I’ve just focused on what I believe are the eight most common mistakes agencies can make in planning and prospecting. We can talk about RFP and presentation mistakes at another time.

So here are the eight dumbest and most correctable mistakes agencies make from my perspective.

1. They chase after the wrong accounts because they haven’t make an objective evaluation of their agency’s strengths and weaknesses and how they relate to the prospect’s needs.
Too many agencies waste a lot of time, effort and resources chasing business that they have little to no chance of winning. Maybe they don’t want to admit that they don’t really have a great selling story for that particular prospect.
There are a lot of good agencies out there, and they all look similar to a certain degree to prospects. So marketers will often look for reasons to eliminate you from the review, not include you. For years, I’ve tried to convince prospects that my experience in one category was directly transferable to their category. Most of the time, they didn’t buy it. If you don’t have category experience, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.

2. They don’t have a unique characteristic or capability that will separate them in the prospect’s mind.
As an agency new business guy, I carefully study client prospects and have a good awareness of who they are, what they do, and what their needs might be before I make any attempt to contact them. In my experience, clients don’t have the same awareness of agencies. They may know one or two top agencies that get a lot of local or national press, but they generally don’t have a clue about the majority of agencies.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that your website is up-to-date, easy to navigate, and presents a point of view for what you stand for as an agency. There are too many agencies out there fighting for the same prospect’s attention. And it seems like the mega-agencies have dropped all of their size criteria to chase just about everything on the planet. So if your agency doesn’t stand for something, you will get lost in a crowd of sameness.

Conventional thinking has always been that the most important factor in new business is your creative product, Not every agency can have a killer creative reputation, but if they have a great marketing reputation or some other unique characteristic or capability they can still compete effectively. All clients are under pressure to grow their business, and if you have great success stories that give prospects permission to believe they can do the same for their business, you still have a shot at getting invited to the dance.

3. They don’t have a realistic target prospect list.
The two most obvious barriers that most prospects will use to eliminate an agency from consideration are size and experience. Size becomes an easy reason to say no. Most prospects don’t want to be the largest, but they want to be important enough to feel like they will get top management attention. They don’t want the agency to be dependent on their income in case they have made a wrong decision (there’s that fear factor again). But they certainly don’t want to be the smallest for fear of being treated as a second-class citizen.

Category experience has always been an issue with clients, so if you don’t have experience in their category you will have a difficult time getting a foot in the door, much less winning the business. I believe that the days of the generalist agency are totally gone. For years, the agencies that specialize in a certain business or audience category have had better success than the agencies who tout their general experience.

My advice is to develop a prospect list that takes the client’s preconceptions and need for category experience into account. If you are familiar with Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, you will understand that the niche players now outrank the big guys. Based on my observations and experiences, the niche players are more profitable in the long run, so find your niche and develop it.

4. They don’t have top management buy-in to make the necessary investment to be successful. And the investment must be more than just their checkbook.
Unless senior management agrees to fund and participate in an aggressive new business program, your chances for success go down dramatically. Please notice that I said fund and participate. It should go without saying that if you don’t invest dollars in a new business program, you’re facing an uphill battle. But a dumb mistake that many agencies make is that the many senior executives are not an active part of the new business development program.

Clients want to feel that they are getting the most experienced people in the agency to work on their business. And they want to feel important enough to warrant more than a token effort from the boss. I have worked in agencies where the senior executive didn’t feel comfortable in new business, so he spent as little time as possible with it. And it showed, especially at the presentation stage.

5. They rely on over-the-transom prospecting instead of developing and executing a proactive, awareness-building new business effort.
The mega-agencies and the national and regional creative powerhouses can rely on prospects to call them. But for most agencies, if you don’t have a good, proactive prospecting effort, you will be unable to sustain growth (or grow beyond your local sphere of influence). There are a lot of ways to run a new business program, but one of the most important is simply to gain awareness among the prospect community that you exist. To that end, I believe one of the most powerful but underutilized tactics is a proactive publicity effort. Cold-calling seldom works, especially with voice mail and spam blockers that allow the client to screen and ignore unwanted contacts. A great direct mail piece or campaign may get you noticed for a moment, but you need to be top-of-mind when the prospect is ready to make a decision, and how often does that happen on the strength of your occasional direct mail?

I recommend that my clients join as many professional and civic organizations as possible. If you can’t attend all of the meetings, spread the assignment among your executive team. Keep in mind that it’s not enough to just join the Rotary Club or the local chapter of AMA; you need to be an officer or head a committee so do something so that you gain notice among the membership.

Thought leadership blogs or articles and editorials in the business section of the local newspaper or national trade publications are another good tactic for getting noticed and build awareness of your professional expertise.

6. They don’t have a well-rehearsed, professional presentation team.
Too many agencies make the mistake of taking the department head even if they are lousy in a new business presentation. If your presenters have a major flaw in their presentation style, or simply don’t have a very likeable personality, they can doom the agency to failure in the pitch. Too many times an agency brings a department head to a new business pitch because they feel obligated to do so, only to have that person give a terrible presentation.

In my experience, the Creative Director can make or break the pitch. But not all of them are very good in new business. They can come across as too arrogant, or too kooky, or not kooky enough, and none of those are good when a client is making a decision that he is fearful of to begin with. Many Creative Directors are terrible at rehearsing. It’s not in their nature to really practice a presentation; their right brain doesn’t track well with that kind of behavior. So sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are bad. And if they are bad, your chances for success go way, way down.

I have also seen a lot of bad media presentations over the years, even though media has become so complicated and fragmented that this may be one of the best ways to win over a client in the presentation. Too many Media Directors think that numbers are what clients want to see. I disagree. Clients want ideas and insights they can believe in. Colorful, but unreadable flow charts do not give them something to hold on to. Fortunately, bad media presentations can often be minimized by a strict editing of their presentation materials and through rehearsals. Which leads us to our next dumb mistake?

7. They don’t have a pitch Ayatollah with absolute authority to make the final decisions along the way.
One of the most common, and dumbest, mistakes agencies make in their new business efforts is to not anoint the New Business Director (or a senior executive) with the power to make the final decision. This dumb mistake is most often manifested in the pitch itself, but the idea should be carried throughout the entire new business process of targeting, active prospecting, etc. The lack of a pitch “Ayatollah” is especially damaging when making the final decision(s) on what to include in the credentials pitch. Creative Directors always want to show their best (i.e. most creative, off-the-wall, cutting-edge, expensive) work on the presentation reel. And I certainly agree that you should only show excellent work on the reel. But what you show should be dictated by the client and his needs, not by your creative ego. For some clients, the most creative, off-the-wall work is certainly relevant. But they also want to see work that is directly relevant to their category, or to their target audience.

8. They don’t understand that unless you have a relationship with a prospect, your chances of success go down dramatically.
I have said it several times in this article, but it bears repeating that client’s don’t want to make a risky decision. So most will tend to make the safe decision, whether it is the best one for the company or not. When I look back over the years at all of new business pitches I have made, the one constant when I didn’t succeed was that we lost when we had not developed some rapport or relationship with the prospect prior to the pitch. Sometimes the agency reputation and/or category experience got us through the RFP and into the finals, but if we didn’t have some personal or professional bond established at some level, we didn’t win the business.

I believe you win new business before the pitch, not during the pitch. That means you should be meeting with the prospect, talking with the prospect, sharing ideas with the prospect, building a relationship with the prospect before the pitch. People hire people they know and trust before they hire people that may not be in sync with their thinking. How many times, though, does an agency put all of their effort into developing spec creative ideas without really knowing who the client is and what they will respond to? That’s just dumb, but it happens every day.

There are a lot of other mistakes that agencies make on a regular basis. Perhaps the most common of these is that don’t have a full-time new business director, or at least someone designated to spend a majority of their time developing new business. But that may sound self-serving since my company specializes in providing that service to agencies who can’t afford an experienced full-time director.

So I will simply leave you with this thought. At this very moment, you can bet that some other agency is trying to build a relationship with one or more of your clients.

Do you really want to keep making the same dumb mistakes in your new business prospecting program?