When an Ad Agency Must Say No

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MARC BROWNSTEIN: As the president of an agency, responsible for culture and payroll (among other things), I have to make some tough decisions:

When do you say No to a prospect? (Especially when the prospect is a close, personal contact, who can tilt the playing field for your agency?)

How do you choose between maintaining a unique culture, and maintaining a profitable company, when there is debate about whether a new business prospect is a fit for your agency?

And, finally, how much say should you give your team in the vetting process?

It's been my experience that the only way to make a clear-headed decision, is to evaluate the facts, objectively. Tough as it is to do, forget about personal relationships. And the favorable odds that may come with them. Go back to your new business criteria, and weigh those against the prospect. Once you do, your decision will become clear. It's hard to say no to a prospect but it will likely pay long-term dividends, culturally, for your shop.

Now, what may be even harder is to pass on a big revenue opportunity. Ah, the dilemna of choosing between culture and coin. Well, I can testify that it is very tough at times to turn down a good money-making account. Yet, what good is that account if the client becomes the nightmare your gut said it would be when you ignored the discipline of applying your agency's criteria?

Lastly, how much say should your leadership team have in which leads your agency should pursue? At Brownstein Group, we have an incredibly passionate team that cares deeply about selecting the right prospects. Not every lead will be a black and white choice -- even after applying your criteria. So I've found that much good can come out of some smart, internal debate about a lead. Listen to the what is being said. Take the agency's temperature. Keep your eye on the agency's future as you select who is allowed to come through your doors. It's easy for me to write about it... but you know as well as I do that sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Some business you need to take. I urge you, however, to use a 9O/1O rule: 9O percent of your clients should map back to what kind of agency you envision you'll be. Remember: your agency's identity will be tied to who your clients are. So choose carefully.
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