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August 14, 2008
Getting Your Foot in the Door and Out of Your Mouth


After 15 years as an agency leader and business development executive and now three years as a consultant, I've learned a lot about new business blunders as well as blockbusters. I've surveyed dozens of clients about their attitudes towards agency new business activities.

To paraphrase the lottery campaign "you gotta be in it to win it," I'm always asked how to prospect more effectively in order to get to first base. How to get on a client's radar so you can be considered for a new account.

Here's a summary of the disasters to avoid and the rare and special delights.



I receive at least 50 unsolicited packages, phone calls and emails from agencies EVERY WEEK. Clients I've surveyed report as many as 200 unsolicited contacts a week including agencies, other communications firms, media companies, event marketing companies, consultants, etc. Clients lump them all together and report that they throw most in the bin. I try to sort through what I receive. If you insist on using unsolicited mailings, PLEASE think about the following pitfalls and the few notable exceptions.


The top unsolicited mass mailing pitfalls are followed by client quotes:

  • Show no reason why I should read. "Generic, looks as if they sent a questionnaire they did for another search and figured they'd send it to more prospects."
  • Don't get to the point. "Page upon page of material that claims they're unique but says the same things in thousand of words that everybody else says."
  • Shows me that an agency can make a big box. "Sometimes I remember the stuff in the box, more so than the agency." "I'm too busy to open elaborate boxes that are too cumbersome. Even if something intrigued me, I'm not carrying some heavy metal binder on the train." "They should send trash bags with their junk."
  • Are completely irrelevant. "The handful of good ones take the time to call and ask what I'd like to see first."
  • Say they'll follow up and they don't. "Nine out of ten, say "I'll call to follow-up" and never do, thereby shaking my confidence in their commitment and demonstrating how they have wasted their time and money."
  • Make mistakes. "They spell my name wrong, get the title wrong in this chummy cover letter that also has typos. " "They write 'Dear Marketing Director' and then go on to say how much they'd like to work with me. They don't even know my name!"


Precious few agencies prospect effectively. A few tips:

  • Make it so focused on me that they couldn't send it to a competitor.
  • Give me real news I can use (such as the latest survey on something affecting my target audiences or my industry).
  • Take the time and interest to give me an idea or a point of view on my current activities.
  • Make it topical and timely and relevant.
  • Call first to see what I want, listen to me, send it and call to follow-up.
  • Use a referral that shows me if we know someone in common, we already have a mutual interest. This is absolutely the BEST way to get your foot in the door.


I know agencies can't help themselves and want to cold call. Know that there is no such thing as a good cold call, only a good warm call.

  • Avoid wimpy calls. Like the agencies who call me saying New business is slow, so we thought it was a good time to meet consultants, don't you have anything for us?" It sure makes them look like losers admitting they have no activity.
  • Avoid desperate calls. Like the agency new business person who called me at 6pm on Christmas Eve's eve trying to schedule a meeting with me for her agency President who was going to be in New York on December 26. Sounded like Ebenezer Scrooge.
  • Avoid ego calls. Like the agency exec who read an account was in review, called the client whose voice mail message said to call his cell if the matter is urgent. The agency called the client on cell believing that it was urgent for the agency to join the client's review. Ironically, the agency was on the consideration list. They were eliminated.


So you've gotten your foot in the door. Don't put it in your mouth. You have a referral from one satisfied client to call another potential client. Or something wonderful and relevant to offer the client.

What's the greatest gift at this stage? A great mouth or great ears? We all know the answer is ears.

Listen more than you talk. When you talk, remember the elevator speech. Can you describe who you are, what you do and why it's of benefit to the listener in 20 seconds? You should practice and hone your speech. Practice standing up, into a tape recorder, looking at yourself in a mirror with a smile before you call. Same goes for the voice mail message before you leave it.

Then, shut up and listen to the client. Take notes so you can respond to the client issues.

I've had clients talk about how smart an agency is when the agency takes the time to let the client talk. And the agency barely utters more than a few sentences.



If you think about avoiding the Pitfalls and Calamities and aim to follow the best practices by putting yourself in the prospect's shoes, you will be more successful. At minimum, you won't tick off as many clients. In closing, I'd like you to think about this: how many times has a telemarketer called you at dinner time droning on about his credit card or phone service and how great it is. As your eyes glaze over and your stomach growls and you regret picking up the phone, remember, this is how clients view your unsolicited phone calls too.

Finally, as this article appears on Talent Zoo's website, perhaps the job seekers among you will apply some of these lessons to job prospecting as well.

Good luck and good hunting.

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If you need new business, you may need Joanne Davis. Called one of America's five best rainmakers by USA Today, Joanne Davis has helped agencies on five continents win business. Prior to opening her successful consulting firm, Joanne worked for DDB and Wells, Rich Greene to name just two. Today, Joanne is a popular consultant, speaker, and writer. 

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