Changing Role of Ad Agency New Business Rainmakers?

Large, well-known agencies are getting frustrated at the length of time it’s taking to fill open CMO positions and with the lack of available talent, according to a July 13 article in Adweek.

I wonder if they’re looking for the right person.

Here are some of the main points in the article:

  • There aren’t many people who know how to do the job well now – the job is more complex
  • Client reviews are more complicated
  • The involvement of search consultants requires a skill unto itself
  • Holding company-led contents are a whole new animal
  • Procurement execs are changing the dynamic

Let’s consider some of the things agencies expect this one person to do:

  • Market the agency
  • Nurture relationships with consultants
  • Complete RFPs
  • Play well in the sandbox with sister agencies in holding company pitches
  • Develop relationships with procurement execs
  • Prospect with client CMOs and hold meaningful conversations with them
  • Organize pitches 
  • Manage a new business team
  • Be strategic and contribute at the highest levels of the agency
  • Be current with social media, and every other channel that’s out there (traditional, new, emerging)
  • Understand and be conversant about every agency capability and client, including relevant metrics
  • Similarly understand their closest competitors

Oh, and do this in an environment where the new business role is often undervalued, usually seen as an expense – not an investment in future growth and sustained revenue, and is susceptible to down-sizing when times are good.

Volunteers, anyone? No? Okay, let’s put a junior person in the role and see how they do.

Pardon my sarcasm, but this happens every day and only perpetuates the problem. Face it: new business development requires sales and marketing talent, which is rarely found in one person. Most importantly, the actual job of generating new revenue is determined by sales skill. Sales is a learned skill that takes time to develop.

I’ve learned a few things about sales and marketing people over the last twenty-five years. From my experience…

  1. Sales people are not paper-pushers. Good sales people are hunters, relationship-builders. Give a good sales person a RFP and while they may get it done, eventually, it’s not the highest and best use of their time.
  2. Sales people are generally not good managers. Let them sell, without having to manage anyone but themselves.
  3. Marketing is not sales. If you want a CMO, hire a marketing person. And if they do well marketing your agency, don’t ask them to sell – it’s a completely different skill set.


  1. Invest in the sales and marketing of your agency.
  2. Hire a marketer to do your marketing.
  3. Hire a sales person, or two or more, to sell. Have them build relationships with consultants, procurement, prospects, but do nothing else.
  4. Assign the completion of RFPs to someone who does this well, and fast.
  5. Assign pitch preparation to your best manager – the person who can really organize people and gets tasks done well and on time.
  6. Educate your sales and marketing team about social media – marketing needs to own it, and sales needs to use it to drive sales.

As you can see, new business is not a one-person job. If you structure your agency as your clients do – with a sales and marketing team – you will build your talent base and be able to promote from within. This will eliminate the need to conduct long and fruitless searches for that one person who is rarely found.


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