Having started my career in the military, I’ve seen my share of crap.

hard new business lessons

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: “I want you two turds to clean the head.”

Don’t take me wrong, I loved my time serving! After all I spent 9 years traveling all over the world with some of the best and the brightest. That said, there are some aspects of serving that really grate one’s nerves – like having to clean out the latrines.

Working in advertising agency new business development can be the same. You get to work with some of the best and brightest, be highly creative, experience fun times, and relish the thrill of victory. But there are some aspects that remind me of cleaning latrines.

Here are the highlights of the things I hate about new business:

1. Letting Chaos Drive the Process (The Guy Everyone in the Platoon Hates)

This is not unique to new business, and we have all interacted with someone who never responds to requests for input into a planning document or who fails to provide clear direction early in the process. This same person tends to show up for meetings 15 minutes late, pontificates endlessly rather than attempting to understand the situation or share critical information. And then assigns responsibilities and actions not related to the outcome. The end result is often that last-minute changes are made in the wee hours of the morning of the presentation. The counter-argument is “we need to be more spontaneous” or “you just need to be more flexible” or my personal favorite is “I work better off-the-cuff.” What a crock.

2. Using Overly Complex Marketing Jargon (Or Establish a SOP to SITREP Clearly)

Marketing buzz-speak is often deployed as a defense mechanism. Box a marketing person into a corner, whether he is a brand manager or the most junior account coordinator, and rather than admit they were wrong or have no idea what you’re talking about, they’ll start spouting off impressive-sounding marketing terms, abbreviations, and jargon-laced speeches – “We need to highlight the brand USP to maximize CTR by implementing a highly-integrated cross platform SMM to generate strong ROI.” I know some former military folks who can’t communicate with civilians due to the lack of acronym commonality. That’s why it’s important to communicate clearly. The most respected people in marketing I’ve worked with have an ability to articulate a complex situation or a difficult process or a hard-to-grasp marketing problem in simple, understandable terms. Not the other way around.

3. Not Developing Presenters (Providing More than Just a Toothbrush for Latrine Duty)

Marketing firms tend to promote people with good account skills or outstanding creative credentials, and then expect them to deliver powerful presentations. Often the very skills needed to be great in client service or creative makes them terrible at delivering presentations. Yes, I’ve heard all the excuses about how times are tight and there are no staff-development budgets, but you really cannot afford to ignore building great presenters in your firm. The best presenters are coached and groomed – they’re not just born that way. And if someone just doesn’t have that ability, then don’t bring them! Would you want someone covering your back who hasn’t had adequate training? Watching a well-crafted presentation delivered poorly just kills me.

4. Focusing on the Wrong Things (Should Leadership be THAT Concerned about the Cleanliness of the Latrines?)

When heading into a new business planning session or pitch there are certain areas where we should be spending most of our time. That means the overall goal, strategy, or plan. One disturbing trend I’ve noticed is agency leaders are focused on small stuff, like which word on which slide is better. Getting a handle on new business requires among other things, a particularly strong attention to detail. However, few leaders are able to coordinate the dozens, if not hundreds, of individual details associated with new business. Although keeping track of details is a valuable skill for leaders, I think it’s easy for leaders to lose sight of the big picture. Regardless of how many small details need to be handled, it’s important to step back every once in a while to see things from a broader perspective. That’s why in the military you have a commander who is in charge of the overall mission and subordinates to track and execute the details.

5. Letting Your Firm Get Lazy and Fat (Why Physical Training is a Way of Life in the Military)

The worst thing about new business is how so many firms let things slide until there is a crisis, and then everyone goes nuts. The day-in-day-out work eventually fills everyone’s time, and new business keeps getting pushed to the back burner. Weeks/months/years go by with little-to-no-effort being made in new business until one day a large client decides to head across town to a rival firm. Then all hell breaks lose as the agency goes nuts trying to find new business. Suddenly outbound phone calls get made. Old prospects get hounded. And new outreach programs are thrown together. Why? As I’ve stated many times, the most important client in the firm is the firm. Look over the past year, and decide if your own marketing efforts would be representative of your best you would do for any old client. Probably not. Working and exercising your new business skills day in and day out should become part of life at your firm. They don’t call new business the heart beat of an agency for nothing. By continuing to ignore your new business weaknesses or gaps in your growth plan then you will never grow.

Advertising Agency New Business Development:

Work to learn about methods that can help your agency establish a solid new business program. Make long-term training commitments and help good people stick when they learn valuable new skills. Learn new ways to get more productivity out of your present program.

Semper Fi Devil Dogs!