I’ve worked in new business for many years, all over the world, and have had the pleasure of meeting some of the best and brightest.

code of conduct ad agency new business

Perhaps some rules of etiquette and conduct are needed in new business.

One of my greatest joys is learning from the truly brilliant minds in new business. Along the way I’ve seen some of the best up-and-coming stars get their start. It’s always exciting to see new talent develop. No matter the source, it never fails to impress me when I see some outstanding creativity applied to a new business problem.

I have also been witness to some truly despicable behavior from so called “New Biz Pros” in their quest for new business. Sadly, there are a few new business types that seem to believe in anything goes. They mislead agency owners, offer empty promises to prospects, oversell, cheat or try to get by doing as little as possible.

I believe that there should be a code that every new business pro should live by. Not the typical “Code of Ethics for Sales and Marketing” where they list out what most of us should have learned in grade school. I’m thinking more of an ethos that professional new business folks should follow.

Below are a few thoughts on what I believe is the essence of being a successful ad agency new business professional:

Be Smart: New business is a skill, a skill that can be improved and taught. Whatever your role is in new business, you must train to win. There is always a blind spot in our knowledge so keep learning. If you’re not great at speaking, find more ways to speak. Not connecting with enough good prospects, keep looking for new tools and approaches to try. New business skills have a shelf life: if you don’t practice them, they will fade. Ask any professional athlete at the very top of their game what they are working on, and they will give you an entire laundry list of targeted skills they’re working to improve. Get smart about what it takes to be great in new business. Seek out the very best in the field and dig deep. And train hard to improve your skill set.

Be Focused: There are thousands of small things you can do to stay busy in new business. Most of them end up being busy work, existing only to distract and create the appearance of work. In truth, there are only a few activities that will directly add to winning a new account: direct contact with as many prospects as possible, relationship building and networking, building chemistry, public speaking, going on first visits, and working on materials to fast close an account or to build your agency’s brand. Spend time working on the “perfect new business pitch” and you’re wasting time. Leave that to the rest of the team. Most accounts are won (or lost) in the relationship building phase – trust and respect from the prospect is 80 percent of any new business win. Your energy is better spent on building more relationships and generating new leads.

Be Responsible: One of the most frustrating complaints I hear from agency leaders is how many leads slip through the cracks. The excuses are many: didn’t follow up, didn’t connect, didn’t ask the right questions, or didn’t express enough interest and on and on. If you work in new business and tell a prospect that you will call next week, call next week. If you set a personal goal of 100 phone calls a week, make the damn calls. Be responsible for everything you say and everything you do. You are responsible for your own success or failure. Most of all, take your lumps. If you drop the ball, misread a prospect, fail to close or win an account, don’t blame the agency team. New business failure is your responsibility. Own it. And if you win, always recognize the hard work of the agency staff.

Be Disciplined: New business is created by discipline. Eat, drink, sleep, study, train and live new business. Without discipline, the make-work will encroach, distractions will eat away your time, and soon you will be another expense the agency can do without. Put a 100 percent effort into being the best. Get in early, stay late, go the extra mile. But it goes beyond just hard work. A lack of new business discipline also means low quality leads that waste everyone’s time. Too many new business processionals keep going after accounts they have no chance of winning. Or accounts that even if they can win offer little to no reward. Disciplined new business leaders produce high quality leads – period. Quality leads are worthy of the investment by the agency. Leads are the heartbeat of new business.

Be Brave: It’s often been said that it’s better to beg for forgiveness then ask for permission. In new business I can’t agree enough. I can’t tell you how many agencies have won great accounts by being brave – going where others feared to tread. Leave the just getting by and doing easy work to the rest of the staff. The safe approach may be enough to keep new business chugging along, but it may never result in that breakout account. Make brave and make bold decisions a way of life. The only risk to the agency is not going far enough. Be more responsive, go faster, and take risk. Don’t let uncertainty or fear of failure stop you from achieving great results. Too many new business professionals live in fear rather than encouraging and striving for greatness.

Be Kind: I believe in karma – what goes around comes around. Many new business processionals win by subterfuge, or taking the “only the strong survive” approach. However, they also do a whole lot of harm to the agency’s reputation and to their team. It’s a simple truism that kindness breaks down barriers. And it does take strength to be kind in the rough and tumble world of new business. But kindness and toughness do go hand-in-hand. If you keep your focus on building strong relationships with prospects, always willing to help, it will return to you in kind. You won’t necessarily win that account, but being helpful can lead you to other good prospects. Kindness will help you win more new business, and it will help you win the loyalty of your team. Almost every decision is an opportunity to exercise a little kindness. Make the right choice.

The code of the new business professional is all about character.

New business professionals need to be different. Not average. They must rise above the mediocrity of so many in our industry. The most successful new business pros I’ve known all have certain desirable characteristics in common. When working hard to grow an agency, it’s your reputation on line. Never forget, you’re in control, and it’s you who will be credited for the success or failure of the agency. Don’t let distractions and the small stuff get in the way of your success. Keep your eye on the ball and win.

Learn how the pros win more new business here!


Photo by Søren Niedziella and used under creative commons.