Stuart Sanders, chairman of Sanders Consulting Group, shares some of his great stories from over 45 years of working with marketing firms of all shapes and sizes.

Mad Men

Learn from one of the originals.

From the small 4-person local shop to the huge multi-national, Stuart has been there and seen it all. Sit back and enjoy the trip down memory lane and some funny ad agency president quotes. And perhaps learn a thing or two from one of the original Mad Men. Learn more about Stuart’s history of Sanders Consulting Group..

“We don’t chase new business.”

This comment is an old favorite. And it’s usually followed with “We just let it come to us.” If true, then that’s an agency that must be getting a lot of calls from search consultants or a steady stream of RFPs because of awareness built up over time. And that’s fine. But that agency probably hasn’t experienced the joy of being the only agency in the chase. And that’s a lot of fun because you can do the 48-hour close or the 7-day close knowing that if you don’t close them, the account will drift into a formal review anyway. And you’ll get another bite at the apple in the formal review process that’s sure to follow. The great joy of winning without having to make a formal pitch is something that agency probably never experienced. And I doubt there’s really any firm in the agency business that doesn’t chase new business.

“We never pitch.”

That’s another favorite expression. In my earlier years I worried how an agency could win new business without making a pitch. It didn’t make sense. Then I followed up with some agencies that were famous for this line and found on closer inspection they were of course pitching. In fact their new business directors were unanimous for telling me that they worked their backsides off on pitches, but they refused to call them “pitches.” Their word was “capabilities.” A shift in terminology, from their side it seemed, made the claim some what true in their minds.

“We never do spec!”

I lived with this one for years when I first got into new business as a new business director. And every president I worked with had dreams of being that powerful one day. Nevertheless, I wondered how agencies could make that work. It took me a lot of nosing around to discover that the agencies involved were presenting full-blown spec campaigns in the form of “concepts” or “demonstrations” but not spec in their minds. In truth it all sounded like spec to me.

“Our new business light is on.”

I loved this from a good London agency we worked with that had a real new business hawk as its managing director. He had installed in his agency’s main reception area an authentic London-style traffic light with the red marked “no” and the green marked “go.” The managing director would halt prospects at the traffic light at the start of an agency tour and the light would be green. He would tell the prospects that so many people wanted to hire his firm that he had to put up the traffic light to regulate the new business flow so that their regular clients would get his firm’s best creative attention and not get lost in the new business rush. They were now in a new business lull, of course, and he could take on one new account. It’s funny but I never noticed that the flow of new business ever slowed down much at his shop so the traffic light seemed to work. It was usually on red, and that generated a lot of talk among suppliers who stopped in, and of course it was always switched to green when prospects were in the office.

“What does that mean?”

I was working to help a nice regional agency win a major national account. The account’s president was all Headline, a personality type that we describe as business oriented and highly assertive. You have to win the Headline’s vote if you are going to get the account. The recommended strategy for winning Headlines is to offer options, not an agency favorite thing to do. For Headlines it’s a must, stating that any of these three options would work. It’s a hard strategy for agencies to follow but it really works. The agency had just presented three creative options on a major new positioning campaign, coded Red, White and Blue, to the Headline and his team of subordinates. The Headline then blurted out “We’re going with Blue!” and his subordinates all nodded agreement as most subordinates working with a Headline have learned to do. A break followed, and the agency president asked me behind the curtain in the show’s production area where I was listening to the presentation, “What does that mean?” My answer, of course, was we had the account even though there were more agency presentations to follow. I went on to explain that’s the way Headlines work. The agency got the account.

“We’ll take them all!”

I was advising an agency making a pitch for a new account, a consumer product that was new to the US market and just being introduced. An agency to handle the launch was being hired. The agency that had engaged us had identified the client’s president as Illustration, a personality style that we describe as people oriented and highly assertive. Illustrations love the “first, most, newest, best” approach, and as such we were part of a gaggle of highly-creative national agencies pitching for the business. It was going to be a big creative shoot out. As such, we had loaded the room for the Illustration with different approaches, all designed to stimulate his love of creative and his desire for first, most, newest, best. When we finished our presentation he rewarded the agency with much praise and then he stated “We’ll take them all.” It took the agency a few minutes to understand that he wanted the music from one, the photography treatment from another and the copy approach from a third. Only an Illustration would think that way. I sent a message to the president to quit haggling, take the account, and sort it all out afterwards. Which he did.

“Do you guys do much TV advertising?”

It was a small agency, and they were into a pitch for a big chunk of a national retailer. I had worked with the agency president and helped him prepare for what was the most important presentation of his life. It was what we call a Defining Moment for the agency. As part of the preparation, I had worked with him on the importance of the Reverse, a way to handle questions in new business situations whereby you ask a question back to seek understanding about the intent of the question. In reality you are giving the prospect time to show you the right answer. At the end of the pitch, this major account ad manager asked the president, “Do you guys do much TV advertising?” The president in reality had never done any TV advertising, so he gulped and then reversed smartly, asking back was TV advertising important for this part of their business? The ad manager said “no” but he was just curious. The agency president fessed up that their agency didn’t do much TV advertising. He waited a minute while the ad manager mulled that over. Then the ad manager said, “You’re hired.” The agency president told me later that without Reversing he would still be answering that ad manager’s simple question. And probably wouldn’t have the business.

“I love new business”

Founder, Stuart Sanders

Stuart Sanders

Over the years after working with thousands of ad agency presidents here and around the world, I found them all to be deeply concerned about winning accounts and growing their firms. It’s been a joy to work with them and teach them new ways to do new business.

Final Thought

At Sanders Consulting Group we see our role as trusted advisors helping you to chart a new path for your firm that leads to success and perhaps moving to the next level.  Often we help by showing how to run ahead of the changes that are sweeping the marketing communications industry.  Our starting point is simple.  We believe that you can adjust to these new industry realities and survive.  But if you embrace them and you can soar.

Our work in this area, what we simply call “strategic direction” is perhaps the most valuable service we provide. Why not give us a call and see if we can help – 412.897.9329 or just email us [email protected]