When agencies outnumber opportunities.

Agencies from across the marketing spectrum are pretty bad at selling themselves. I don’t want any of them to become salesy, pushy “Wolf of Wall Street” types, employing hideous tricks and tactics. There are ways to be more compelling – more interesting to the decision-maker with too many options.

Agency decision-makers get dozens of approaches a month. Many get dozens a week. They receive endless creds documents. The nice ones read most of them. The less patient ones filter them out based on a few simple criteria. Some don’t read them at all.

Many of the things that agencies talk about are things that a decision-maker would use to exclude them as an option. Location, size, years in business. These can all be positives, but not very impressive ones. They can more easily be reasons to exclude. Marketing bods at companies can choose from many agencies. In our experience (and we’ve been doing this for 15 years*), they choose based on two things: the outcomes you can cause for your clients and the company you keep (your client list).

If you’re at a big outdoor event and there are 25 food stalls, you don’t look at all 25 and choose the one you will eat at. You exclude some first: “Well, I don’t fancy a burger, I don’t want to eat fish and chips while I’m walking around and I hate hot dogs”. Before you know it, you’re left with a few options. These are the ones that you now consider on merit. This is how marketing people whittle lists of agencies down. They exclude first. Often arbitrarily.

The opening chunk of your creds, website or proposal is crucial. It sets up the way the prospective client views the rest of the presentation. An incredible number of our clients started out with creds that opened with something like, “Based in Hexham, our team of 22 amazing people have worked on the most brilliant design projects for 18 years!”. Or maybe bullet points that illustrate the same thing:

About us

- 22 People

- Office and studio in Hexham

- Founded in 1998

- Fluent in Design and branding

Four boring facts that tell a potential client almost nothing. Imagine for a moment that your prospect last used an agency with 8 people, founded just three years ago, based in London. It went well. The outcomes were pretty good. Suddenly you’ve got nothing in common with this decent agency they quite liked. Now, everything you say is through the lens of someone who sees you as rather unlike the last guys. Maybe they liked that their agency was in London. Maybe they liked their small team. Maybe they liked that they were fresh and full off new ideas. Or maybe they liked them for a more important reason: It went well. The outcomes were pretty good. This is what you should lead out with.

If you’re the agency that increased shirt sales for Fullofit Shirts by 23% online, then that’s page one. If you’re the agency that raised staff retention for Slipless Gripmats plc by over 40%, then say so, early on. If you’re the agency that created a brand that staff and customers genuinely loved for Landwell Airways then make that the lead story. Your location, years in business and number of staff can go to the last page. Imagine blowing a potential client’s mind with your incredible results, then at the very end leaving them thinking, “All this from an agency way out in Hexham! Wow!”. It’s remarkably powerful to confound expectation.

And now all you have to do is make the rest of your story readable. A simple truth about sending out a creds PDF is that people are savvy to the size. They look at the file size. Above 5MB and they’re already planning to ditch it early. They’ll glance at the page count. 23 pages? No chance. This is a prospect in the cold-channel. They don’t care about your creative prowess. They don’t want to read a book about you. They don’t want to spend more than a couple of minutes on this. We’ve found that a page count of fewer than 10 pages is important. Single digits = readable. You are not trying to secure the deal remotely, just to create the next step. Tailor it. Make the filename refer to the prospective client if you’re sending it. Mention their name on the title page. People like this as much as they hate receiving something generic.

In cold-channel business development, you’re going to fail more than you succeed. 75%+ of wins go to a referral, or the incumbent. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a strong cold-channel campaign. It does mean you shouldn’t have a poor one. Make every word, picture and page of your creds count. Make it about the prospect, not about you. Focus on their commercial goals. Leave aside your patented processes. Don’t crow too loudly about awards. If someone hires you for twelve months, the thing they’re buying – the thing you should be selling – it whatever it is that they’ll have in month thirteen that they didn’t have in month one.

*See, you don’t care how long we’ve been in business. That didn’t make you want to hire us. But if it DID, call Steve now on 01708 451311. Just don’t tell him that was your reason.

Four ways to get more from your new business agency

New Business Agencies sometimes screw up. We have. They all have. Quite a lot of the time though, if things aren't working it's not just their doing. It's a bit of both of you. Supporting your new business agency's endeavours is essential. There are things they know that are always helpful to trust them on. Like this:

1)      Don’t make them describe you in a particular way.

Just because you’ve decided to call yourselves a Brand Empathy & Ideas Generation Agency doesn’t mean that your prospects or clients would ever think of you as that. Worse than not thinking of you in your chosen way, there’s the simple fact that if someone needs what they call a creative agency and goes looking for one, they’re not going to immediately see that you might be able to solve their problem. If you have your new business person calling or emailing people who control marketing budgets, then encourage them to find out what the person might be looking for. If it’s “creative” then you’re a creative agency. If it’s “ideas”, you’re an ideas agency. Many of our clients over the years have insisted on a specific description and we’ve learned to say “no” because it does no good.

2)      If they ask for a short credentials document, give them a short credentials document. Do it on time.

Agencies love to talk about themselves. Clients speak to lots of agencies over time. Do the sums. Do you imagine that they want long presentations from every new agency they encounter? The chances are that after a couple of conversations and the mention of an upcoming brief, your new business legend (for that’s what we are) will need to send over some sort of document to move things along a bit. Unless they’re asking for specific examples, send them a short (9 pages maximum) description of your agency. Make sure the majority of it tells the prospect what they will get (which is different from what you do). Leave the dull bits (where you are, how long you’ve been in business) until the end (if they’re not interested by then, who cares where you are?). Actually, just read my article on the excellent Econsultancy – it’s at
http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/11207-agency-creds-they-re-all-as-bad-as-each-other and it’s marvellous.

3)      Don't keep asking how many calls they've made.

I know you want your money's worth, but unless you've hired a phone-jockey to blitz a list, killing names off as fast as possible in the hope that they'll trip over something, they need time to do other things. Your new business person needs to be doing research, refining data, clearing their head with the latest football news, working on your proposition and myriad (which originally meant 10,000, but here just means "lots of") other things.

4)      Support them from the start.

Look, I know that hiring a new business agency is scary stuff. We’ll ask for a level of trust that in the early months is fairly un-earned. While some new business agencies will abuse your trust and have you spending valuable studio time putting together documents that will be seen by a temporary receptionist at a company with fifty quid to spend, this is (or should be) rare. What is worse – far worse – is stifling their ability to win you new clients by slowing them down. We often have to promise a terrifyingly fast turnaround on some detailed credentials documents to squeeze a client into a pitch. When they trust our word and support us, it invariably leads to a far more productive project. Our most successful client of 2012 obviously trusts us implicitly, but the key thing they did from the start was trust us, sight unseen. We’re good at this and I hope our competitors are too. Don’t get in the way.

This might all seem like common sense, but often the temptation is to take far too long to create a 28-page PDF which spends an age describing your agency as an Integrated Product-Oriented Brand Development and Advancement Consultancy. And then you’ve gone and broken all three rules.