For CEOs: Creating an Ad Agency New Business Plan (Step 1)

It may be the result of losing a client, reading a book, article or blog, attending a conference or meeting, or perhaps just having a conversation with someone: every so often an ad agency CEO will say to him or herself, “We’ve got to do a better job of going after new business.”

What comes next varies from agency to agency, but generally there’s a flurry of activity, followed by (hopefully) a new business win, and then everything settles back to “normal”, as in, no consistent new business effort.

Can you break the cycle and develop a consistent approach to new business?

Sure, but it may be easier said than done.

In this two-part post I’ll help you create your annual new business plan. It’s broken into two parts for a very important reason: Many “new business initiatives” are unsuccessful because management is not fully committed to the effort.

To avoid this common result, I encourage you to “take a time out” after reading this post. Think about what it says. Discuss it with your management team. Together, determine if you have the collective will to change your agency’s new business culture. Without it, going on to Step 2 will only guarantee mediocre success (at best) or failure (more likely).


Step 1:  Commitment

An annual new business plan is more than creating a PowerPoint deck, producing a brochure, and assigning a junior account executive responsibility for new business (or perhaps creating a new business committee).

To really move forward and create a sustainable and successful new business effort, you – the CEO – need to affirmatively answer these four groups of questions:

  1. Are you willing to change the agency to one that’s prepared to proactively pursue new business over the long-term? Is your management team fully committed to this effort? If not, why not? How are you going to motivate them to change?
  2. Are you fully prepared to treat ‘New Business, Inc.’ as a client? To invest the non-billable resources necessary to ensure that they remain a client for, say, 10 years?
  3. Are you prepared to create annual plans with objective, measurable, transparent goals? Are you prepared to promote, hire, or outsource 100%-dedicated new business people to the team? Are you prepared to hold them accountable for results on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis?
  4. Do the internal changes you’ll need to make to ensure the success of New Business, Inc. mean that you need to make other changes to the agency? What are they? Are you prepared to make them, too?

With four ‘Yes’ answers you’re ready to move on to Step 2 (the topic of my next post). If not, I encourage you to either keep doing what you’re doing, or make the internal changes necessary to answer these questions affirmatively.


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