Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Agency websites (part one). Don’t forget the people.

February 12th, 2014

It is a truth universally acknowledged that as the internet has matured and our relationship with it transformed, the role of the agency website has shifted significantly.


No longer simply an online brochure or portfolio, an agency site can, and should perform as a (relatively) low-cost, living and breathing new business person. And yet, so many are failing to deliver as a new business tool.


I’m going to leave SEO alone for this post, needless to say, being found in search has never been more important but I’ll come back to that in another post. Likewise, I’m going to leave navigation, messaging, case studies and blogging – more (so much more) of that later.


For now I’d just like to focus on people. Because we are a people business. Ask most agency owners and they will tell you that most of their new business comes from their network, either as referrals from past or existing clients or suppliers and colleagues. And, whilst recommendations follow the delivery of good work, good work happens when there is a good relationship.


So why are so many agency sites completely omitting to talk about their people?


On too many sites, there is no indication of the founders or management team on the about us page, or worse, no-one’s name on the contact page.


Not very personal, not too welcoming. Remember you want to make it easy for people to buy from you. If I’m a new business prospect, I don’t really want to phone the switchboard and ask to speak to the person who deals with new business, or send an email to “whom it may concern” at a generic email address. And if I’ve been given your name by someone recommending you, I’d quite like to be able to see you appear somewhere on the agency website with contact email address or phone number.


My quick straw poll today has observed that PR agencies are better at this, with digital agencies are falling behind by some margin and design somewhere in the middle. There’s a full Gunpowder survey of agency sites in the making, with results available in the spring. Feel free to sign up for updates here.

A year of bright sparks

December 20th, 2013

As 2013 draws to a close I have been reflecting on the challenges facing the agencies I have met over the last 12 months to see where any themes or patterns exist.


Without exception, every agency I have spent time with has had a solid and relevant proposition and a loyal and dedicated client base. The people are smart, warm and engaging and demonstrate enthusiasm and ideas.


Yet, however good the agency and the people, continuing to deliver new business can still be a struggle. The majority of effort will always be geared towards servicing clients and taking time to step back to look at the agency from a prospect’s point of view rarely happens.


So, as we head into the New Year my advice for growth is to invest in a solid plan:


Set out clear objectives.

Plan joined up activity.

Measure activity and results.


And if you don’t have time to plan or can’t see the wood for the trees, ask for help.


Wishing you all a prosperous 2014.

How to protect your pitch ideas

July 8th, 2013

So you’ve been given the opportunity to showcase your creativity, concepts and ideas to a potential new client.  But how can you prevent your materials and ideas being “pinched” and used by the client without you or, even worse, with another agency?


Copyright will subsist automatically in any drawings, illustrations and designs that you present to a client and therefore any unauthorised use would amount to copyright infringement however copyright does not protect the ideas or concepts themselves or any straplines.  In any case, you would ideally be able to deter the client from pinching your materials in the first place rather than having to take them to court later.


There are some practical steps that agencies can take to help deter clients from doing this and to protect their materials and ideas.  Firstly, always keep clear records of all materials including drafts, the details of who created the materials and the date of creation.  These records should be retained even if you are unsuccessful in the pitch.  This will help to evidence the fact that you were the original creator of the materials in the event of a dispute.


Mark each page of your pitch presentation and all accompanying materials with “Confidential. © [Your agency name] [year]”.


Where possible, enter into a pre-pitch agreement.  This would take the form of a mutual confidentiality agreement that includes mutual obligations to keep any materials, ideas and concepts exchanged during the pitch process confidential and undertakings from the parties that such materials, ideas and concepts will not be disclosed (other than to specified permitted disclosees such as professional advisors etc).  The fact that the agreement includes mutual obligations will make the agreement more palatable to the client so that they are more likely to agree to sign it.


Agencies shouldn’t be worried about presenting such a document to a potential new client. The document doesn’t need to resemble War and Peace – it can be just a couple of pages long.  In any event, it shows the potential client that you attach great value to your ideas and therefore so should they!


Sharon Playford is a solicitor with Excello Law and specialises in providing commercial legal advice to communications, design and digital agencies.

Show me the money (part two)

May 31st, 2013

Back in December, show me the money (part one) explored the murky topic of incentives and performance related pay for new business teams and lead generation agencies. In part two we are going to look at what for many is the holy grail – getting prospects to spill the beans about money!


As more businesses use search and social to source supplier information, it has never been easier for an agency to be found by potential clients. Forrester produced this fantastic illustration of today’s B2B customer journey highlighting exactly this point.*


But this influx of inbound enquiries means that the effective qualification of new business opportunities is more important than ever. Credentials meetings, proposals, research and pitching all take up valuable time and agency resource. If those leads then go cold, disappear or that prospect turns out,  in hindsight, not to have anywhere near the available budget required for your services, the cost to your business and morale is considerable.


And we have all been there. Promising conversations, detailed briefs, a fascinating project… but no mention of money. Or, when you ask the question about budgets, you hit a brick wall. It isn’t easy. Prospects can be steadfast in their refusal to reveal budget availability, but there are ways of asking the question that can yield results. Use open questions to  start a broader discussion rather than simply asking for a number.


Next time, try these lines of questioning and see how you get on:


  • How do you handle budget considerations?
  • How will funding for the project be justified?
  • How much is this problem currently costing the business?
  • It’s important that we provide a solution that meets your budget allocation for this project, any guidance on budgets will help us to do this.
  • Based on what you’ve told us, we anticipate a ball park figure of XXX to XXX how does that fit with your budget allocation?


If after trying this line of questioning you are still in the dark, seriously consider how much more time or resource you are prepared to commit to pursuing the opportunity. For help with effective lead qualification scorecards see me.


*with thanks to Wyndham Lewis at Equimedia for sharing this article.

Getting fit to win in 2013

January 11th, 2013

As we limber up for what promises to be another challenging 12 months, our thoughts undoubtedly stray to this year’s new business target.


Many of you will have returned to your desks last week, armed with a robust and well resourced plan, a handful of prospect meetings in the diary and a pitch or two underway. Well done, keep up the good work. But for anyone feeling a slight flutter of panic at the new business shaped hole in your revenue forecast, read on, help is at hand.


First of all it is worth remembering that there is no magic bullet. New business success comes from consistent and focussed activity based on a considered and robust plan. If you don’t have a plan, or have a plan that doesn’t work or isn’t being implemented – see me. Meanwhile there are some non-negotiable basics that you need to address to if you are to get in shape. Ask yourself these questions:


1. Your website. Can Google see it? Would someone who doesn’t know your agency be able to clearly grasp what you do within 3 clicks? Is there a blog? When was it last updated?


2. Social media. Twitter is great, but don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t cracked it yet, we’ll be talking about that in a later post, but Linked In cannot and should not be ignored. Is your personal profile up to date? What about your company page? And what about everyone else in the agency? Do you and and your team routinely connect with contacts as you meet them?


3. Case studies. Are they up to date? Does each one tell a story? Can it tell more than one story? Do you demonstrate results?


4. Phone and email. An unsolicited approach from a prospective client is a beautiful thing. However as Recommended Agency Register Director Diane Young observed in the Drum last year, a surprising number of agencies fall at this very basic first hurdle. Does everyone in the agency who could possibly answer the phone know how to to handle incoming calls and take messages? Does the email address or phone number on the website go to a human being. Fundamentally, will any new business prospect be able to have a meaningful conversation with someone at your agency within 24hrs of their enquiry?


If any of the points above leave you with more questions than answers, then do get in touch. There is no doubt that 2013 is going to challenge us all, but there is still business out there to win. You just need to stack the odds in your favour where you can.

Feeling optimistic?

November 27th, 2012

It’s worth stating at this early point in the proceedings that this is not a self help blog. But if I have learnt one thing over the years of new business practice, it is that all other things being equal: relevant offer, quality work and a good plan; one of the key ingredients for new business success is optimism.


Now let’s be clear this is not blind optimism. This is not charging headlong into unqualified pitch opportunities, or projecting new business revenue based on an exchange of business cards at a conference. This is simply remaining positive, optimistic and motivated enough that you continue to do the good things well, day-after-day.


Sounds simple? In theory yes it is. But as we all know agency life has a tendency to get in the way. Whether you are an agency head also tasked with generating new leads or you have a role solely focussed on marketing the business to new clients, remaining optimistic every day can be a challenge. Things go wrong. People have disagreements. Technology can let you down. The list goes on.


So how do you block this out?


I was struck by a recent post by Hunter Walk, observing the behaviours of new starters at Google – or Nooglers as they are known. Hunter describes how:


  • New employees are always psyched about the opportunity – they see the glass half-full, brimming with potential.
  • New employees don’t yet know “that’s the way it’s always been done here” – they see processes and limitations with fresh eyes.
  • New employees aren’t aware that “it’s been tried before and failed” so they are able to surface the things you should be doing but struggled to execute.
  • New employees introduce themselves to everyone, because, well, they’re new and there’s no social stigma to it at all.
  • New employees don’t have any political baggage – they give their colleagues the benefit of the doubt.


Now, what if you could recreate that optimism, every day, in a new business context? What if you could adopt that new employee mindset? Wouldn’t it just be a little easier to get things done?


Tempted? Try it and see.

Welcome to Gunpowder

November 5th, 2012

This business is the culmination of over 20 years of new business practice.


Those years have been spent working exclusively with marketing services agencies. Agencies of every discipline, size, shape and, let’s not be shy – quality. There has been mailing, emailing, cold calling (lots of cold calling), pitching, talent scouting, recruiting, managing, training, mentoring, motivating, planning, measuring, analysing, reporting, matchmaking, referring, losing and winning.


The combination of the successes and failures, some brilliantly inspirational colleagues and dose of good old fashioned marketing study has provided many moments of epiphany. Now, all of those lessons learned, the tricks, tips, insights and tools have been collated, polished and packaged as Gunpowder.


The mission? To help agencies take control of the new business process. To create workable new business plans that get results. To provide the tools to measure success. To mentor in house new business teams.


Want to get your new business plan in shape for 2013? Get in touch!