u·nique: being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else

In this year’s RSW/US Agency New Business Survey, 52% of the responding ad agencies identified themselves as a “full-service agency.”  In 2008, 64% of agencies responding identified themselves as “full service.”

While it’s nice to see fewer agencies define themselves so simply without any real definition around the specifics of their business, it is still concerning that so many advertising and marketing firms put themselves in a bucket that isn’t more uniquely defined.

In the same study, 8% of marketers said they get up to 21 calls a week from agencies. 60% say they get 6-10 calls per week.  That’s a lot of you attempting to capture the attention of the marketer.

Year-to-date, we at RSW/US have set over 800 meetings for our clients.

How do we do this?

There are multiple reasons why we’re effective: it’s a mixture of our methodology, the talent of the people we hire, and the persistent (yet polite) nature of our approach. 

But a big part of it is how we position the agencies we represent and how we talk about their offering.

When I first started this business in 2005, the Communications Strategies/Brand Stories I would create at the start of an engagement with an agency (that would guide our messaging in the new business outreach program for them) were focused more around the emotional benefits and more generic benefits of working with an agency.  I painted a picture of their character—the fact that they were great to work with, more strategic, hard working.  And the fact that they had all the services anyone could want because they were mostly full-service firms we were working with.

Not long after I started the business, I had an opportunity to speak to a small agency network at their annual meeting in Kansas City.  I had all fifteen agencies write their elevator speech down on an overhead transparency (remember those?). I presented all fifteen back to the agencies.  Thirteen of the fifteen agencies all said basically what I just outlined above.  And they all thought they were unique.

How to Break Through

Today when a new agency client tries to convince me that the right way to talk about their firm is the way most talked about their agencies in Kansas City, I politely tell them that it’s best to save language like that for their face-to-face conversation with the marketer, when they have 30 minutes to an hour, not when first trying to break through. Talking that way when you have 5 seconds to 2 minutes to bust down a door isn’t the best way to get an audience with the Queen.

Agencies need to think about their worlds in different ways. When I meet a new client for a half-day kick-off session, I’m digging around for the RTBs (reasons to believe)—why someone would want to sit down and talk with them. Those reasons can include a deep-seated base of experience in a category, the types of clients they represent, a unique source of insights, hard-core expertise in an offering, or a unique way marketers in their space historically haven’t looked at their business… or some combination of a number of things.

One example is an Oklahoma client: when we first worked with this agency they were generalists, with experience in a handful of core categories. I met and spoke with the principal many times at the annual Mirren conference in New York, and each and every time, he told me his desire was to get some business outside of his state, because every client he had was in Oklahoma.

A reshaping of his agency’s positioning put them squarely in what he called “the B2B2C space.” We assisted the principal as we collectively shaped his messaging and positioning, carrying it throughout our outreach, as well as his own. As a result of this positioning change and the successes he had with his clients using their approach, we found him a sizeable seven-figure assignment with a major lawn and garden manufacturer outside of Oklahoma.

This wouldn’t have happened if he were just any old full-service firm—or even a full-service B2B firm. It was that unique “2C,” and the unique approach in using the “2C” to help drive more business and affinity for his clients’ brands, that helped tell a great story and reel in this new client.

So take a step back and try tothink differently about your marketing firm. Being a “full-service marketing agency” alone isn’t going to be enough to drive your business.   

Sixty-nine percent of agencies in our survey tell us that the number one reason why agency new business is hard is because it’s tough to break through. Fifty-four percent of agencies also tell us that they believe the number of agency new business opportunities are going to increase next year. 

The question on the table for you as an agency is: “Are you going to do more of the same next year, or are you going to change the game?” With referrals on the decline (down 10 points since 2016), agencies need to think about their businesses in a different way. 

Start with how you want prospects to view you, and what it’s going to take for a marketer to say: “I want to talk with you because I believe you can bring a different type/level of thinking into my business.”


Mark Sneider is Owner/President of RSW/US, a full-service, outsourced business development group that helps marketing agencies, PR firms, media agencies (of any type/size) win new business by developing positioning and prospecting plans, building the industry’s cleanest and most customized lists, getting clients qualified meetings in front of decision makers, and moving clients beyond the initial meeting to get them closer to close.  To learn more about RSW/US, visit www.rswus.com

© 2017 Mark Sneider and RSW/US. All Rights Reserved



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