How to Sell a Million-Dollar Branding Idea

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MARC BROWNSTEIN: I started my career at Ogilvy & Mather, where I witnessed ideas -- big and small -- sold for big (not small) fees. That vision of selling an idea for big dollars has never left me, as I run my smaller agency. It fascinates me, because the process of coming up with a big, valuable idea is the same in any size shop. The old adage that ‘we all start with a blank sheet of paper’ remains as true today as it did when I was working at O&M. But I have yet to be able to sell an idea for $1,000,000.

Before you start to fire off a response to me, I do not consider an AOR relationship that pays $1 million+ in annual fees to be that same kind of idea. I’m talking about when the agency comes up with a proactive idea for an existing client. Or when we develop a brand positioning for a client -- new, existing, or project-based. I savor the day when small agencies can earn the same fees that large agencies or consulting companies receive.

Typically, we will sell in an idea and when we ask for a fee that we believe values our thinking and provides a valuable deliverable, clients react with surprise. Some want to negotiate. Some put it out for bid. Some cancel the project, or put it on hold. And every now and then, a client will green light one. But I’m talking about low six-figure fees here for a brand positioning. The same scope of work that a large branding firm routinely earns $1.5 million for.

So, I’m writing this with no specific best practices under my belt. Just a couple of assumptions:

Get bigger clients. Develop stronger client relationships that allow us to sell in bigger fees. Sell out to a large branding company. Buy a larger branding company. Create better ideas.

If you have suggestions, I welcome them. Starting a dialogue on this topic would be beneficial to all small-agency senior management.
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