I like to think of myself as brave. I have negotiated with the Russian mafia, sold Coca-Cola to the Bolivians and married an Englishman whom I met in the London Underground. But my recent challenge to network with advertising agencies on behalf of Konica Minolta scared me to death.
After all, agencies are the ultimate marketing engine. They're constantly pitching clients on why they should get to produce their next big ad campaign, and persuading consumers to try new products. So how does one crack the code and successfully market to them?
Yet there I was, trying to persuade them to work with my company for their printing operations.
The stakes were high. The visual representation of creative ideas is often only as good as the medium. Quality printing is therefore mission critical for agencies. I was optimistic that once the agencies had a chance to see our products, they would want to use them to share their creative visions.
My business-development strategy has always begun with gaining an in-depth understanding of the target audience. To successfully negotiate with the Russians, I had to do more than learn the language and the customs, I had to be able to think like they do. To do this, I lived in Moscow, shopped in their stores and drank (just a little) vodka.
Similarly, to gain the attention of advertising executives, I knew I needed to first immerse myself in their environment, to learn their vocabulary, their trends and what keeps them up at night. So I bought a ticket to Advertising Week 2010 with the hopes of also meeting a few execs.
That week turned out to be an education for me on the industry, the key players and just how difficult this challenge was going to be. But it didn't exactly provide the right forum for engaging advertising heads in a dialogue about toner. I finished the week without any solid contacts, but I did have a big bag full of my favorite things -- printed materials.
Among them was what would turn out to be my jackpot: a flier advertising an e-Bay auction for meetings with ad-agency CEOs to benefit The New York Advertising Club's foundation. I almost didn't take it. I owe a big thank you to the woman who handed it to me. After researching the prizes, I started bidding. A spirited contest ensued and I ended up winning five CEO meetings -- not bad market penetration for $3,000.
My first lunch was with Tom Carroll, president-CEO of TBWA, at his go-to spot in midtown Manhattan, Maloney & Porcelli. Our one-hour lunch turned into a three-and-a-half hour, four-course meal with lively, rambling conversation. After our meeting, Tom introduced me to his print-operations staff. I am now putting together a proposal for him that will help streamline his digital printing process and reduce print operations costs.
With the success of my first networking lunch, I was ready for more.
My social calendar filled up quickly: There was breakfast with David Droga, founder of Droga5, at Gemma in the Bowery Hotel; lunch at Da Silvano with Mary Baglivo, chairman-CEO of the Americas at Saatchi & Saatchi, followed by a tour of Gavin Brown's gallery; a night cheering on the New York Rangers with David Jones, CEO of Havas Worldwide; and a Soho House lunch and Blow Salon treatment hosted by Linda Sawyer, CEO of Deutsch. Each CEO served up a fresh, fun experience but, best of all, they all welcomed my Konica Minolta initiative by inviting me back to meet with their chief financial officers and IT staffs responsible for their print operations.
My breakfast with Mr. Droga went so well that he unexpectedly invited me back to his office. David is the first CEO from the group to install a Konica Minolta printer.
One of the CEOs asked me, "Which one of us do you like best?" I can honestly reply: All the meetings with the chief executives were amazing, but they might be spending too much on printing.