New Year Insights For Ad Agency Relationships With Lee McKnight

It was awesome to be back on Drew McLellan‘s Build A Better Agency podcast, talking insights for ad agency relationships and some of the key stats from our latest RSW/US report: 2022 RSW/US New Year Outlook.

Per Drew:

The value of current and extensive market research cannot be understated. And, when agencies proactively apply the knowledge and unique insights uncovered in that research, they are better equipped to navigate change — no matter what lies ahead.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, our guest Lee McKnight, VP of Sales at RSWUS, shares some of the most surprising marketing insights uncovered in their New Year Outlook report and helps me break them down into key takeaways and actionable next steps for agencies.

Here’s what you’ll learn when you listen to the episode by clicking here:

  • Key takeaways from the RSW/US 2022 New Year Outlook survey, and what they mean for agencies
  • Surprising insights from marketers on spending, specialization, and shifting sales landscapes
  • Why so many marketers are pulling back on their non-marketing activities — and what that means for agencies
  • What agencies can do to elevate their sales process when face-to-face networking isn’t on the table
  • The not-so-hidden benefits of being a specialization agency
  • How agency relationships work differently in the virtual space — and how to adapt
  • Why it is crucial for agencies to alternate their content and sales platforms
  • How to build strong client relationships long before the initial pitch

In a wrap-up to our 2022 RSW New Year Outlook Report, we’re talking virtual and in-person trade shows and conferences. 

State of Virtual & In-Person Trade Shows and Conferences 

We revisited the conference question this year, and to provide some perspective, in last year’s report, 76% of agencies and 70% of marketers said on average, they attended 1-5 tradeshows annually pre-COVID. 

We asked how many they attended (including both in-person and virtual) in 2021, still in the midst of uncertainty, and 54% of agencies and 32% of marketers said they attended 1-5 shows.  

Interestingly, in last year’s report agencies said 54%, but we see a precipitous drop in marketer attendance, as last year 65% said they attended 1-5 virtual tradeshows. 

Are Marketers Done With In-Person Trade Shows

In 2020, 65% of marketers said they attended 1-5 shows. In 2021, 32%. 

We followed up by asking if those shows/conferences were in-person or virtual in 2021, allowing to pick both if needed. Agencies said 86% of those were in-person, and 59% were virtual, and marketers said 78% of those were in person, and 56% were virtual. 

In a third follow-up question, we asked agencies and marketers if virtual trade shows will remain a “thing” in 2022, with 82% of agencies, and 60% of marketers responding yes. 

Are Marketers Done With In-Person Trade Shows

Even with the uncertainty in ‘21, agencies attended conferences at the same rate, but we saw a 33-point decrease in marketer attendance.  

Even with that marketer decrease however, we saw both agencies and marketers overwhelmingly going to more in-person than virtual events/shows when they did attend. 

The world was hungry to return to in-person events in 2021, so it’s not a surprise to see these numbers, but marketers still attended far fewer events overall. 

While it’s conjecture, marketers may have found the events in ‘20 lackluster enough that they dramatically dropped their attendance in ‘21.  

Where are in-person trade shows headed? 

From a new business perspective, smart agencies saw they couldn’t rely on live events in 2020 as their strategy, and that carried over in ‘21. 

Unfortunately, that looks to continue, as least into the first few quarters of 2022.  

Although an article from TSNN (Trade Show News Network) (thanks Foster Marketing for the heads up) argues Trade shows can—and should—be held in person this year.

From Greg Topalian, CEO, Clarion Events North America; 

Simply nothing replaces face-to-face interaction. The past two years have proven that point countless times. While there is some exciting new progress on digital products, they don’t replace the value of meeting in person. Our customers and industries continue to struggle to create the kind of lead generation and customer acquisition that our events provide. 

So while agencies are bullish on virtual events continuing this year (with a 10-point increase over last year), marketers are less so, with a 7-point drop from last year.  

Inevitably we’ll see some further virtual fatigue, but both agencies and marketers apparently still find value in virtual events that provide a solid return. 

Agencies that haven’t adjusted to this new, hybrid reality of virtual and in-person need to.  

Trade shows and conferences are a great source of new business if managed in an organized fashion – regardless of whether they are in-person or not. 

The Frustrating Reason Marketers Want To Change Their Ad Agency But Don't

I had a conversation recently with one of our new business directors, and she reminded me of a critically important ad agency new business fact.

Our conversation was around a story one of her clients told her, and it’s a story I’m betting most of you have also experienced.

This agency had a great first meeting with a prospective client and found themselves in the running to replace this marketer’s current agency. In further conversations, this prospect shared some very frank thoughts (perhaps a bit too frank) on the incumbent agency.

Essentially, they were not doing a good job, weren’t providing any particularly fresh ideas and this prospect was excited to move on.

You’ve already guessed the end of this story-even after gushing about our client’s agency and badmouthing their current agency (!), they stayed with them. For the love of all that’s holy, why?

Because change is painful.

And change is hard.

I know I’m oversimplifying here, but ultimately that’s what it boiled down to.

And as you prospect for new business, or even in referral situations, you have to keep this fact top of mind.

Because you’re asking your prospects, who are all most likely currently working with another agency, to uproot that relationship and make what is sometimes a drastic change.

Now, it’s not an insurmountable challenge of course.

As we reach out to prospects on behalf of our agency clients, those prospects/companies are typically already working with another agency.

It’s something we’re used to and anticipate.

And many of those prospects work with multiple agencies, but others have one, and they would welcome a change, but it’s not something they really want to do in many cases, because, again, it’s a lot of work.

It’s why agency new business, and sales generally, is such a difficult job and why agencies tend to give up too easily on prospects.

You cannot take any first meeting with a prospect for granted, as the new business director I was talking with pointed out,

They may love you on Monday, but they’ll forget about you by Friday.

This is where it gets hard, I know, because you also don’t want to jump down their throat.

But in order to convince them to make that change, your prospects have to see palpable reasons to make that change to your agency.

Here are a few things I’ll leave you with that you definitely shouldn’t (or should) do:

-Don’t:

Leave the same scripted voicemails over and over again

Take 2 weeks to follow up

Send a 60+ page PDF attachment as your first next step

-Do:

Specifically define your positioning

Send a thank you note

Keep your site and social media platforms as up to date as possible (or ditch those platforms you aren’t updating)

Pick up the phone to prospect.  So many ad agencies don’t do it, as their emails are being ignored, or potentially not getting through.

As you remind yourself that change can be painful, do everything you can to make it easier for your prospect to remember you and see the real value in a potential change.

One Forgotten Reason Competitors Hurt Your Chances For More Agency New Business

One of the battles for us as an outsourced business development firm is the onslaught of ineffective/uninformed sales emails marketing services firms get on a daily basis from telemarketers and bots, professing to be effective agency new business generators.

I’m not talking about our legitimate competition, I’m talking about the random lead gen firms typically promising the world.

For example, a few first lines from sales emails I’ve received over the past 6 weeks:

-I can’t give up until I hear from you. Either way we slice it, we should grab 20 minutes:

-Hey Lee, I just wanted you to know that my favorite animal is the orangutan. I think it’s such a cool looking creature. Anyways-

-Noticed you were an alum of University of Kentucky with such a great mascot name. Fighting cats make great sports team, like tigers and cougars. Out here on the west coast things can be different. For example, the mascot of U.C. Santa Cruz is the Banana Slug — (true story :) Not much of a fighting contest with that creature, right?

-I just saw you here online and was emailing you to see if you could handle 50 appointments with clients of your niche this month plus a guarantee that we will close the first client for you?

First mistake with all these: they should check their database.

We’re an outsourced business development firm ourselves, a quick site or LinkedIn check would show that.

But these companies are all about spray and pray primarily.

These ineffective (or terrible) emails make my job harder to break through to agencies about our services.

Agencies get emails like this every day, often several times a day, and I know this because they tell me they’re bombarded by lead gen firms at a manic pace.

And so my company, RSW, is constantly in danger of getting lumped in with these firms, or, just as egregious, outright ignored, because there’s so much junk entering their inbox every day.

Why should you care?

Because the same thing is happening to your agency right now.

There are a lot of agencies out there doing a mediocre job of new business, sending poorly written and/or forgettable emails to that prospect you’re pursuing.

And like my examples above, it makes your job, driving agency new business, harder, because that very solid and effective email you just sent gets lumped in with 2 or 3 crappy emails your competition sent over.

So-I leave you with thoughts on what to do to fight this, and ensure a more effective new business outreach:

  • Differentiate yourself with a strong point of difference and content that speaks to your prospect’s challenges
  • Take the time to craft concise, direct and specific emails, especially as a prospect shows interest
  • Don’t just use email-use every channel in concert with each other: email, phone, social (where it makes sense) and yes, snail mail.

And you could actually flip the script on this, and look at all this junk as a positive.

Let competitors get ignored, and keep reaching out with informed, value-driven reach-outs.

It will take 6 to 8 touches, but it will ultimately pay off.

If There’s No Work In Hand, Should We Even Take This Prospect Meeting?

30-50% of the prospect meetings we get our agency clients turn into a proposal opportunity.

I’m kicking things off with this stat, because recently I’ve had conversations with agency prospects who’ve asked about the other 50%.

It’s not a question that comes up in every prospect conversation I have, but if it doesn’t, then I like to bring it up.

That other 50% typically constitute those meetings with a longer tail.

I’m not going to tell you that every single meeting we get for a client is a home run, but part of the reason our business development programs are set up the way they are is so our new business directors can help nurture that other 50%, where it makes sense to do so.

Not every meeting will be a work-in-hand opportunity, whether it’s set by us, or if an agency is handling new business internally.

Because you simply can’t manufacture opportunities-timing truly is everything.

But, there have been several meetings we’ve gotten for clients, where opportunities became evident that weren’t when the meeting was originally set.

In those cases, we prepared our client with the prospect’s situation, the prospect was on the list we built and which was approved by our client (one of the first steps), and there was a high level of interest in what our client could bring to the table.

But, there was no immediate work in hand.  That can happen and we communicate as much information as we can to our client in that regard.

Speaking generally about agencies, these types of meetings are often where they drop the ball.

Their first thought is, “well, if there’s no work in hand, should we even take this prospect meeting?”

Well, to be fair, sometimes the answer is no.

And depending on a lot of factors, you’re probably not jumping on a flight across the country at that point.

But otherwise, you must keep an open mind in these situations.

Going back to those clients I mentioned, they went into those meetings with an open mind, performed initial research, and prepared key questions, specific to the industry and work they had done.

Half an hour into these conversations, what started with no immediate work turned into several challenges that weren’t initially mentioned and that the prospect really hadn’t fully fleshed out or realized until our client tapped into the right line of questioning.

It’s not an easy thing, but there are those agency principals or new business directors, who have an innate talent for extracting insights from prospects.

They can sit down with that prospect and have the ability to ask really good questions about the prospect’s business, getting them laser-focused on the challenges they’re facing.

To be frank, a lot of you reading don’t have that talent, but you can still get the same result.

Three quick tips on how:

1) Prior to the meeting, study up your prospect and her/his company

Far too often, the only prep is to glance at the prospect’s website briefly.

You are busy, without a doubt, but as I like to say,

Google is your friend.

It’s just too easy to find out a fair amount of information in a short period of time.

2) Formulate 7-10 industry/client-focused questions before the prospect meeting.

Ideally you have some of these questions based on what you uncovered about the prospect and her/his company, but you won’t always be able to find something pertinent.

So base your questions on the challenges you help your current clients solve.

It’s a safe bet they’re going through the same things, and even if they aren’t, they’ll appreciate your overall expertise in their vertical.

3) Keep an open mind.

If you go in with a negative or circumspect mental attitude, you’ve already gone a long way toward assuring yourself a poor meeting.

Absolutely there are those meetings that never should have happened, and if that continues with great frequency, the overall process needs to be examined, but on average, if all the other boxes towards a right fit are checked and the prospect wants to meet with you, odds are good there’s a need there.

The Importance of the Prospect Snapshot for your Agency

This is the second in our ad agency list-building blog series around our latest eBook, The Prospecting List, Turbocharged: How To Pump The Right Fuel Into Your New Business Engine

(See the first here: The Case For Ad Agency List Building Delegation)

Written by RSW Operations team member, Cory Esselman, Cory delves into the ingredients that make up your ideal prospect snapshot.

If you’re not familiar with what that is, Cory shares the RSW list building secret sauce, and why it’s so critical to your agency new business effort.

The Importance of the Prospect Snapshot for your Agency

Designing a targeted outreach list may seem simple on the surface.

To the untrained eye, it’s as simple as copying down company names anytime you see an ad pop up on Google or read an article about a trendy new consumer good or retailer.

If you can do this over and over again for days/weeks/months, then boom – you’ve developed quite a large database.

You certainly look the part of someone trying to develop new business for your agency since you have a plethora of leads and can spend hours each day emailing, calling, and connecting on social media with them.

But Is it really that simple?

Obviously, no – or I wouldn’t have a job as an Account Executive at RSW/US.

What you really end up with are just companies and names of contacts – basically just random letters and numbers on a spreadsheet.

None of the information you have makes sense unless you have qualified them as an ideal target for your agency.

Anyone can say ‘I want to bring on ____ as a client’ but without understanding how their business fits into your agency’s past work and present capabilities, how are you going to land that big fish?

What are you going to talk to them about if they answer the phone or what can you put into an email to make them open it?

You’re just a dog chasing a car at this point. Not knowing what you would do if you caught one!

Enter – The Snapshot

The Importance of the Prospect Snapshot for your Agency

Our ‘Secret Sauce’ in developing targeted outreach lists for clients.

Good thing for you is, we don’t keep our recipe under wraps like the Chick-fil-A sauce or McDonald’s Big Mac sauce (ok the Big Mac sauce is a bad example as we all know what’s in it).

So, lets give you the ingredients (last pun, I swear) to a successful snapshot.

1. Industry – The space you are wanting to work in/the space you have worked in the past that you can speak to.

Break it down even further if the industry isn’t as cut-and-dry as restaurants or insurance.

You may find yourself breaking out Consumer Goods or Retailers into 20 different sub-segments by the time you are done… which is a good thing!

2. Title – This is how you will open the door, not necessarily who you will have the final meeting/sign the contract with.

Who is going to have enough time to answer the phone/read an email while also having enough seniority to move you up the ladder?

3. Revenue – You know who you have worked with and who is in the same ballpark.

Aim just above the size of your past clients.

There are many sources out there that report revenue but take them with a grain of salt – if it seems wrong, it probably is.

Start-ups are usually overlooked as they are late to the game in reporting accurate data, throw some in just in case.

4, Geo – Some industries operate in specific regions while others aren’t geo-specific.

With that said, one sound strategy is keeping it close to home.

Being in the know about local happenings and using local dialect is certainly helpful with smaller targeted companies.

Doesn’t mean you can’t/shouldn’t reach out nationally, as so many agencies have clients all over the country, but the local/regional play can provide advantages if you haven’t already saturated “your backyard”.

5. What doesn’t fit/hasn’t worked – Keep a list of competitors of your current clients.

Don’t lose a current client for a new client unless you are certain they are going to be a better fit for your agency in the long run.

Also noting past fails in outreach along with who you don’t want to target is helpful to note.

Good luck out there and remember that ingredients are always listed in decreasing order. Enjoy…

The Case For Ad Agency List Building Delegation

This is the first in our ad agency list-building blog series around our latest eBook, The Prospecting List, Turbocharged: How To Pump The Right Fuel Into Your New Business Engine

Written by RSW Operations team member, Emma Thompson, Emma delves into all the list options agency execs are bombarded with and a few of the best solutions to tackle what is arguably one of the most important parts of your agency’s new business effort.

 

As an agency executive, you have a lot on your plate.

You most likely wear many hats.

Aside from the day-to-day running of your business, you probably also handle prospect research as well as outreach.

It makes sense that you look for ways to make your job easier and more efficient.

Luckily for you, there are many great resources on the market for company and contact research.

We named a handful of these (including our own service-couldn’t help myself) in our recent eBook The Prospecting List, Turbocharged: How To Pump The Right Fuel Into Your New Business Engine.

Making the process more efficient, many of these programs offer an automated list service.

But are they any good?

While they may seem time and cost-effective upfront, the information may not be all that accurate.

These platforms often grade their information on an accuracy scale and do not guarantee that it is 100% correct.

The data they are pulling is often based on a computer algorithm that culls information from the internet, or worse yet, user-entered information.

As you can imagine, this results in a wide range of accuracy from platform to platform and puts into question the quality of your purchased list.

When the data you are using for your outreach is inaccurate, you will spend more time finding the right information and less time actually prospecting.

Your agency would actually be wise to utilize 2-3 different research platforms to gather all necessary data and crosscheck for a high level of fidelity.

But as an agency executive, do you really have time for that?

The answer is assuredly no, but the time and effort it takes to do this extra legwork is worth it.

Consider hiring someone to do this work, or more realistically (especially for small and mid-sized firms), could be a prime opportunity to have someone handle that work as part of their responsibilities, with a salary increase.

Trusting your list building to someone proficient in online research, who understands your company and can navigate resources and analyze data, is the most effective way to get the information you need.

Not only will this person have a full understanding of what you are looking for in a way a computer never will, they will also be capable of cross-referencing multiple data sources to find the most accurate information on your target list of companies and contacts.

The role of this designated “list builder” can even go further.

Once they build up your initial list of prospects, they can also help you manage your database on-going and ensure that new company and contact information being added over time is accurate and correctly targeted.

As experience has no doubt shown you, it’s important to continue to nurture your prospects over time, so when the opportunity strikes and they need agency assistance, your name will be top of mind.

Keeping your database “clean” will ensure that you reach everyone.

And delegating this work to a researcher will free you up to focus all your time and energy on your outreach and not ad agency list-building.

How Fowling Will Help Up Your Agency New Business Game- 3 Takeaways Ep. 77

Ad agency friends-have you ever heard of fowling

Whether you have or not-it has many similarities with ad agency new business. 

And if you don’t know, I’ll tell you what it is

Welcome to “3 Takeaways”, your agency new business video series where we focus on one new business category and give you three takeaways to help improve your new business program

Are you familiar with Fowling? 

Created in Detroit apparently, Fowling is a game where you essentially throw a football into a set of bowling pins and try and knock them all down

Like bowling, but you’re using a football instead. 

You have two boards where each set of pins sits, 32 feet apart. So-Fowling.

So, we’re about to go Fowling as a company, a little outing.  And that’s apropos, because Fowling is a lot like agency new business.

You thought this was going to be an instructional fowling video didn’t you? 

Well, sort of, first, because it may sound easy-it is not.

I have seen women and men throw perfect spirals and hit nothing. 

So Lee, you’re thinking, how else is Fowling like agency new business?  Oh, I’ll tell you.

Here’s your first takeaway:

Patience is a virtue

OK, before you stop watching, this a building block of new business. 

But there’s some of you watching and you’re thinking, yeah, I know that, but you don’t live it. 

And you’re going to lose that big client, and suddenly need new business. 

Then you’re prospecting from a place of desperation. You don’t want to be there-check out episode 49 of 3 Takeaways for more on that. 

And you absolutely need patience for Fowling.

I’ve seen it get down to the last pin and take a long time to knock it down.

OK, your second takeaway:

Precision is key. 

It’s tough, but those footballs have zero play-it goes to one spot and then bounces away, typically. 

Same with new business-if all you’re doing is mass emails with zero homework, or intent, you may get a hit every now and then, but you’re wasting time in my opinion. 

Alright, and your third takeaway: 

You need to get creative.

In fowling, after the thirteenth time trying to hit those last two pins, maybe you try and throw it underhand. 

Not very graceful, but I’ve seen it work. 

Same with new business-there will be a time when you’ve used all your case studies, don’t have new content, you’ve used your site-in those cases, you have to get creative. 

Google is always your friend, you can always find some piece of news on the company or industry. 

Or maybe you send an old school letter. 

Whatever you do, you can’t wait for things to happen. 

So there you have it: fowling and new business.  Who knew? 

Thanks for watching 3 Takeaways.

How To Handle Toxic Rock Star Employees – 3 Takeaways Ep.76

This episode of 3 Takeaways is about handling toxic rockstar employees at your agency: what that looks like (especially when they’re a rockstar), and how to handle it post-pandemic.

Hey, welcome to “3 Takeaways”, your agency new business video series where we focus on one new business category and give you three takeaways to help improve your new business program.

Today’s episode is sponsored by the legendary indie record label IRS records, original home to REM and The Go-Gos, to name a few. (OK, not really a sponsor).

So we’re talking about toxic employees at your agency, and what that looks like post-pandemic.

From talking with all kinds of agencies, the pandemic, for a lot of firms, put those employees on the back burner.  

These problems didn’t go away, there was still Zoom and those employees were still there, but there were bigger, and other very real problems.

But here we are, mostly post-pandemic, and agencies are adopting all kinds of models: stay-at-home, in the office, hybrids, and have put a fair amount of planning in place.

And those toxic employees may have gotten a pass over the last year plus, especially if they did well, if they were rock stars. 

If they’re producing, sometimes you overlook a certain level of toxicity, especially if that employee knows how to walk right up to that line, but never quite cross it.

I had an agency describe this very situation recently, involving the employee who drove new business.

And with employees coming back, or staying home, whatever your model, you need to deal with that toxic employee now.  

Especially in this job market-you can’t afford to have one employee drive other good employees out, rock star or not.

So how to deal with that employee now, in your post-pandemic agency world?

Here’s your first takeaway:

Create or update your standards of behavior. 

It’s surprising how many agencies don’t have these in place, or maybe you haven’t updated the existing standards to reflect your agency post-pandemic.

Now is the time to do that, so an employee, and specifically that toxic employee, can never say he or she didn’t have clear guidelines.

Here’s your second takeaway:

Be specific and clear when it comes to performance. 

This goes beyond behavior, and towards expectations for each department, or individual.

What they’re doing well, and what needs to be improved. 

You have to avoid mixed signals, and document all of it.

And that way, all employees are clear on what to expect, and they see leadership making that clear.

And so with that toxic rockstar, it’s made clear to them, and possibly that will help their behavior, or help agency leadership document instances where the behavior continues.

And your third takeaway:

Make sure there is an outlet for employee feedback, and encourage employees to use it.

If that employee is truly toxic, you, as an agency principal, need to know and should want to know. 

And look, sometimes certain employees just don’t get along, that doesn’t mean one of them is toxic, but when it’s clear, you’re better off addressing it sooner than later.

And you can do all the cost/benefit you want when that toxic employee is a rock star, and it may be hard to replace them, but ultimately, is that the kind of culture you want existing at your agency?

Where Should Your Agency Focus Your New Biz Efforts In 2020?

Where Should Your Agency Focus Your New Biz Efforts In 2020?

Where Should Your Agency Focus Your New Biz Efforts In 2020

This week RSW/US released its New Year Outlook 2020 Survey Report and based on the content, I think smaller, independent and/or specialist agencies will need to step up their new biz efforts and learn to Sell Greatly this year or get left behind. Let’s talk about why.

According to the RSW/US report, companies that used to carry 5-6 agencies or more are finding it difficult to manage all of those agencies. Let’s face it, we agencies don’t make it easy. Far too often, agencies spend a lot of time simply jockeying for the “pole position” which leads to them not playing nice together.

So our clients have to manage all of that while keeping an eye on the integrity of their brand and creating campaigns that will move the needle so they can stay employed.

Being A Specialist Agency Isn’t Special Anymore

After spiking in 2017, clients’ interest in bringing in specialist agencies for digital, social or content marketing, has waned. Maybe it’s because more and more AOR agencies have finally caught up to the specialists in terms of offering those services in-house or some other reason. But the drop is not a blip but a well defined trend at this point.

One notable exception, though not specifically called out in the report, could be data and analytics. 59% of surveyed clients noted that specific capability as highly desirable in an agency partner.

Thus, if a client is working with an AOR agency that isn’t strong in data and analytics, there might still be an opportunity for a data/analytics shop to stay on the client roster OR even partner with the AOR.

In fact, RSW/US noted in the report that “we’re seeing specialty agencies establishing profitable and productive relationships with more full-on agencies, operating as a contractor to help deliver holistically on the needs of their marketing clients.”

How Can Your Agency Drive More New Business?

Well isn’t that the $64,000 question. Here again, the RSW/US report provides good indicators that strongly suggest every agency will need a successful content marketing program in 2020.

When asked to look ahead and gauge the importance of various biz dev efforts, agencies felt it was going to be more important to:

71% said “to come to meetings with insights about a prospect’s industry or company”
60% said “to push out value-added, thought leadership content”
69% said “to own a unique positioning for the their agency”
Content marketing is the answer to all three needs. Obviously it’s how you push out “thought leadership content” but also, when you push out that content you create a positioning for your agency. And lastly, if your agency is constantly creating new content, you’re sure to discover or create a few really compelling insights about your prospects’ industries or companies.

View Article