Six Ways Ad Agencies Are Reeling in New Business Now

Some Novel and Tried-and-True Tricks to Snag Accounts in Recession

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NEW YORK ( -- Client cutbacks amid the recession have placed intense pressure on agencies, who are clamoring to hold on to the clients they have and starved to add new business where they can. "When times are tight, even the huge agencies go after the tiniest of accounts," said Ann Billock, a principal at consultancy Ark Advisors in New York. Below, Ad Age shares some of the ways agencies are managing to still snag business.


Having an ample Rolodex is essential to growing your agency, but networking doesn't have to be about three-martini lunches. Via Group, Portland, Maine, has developed a clever way of drumming up new business. Once a month, founder-CEO John Coleman organizes a get-together of eight to 10 marketing executives to discuss topics such as "technology's role on the evolution of society and culture." The strategy is getting Via on the radar of key industry players: Attendees have included former Dodge and Walmart executive Julie Roehm and top marketers from Welch's, HBO, Playboy and HSBC.


Having an influencer on your team is a huge asset. Take Dave Armano, VP-experience design at digital agency Critical Mass, or Steve Rubel, senior VP-director of insights for Edelman Digital (and an Ad Age columnist). These are new-business people on social-networking steroids. Mr. Rubel's blog has been cited as a must-read by the likes of The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, and he is followed by more than 17,000 people on Twitter. Sure, the thoughts they share are their own and not their employers.' But in the end, the agency wins with talent that is active in consumer conversations.


Agency-positioning efforts such as Kevin Roberts' "Lovemarks" platform at Saatchi may not be new, but they really can work. One of the more recent platforms to emerge is Publicis Groupe's "Contagious Ideas," which rolled out across the globe a year ago and quickly gained momentum. Existing clients have embraced it and entrusted the company with additional business, and it has attracted new clients across the network. "It's not just some abstract theory," said Mark Hider, exec VP-director of engagement strategy for Publicis USA. "There is a conversation going on about brands whether we like it or not," and the key is to "monetize brand conversations, and then alter them in your favor."


Every client seeks flexibility in a partner, but increasingly that requires taking it one step further to build custom-made solutions. There's WPP's Enfatico, the agency it built from the ground up for Dell, and more recently DDB Entertainment, a dedicated agency unit at Omnicom for Blockbuster. Another Omnicom offering dubbed Riot came together from agencies TBWA, 180 and Critical Mass. Its willingness to try a new agency model is what helped it beat out a host of contenders to win the Adidas assignment.


Mitchell Levy, CEO and author at Happy About, says books are the new calling card. According to Mr. Levy, the author is the one asked to speak at conferences and events, and books are a great networking tool when sent to both existing customers and new prospects. To boot, major retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble advertise your services, thereby offering third-party credibility.


Personal attention goes a long way. Anyone who knows Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based agency honcho Jordan Zimmerman knows he is not only accessible to clients 24 hours a day, he's checking in with them on a daily basis. It's no coincidence that the shop in the past two years has grown its operation by leaps and bounds, winning an astounding 85% of pitches.

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