Take a Lesson

After one of my ad-league softball games recently, I was commiserating with a few colleagues about the state of agencies’ new-business practices. Apparently, everyone went to the same new-business clinic and still pitches accounts the way their founding fathers did.

If I hear another agency pontificating about their case studies, I may puke. As if you’re the only one who’s had any success in this business. Using case studies as a way to set yourself apart makes us look like an industry that is quickly becoming a commodity.

Let’s face it, all agencies believe they are doing something right and holy for their clients. Other wise, they’d be out of business. News flash: Most prospective clients trust that you know what you’re doing, that you have a process and a few other clients they recognize. If not, you may be fishing in the wrong pond.

Instead of boring the hell out of them with self-love and examples of your overblown capabilities, why not focus on their expectations? Have you ever asked your clients why they are advertising in the first place?

Many of us assume we know why Ford or Sony or McDonald’s or Mike’s Camera Shop advertises. Do we? That’s a pretty big assumption. The truth is, the clients themselves often don’t know. Some don’t even believe in it. And that’s not only our fault; it’s our problem.

Agencies spend way too much time on what they’ve done and the results they’ve gotten. It’s time to try something different. Like listening.

Here’s an analogy for you. (I got into this business partly to convince people of the potential marketing power of a professional male softball league—so, yes, it’s a sports analogy.)

Let’s say you’re a golfer with a bad swing. For whatever reason, it’s just not working. It’s time to “review” the swing and find a pro who can help.

Golf Pro #1 shows you his tools: the swing-tube thingy, his giant rubber-band collection, the videotaping capabilities. He then tells you who he’s helped. Phil. Margie. Carl. As if you care. They have different problems and agendas.

Golf Pro #2 asks you, “What do you want to be better at?” He takes the likely answer of “everything” and asks pointed questions to get you to think about why you’re there at all. Is it your short game? Distance? Putting? Maybe you just want to be able to beat your friends for once.

Here’s where the magic happens. Here’s where client and agency effortlessly glide through the marketing issues. The agency listens, and asks questions. This is where the “chemistry” lies.

It’s not a matter of matching the client’s problems with your strengths. Too often, we stick observant people in new-business meetings because they articulate the obvious. Get ’em out of there. Bring in people who can listen and articulate your so-called “intellectual capital.”

Case studies should be used for the benefit of added intelligence within a specific category or industry or marketing issue, and used primarily as talking pieces. Stop parading them around like they’re so unique.

Every major-league pitcher knows how to throw a curveball. Only a few of them know when.