I’ve had a number of conversations with smaller agencies in the last couple of weeks asking for my advice on how to win big clients.
When I ran agencies, I was lucky enough to work with some big-name clients. Many of these were household names in the retail sector, and a number were significant seven figure accounts. It doesn’t surprise me that agency leaders want to learn what the secret of winning big clients is; and how they can land some bigger fish themselves.
Naturally there are many advantages of working with bigger organisations as clients. Bigger budgets and usually greater volumes of work are available. A client with a high profile can be used to promote the agency’s own brand and reputation. Larger accounts can provide some stability and security for an agency through contracts or retainer fees. Stability that can provide solid foundations for fuelling more agency growth. Crucially, even winning one big client can be transformational for an agency. The power of association often leads to other clients and other – bigger – opportunities.
Working with large clients can also come with some disadvantages, however. A big client can soon dominate an agency, both financially and culturally. Growing the agency can actually become more difficult, as the demands of the key client always take priority.
Larger organisations mean more layers of people to work with and often more limited access to key decision makers. Competition for briefs is intense and formal pitches are far more common, longer and more time-consuming. The larger clients often have procurement departments and can be incredibly price focussed and tough negotiators.
Moreover, once the relationship is formed, many agencies find that larger clients are sometimes more risk-averse. They can be less inclined to support creative work or strategy that challenges the norm and/or previously tested activity than a smaller business. Creativity can be become stifled and growth in other areas of the agency can stall as a result.
BIG ISN’T ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL
Whilst the marketing agency sector is increasingly competitive, arguably more opportunities exist for the smaller agency to win big clients now than ever before.
Many larger companies are increasingly setting up their own in-house teams. Whilst that might be bad news for some, it does mean that opportunities exist for smaller agencies to work with these clients and augment their in-house capabilities. Whether it is a need for specific expertise, or for support with high workload, big brands are building rosters of smaller niche experts.
Indeed, it’s clear that the days when large enterprises would only work with giant advertising and creative agencies are gone. According to Campaign, Starling Bank has recently eliminated large agencies from its advertising pitch. The challenger bank now says it will now only consider small-medium sized shops. A trend that will certainly continue as larger organisations seek more agile client-centric agencies.
10 TIPS FOR SMALLER AGENCIES WANTING TO LAND BIGGER CLIENTS
- BE AN INFLUENCER – Whilst you might be a smaller agency, it doesn’t mean you must have a small profile. Technology and modern media affords us all the opportunity to build a bigger presence online and have a greater reach. You just need to put the work in and make it happen. Many agencies understand this principle fully, but find the execution of this incredibly difficult.
- BE AN EXPERT – Building a profile and attracting bigger clients is easier if you are an expert in your – or their – field. Big agencies have a breadth of expertise and experience, but lack the ability, and sometimes the will, to become experts in a niche industry or product category.
- BE YOURSELF – Don’t focus on small, focus on the benefits that being small brings. Outside the box thinking, a different perspective, new processes and approaches. Big brands don’t want to look and sound like big corporate businesses anymore. They can learn from smaller businesses like yours. Show them how.
- BE FLEXIBLE – Don’t let your location or other factors inhibit your thinking or the growth of your agency. Technology allows us to work from anywhere these days and project management tools can be used to keep teams and clients up-to-date. Even if that big client isn’t on your doorstep, it doesn’t mean you can’t work with them (and they will not work with you).
- BE A BIG THINKER – Just because you’re a smaller agency doesn’t mean you have to act like one. Be bold and think and act like a bigger agency. Promote your best work and your best thinking online through your own channels and on social media. Become a thought leader (especially if you have a niche audience or particular field of expertise).
- BE THE “A TEAM” – Large agencies often win large clients then delegate projects to their “B” teams once the pitch is won. Quality of work, and creativity in particular, can suffer. In a small agency, the entire team is the “A” team. Always strive to produce the best possible work for all your clients. A big client may be just as impressed with a high quality piece of work you’ve done for a smaller brand (particularly if it is highly creative and/or demonstrates effectiveness and ROI).
- BE AGILE – Often large agencies can’t react quickly to client requests such as additional resource because they need to get sign off from higher up. Large brands want agencies that can respond quickly to their needs. They are often frustrated by their own internal bureaucracy. Ensure you communicate your agile attitude.
- BE PROACTIVE – Nobody likes doing speculative work, but if you target a big client it could be your opportunity to make them notice you. If you have started to build a relationship with them, the opportunity to really engage may well come from a proactive proposal or piece of work that shows them you can deliver. Try and spot problems that big brands have and put some effort into thinking how you can help solve them.
- BE PATIENT – Opportunities can come from smaller beginnings. If you have the opportunity to work on a one-off, well-defined brief from a big client; take it. If you execute it well, further opportunities may come along and you can gradually establish yourself over a period of time.
- BE TENACIOUS – Often smaller agencies win work from bigger clients due to relationships they establish elsewhere. If an existing client you work with moves on to a different company, make sure you follow them and keep in touch. They may land a role in a big brand at some point and spot an opportunity for you to show off your skills.
Still want to win big clients? Of course you do.
Hopefully my tips above will help secure some bigger opportunities. In addition to these elements, you’re probably going to need 2 other ingredients; luck and perseverance.
None of the above factors are substitute for a little bit of luck. A chance meeting with somebody that works at a big client, a referral, a cold call that happens to find a client that has been badly let down that very morning. There is no substitute for this type of luck but perseverance and hard-work come pretty close.
If winning bigger clients is your objective, don’t give up. But, of course, do ensure you continue to build a solid business around the clients you have now. Maybe you can make one of them into a big client yourself!