The Small Ad Agency Dating Game

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People often ask me what I do for a living. And when I say that I'm head of business development for a small agency in New York, many outside of the industry look at me with a frown on their face.
Noelle Weaver
Noelle Weaver

"Do you make the commercials?"


"Do you think up the funny ideas? You know, like that one beer spot."


"So, uh, what do people in Business Development actually do?"

I once joked with a Frenchman when he asked me that question that it was my job to "make the prospective client fall in love in the first 5 minutes."

Those who know me well know that I often refer to my job and prospective clients in dating and matchmaking terminology. After all, it's really so much of what I do.

"The first meeting is like the first date. If you talk about yourself the entire time, she won't call you back."

"When sending out a cold call letter it is better to show your ankle and not the whole leg. Leave a little bit of mystery."

"Let them take the time to get to know you before you pop the big question or you might scare them away."

[There are so many others.]

These little "truisms" may seem corny at first, but truth of the matter is, a good business development person really does play the role of cupid and matchmaker.

The job goes well beyond picking up the phone and making a cold call. You need to understand the client's wants and needs. You need to assess what your agency has to offer. You also need to assess if the personalities of your people and the client fit. And most of all, you need to work at building a trusting relationship.

And speaking of relationships. Listen. Really listen to what a prospective client has to say. What they want. What they need. What their last agency didn't deliver on. What they're facing from their competitors. What their consumers are [or are not] saying about them. Communication is key and if you can show a prospective client that you're truly interested in their business and helping them succeed, you have a better shot at having them truly interesting in learning what you have to offer.

These days so many of us are eager for the revenue and the client name on our roster that I think we often spin wheels [and employee bandwidth] pursuing client opportunities that we know, deep in our hearts, we're not cut out for.

After all, it's hard to say "no" to the popular girl who says "hi" to you. But just because she's the popular girl doesn't mean she's going to be a good girlfriend.
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