Timeless New Business Commandments

Ad legend, David Ogilvy, wrote the book on advertising. He did so decades ago, but thankfully universal truths wither not.

Mr. Ogilvy had a keen sense of the big picture, including the specific operational needs of his agency. I particularly value his insights into the delicate dance of bringing on new clients.

    1) Regard the hunt for new clients as a sport.

    2) Never work for a client so big you can’t afford to lose them.

    3) Take immense pain in selecting your clients.

    4) Only add one new client every two years.

    5) Only seek clients with a product or service you are proud of.

    6) Only accept a client if you can improve their existing work.

    7) Don’t take on clients whose business is dying.

    8) Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.

    9) Don’t publicly pursue clients.

    10) Avoid contests in which more than four other agencies are involved.

    11) Getting new clients is a solo performance.

    12) Remain flexible when selling clients.

    13) Tell prospects about your weaknesses.

    14) Don’t get bogged down in case studies or research numbers.

    15) Explicitly tell clients why they should hire you.

    16) Don’t pay an outside source a commission for new business.

    17) Beware of clients who have no budget but a great idea.

    18) Don’t underestimate personality.

    19) Fire clients at least 5 times more often than you get fired.

    20) Use what you specialize in to find new clients.

I highlighted the most important point made by Mr. Ogilvy above. “Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.”

This is both a brilliant insight and perfect rule to apply. If clients don’t care about your profitability, they don’t care about your survival. These clients are not on the “partner” page. They see the agency as skilled hands that exist to output materials to their liking. They do not see the agency as a strategic partner deeply committed to their mission and marketplace success. In other words, these type of clients are highly toxic and must be properly disposed of.

I also love number 13 in the list above, “Tell prospects about your weaknesses.” Every business and every person in it has professional and perhaps personal weaknesses. Denying this is denying reality and that’s no way to conduct an honest business relationship. By forming a team built on trust, we uplift one another and cover each other’s weaknesses.

Whatever values you bring to the new business process, it’s crucial to have a guiding set of principles. Many firms inside and outside of Marcom abandon their values as soon as it becomes difficult, or expensive, to maintain them. At this point, a mission or values statement is null and void. There’s no reason to have one, as it is just another mask to obscure the real motive, which is almost universally a preference for profits over all else, including people.

Ultimately, it’s an honor for an agency to serve clients and represent their customers’ concerns and point of view. Not every agency sees customer advocacy as part of the job, but that’s to their detriment. Happy customers make for happy clients, and that’s the opening for risk taking and profit making that we all seek. You don’t win hearts and minds with the safe play. You take a stand and make a case.

Hats off to Client Giant for promoting this helpful list.

Leave a comment