6 Critical Sales Mistakes Advertising Agencies Make

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I have been working at and with advertising and digital agencies on their business development programs for over 25 years. You would think that these experts in marketing would have the smartest, most effective sales programs in the services industry. The reality is that many don’t.

Here are 6 mistakes, or better, teachable moments, that all businesses can glean from less than optimal advertising agency marketing.

1. The Business Plan. You would be surprised at how many advertising agencies do not have a master business plan. They haven’t decided on what they are selling, who they are selling it to (most agencies have not defined the types of clients they want) and how they will accomplish their goals. These plans must also take into account the fast pace of ever changing advertising technology and social media as this will affect their service offer and future staff needs. Twitter alone seems like it’s launching a new set of advertising options every week.

2. The Agency Brand Positioning. I just re-read Seth Godin’s bestseller, “The Purple Cow.“ It reminded me of the fact that most advertising agencies do not have a distinctive — or, in Seth’s words, a “remarkable” — brand positioning. I am talking about a brand positioning that would help an agency stand out from the other 4,000+ marketing services companies and clearly announces what the agency can do for its clients. The need for a compelling and distinctive brand position is a critical factor in any company’s sales proposition. To give you an idea how complex choosing a brand position can be here are 24 positioning options for advertising agencies alone. I think that there is learning here for any type of business.

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3. The Business Development Plan. A key component of the master business plan is having an active business development plan. This should include what the company’s key sales message is and who the target market is (there could be multiple target markets although focus on a type of client or industry should be a goal.) The plan should also include the details, including schedules, for the agency’s inbound and outbound marketing programs. If the agency has a business development director, it should motivate this salesperson via his or her compensation and commission structure.

4. The Agency Website. Again, you would think that advertising agencies would have the best marketing websites. However, despite the fact that the agency website is most likely the first place a prospective client can learn about the agency, many agency websites act more like brochures that active sales tools. These websites are often more about looking cool than recognizing and concentrating on the sales process – including asking for a meeting. It is also amazing that most advertising agency websites do not use video to help introduce who they are. Why not have the agency principles tell their story and give a brief agency tour? Clients tell us all the time that personal chemistry is a critical element in choosing a marketing agency. Video can begin that job as soon as a client enters the website.

5. The Social Media Program. Social media works 24/7/365. That’s the good news. The bad is that social media is by nature unruly and time-consuming and requires a master plan based on the objectives of the business development plan; a search engine optimized media plan (a blog works differently than Twitter and LinkedIn); a content plan; a publishing calendar and, most importantly, inter-agency responsibilities. Lapsed social media programs abound.

6. Consistency and CEO Attention. The story of the cobbler’s children that had no shoes is a standard advertising agency metaphor. Agencies complain that they are so busy doing marketing for their existing clients that they don’t have the time or resources to do their own. The lesson here is that no matter what business you are in, marketing is and always will be a critical factor in your success. A CEO cannot wait to lose her highest billing client or a customer segment to a disruptive newcomer to re-activate and energize the business development or sales program.

My advertising friends might say that I’ve been a bit harsh on them. But, despite some glaring mistakes, most agencies actually get it right. If you are interested in seeing how agencies market themselves on the web, head on over to my Pinterest Advertising Agency Directory. Yes, many of these websites are of the me-too variety. But, I am sure that you might find some ideas for your own digital marketing programs.

  Discuss This Article

Comments: 6

  • Molly says:

    Amen! … to MOST of what you wrote, Mr. Levitan. Advertising and marketing agencies typically don’t treat themselves nearly as good as their clients. I guess that’s because they aren’t getting an instant payoff for the work that goes into marketing themselves. The only comment that I tend to disagree with is that agency websites should act as an overt sales tool – i.e. asking for the business right there and then. Agencies should be selective in who they ask for business. The accounts that a particular agency should want to take on would ideally be a good fit for the agency – both in terms of the work and the culture of the client & agency teams. That can only be determined after a meeting between the two parties. After all, if an agency asks for every piece of business that comes across their website, what makes them special? Or in your words, distinctive? But, yeah, everything else you write is dead on!

  • TheAndy says:

    How is any of this harsh? We know better, we try, we’ll get there, or at least get close(r). All good.

  • Terri says:

    Agree most agencies haven’t developed the infrastructure for a solid sales force model. Most are too focused on chasing short term projects vs. long term relationships. The challenge is that relationships take time. So there needs to be attention on developing a value chain from sales to client/prospect. It’s the value part that agencies have a hard time investing in, but probably the most critical. But that takes $$ and after coming off a very nasty recession, making that investment is risky.

  • Robb says:

    Such basic wisdom, yet hardly any creative agencies actually “do the work” to figure this stuff out. (Myself included.) “The unaimed arrow never misses.” A great reminder of how important it is to take the time and aim our agency arrow.

  • Peter Levitan says:

    Interesting comments. Thanks. Here is a followup to my original post: “Advertising agency business development is hard work” – http://peterlevitan.com/advertising-agency-business-development-hard-work-3964/ FYI, all business development is hard work. Unless you are selling iPads it seems.

  • Priscilla says:

    I connect with Peter and work with him because HE GETS IT and more importantly, I want to change and grow my company and am fully aware that it requires that I change and grow as a professional. I am willing to do the work, to hear the truth in these core principles, eschew perfectionism and focus on micro habits which roll up into real change just when you least expect it. Thanks Peter!

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