February 6, 2008

Anecdotes/David Ogilvy on Getting New Business

At Ogilvy & Mather, David Ogilvy himself would sometimes come into the agency cafeteria and sit down with anyone he chose and open a spirited conversation with the surprised employee.

One day I was privileged to have this charming fellow join me over my tuna sandwich.

It was I think in 1971 when I had been with the agency for five years, having risen from media planner to assistant media director and tripled my salary in the process.

The agency had grown during that period from about $60 million in billings in I think only one office in 1966 to nearly $500 million in 1971 with an expanding global base of business.
It was a great career ‘ride’ so I was delighted to have a chance to meet the great man one on one.

He asked me about myself, what I did, etc. Then he asked me whether I had any questions about the agency itself?

I told him that I was amazed and delighted by the rapidity of the agency’s new business growth and asked him what his ‘secret’ formula was?

He told me something that has always proven useful to me. He said that when he did everything he could think of to market the agency--- public relations, white papers, advertising*, building relations with top media owners and managers, original research**--- to name just a few things that I recall, he got ‘lucky’ with new business but he couldn’t pinpoint one tactic that drove the process. On the other hand, he said that when he didn’t do everything more or less constantly and consistently, the new business flow seemed to dry up.

And that’s how it worked out for me when I sought to create and build DeWitt Media, Inc., in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I kept a post-it list of everything I could possibly do to attract positive attention to the agency stuck to my pc monitor and tried to at least work on every item every day. What was on the list? Newsletters, PR, mailings, even cold calls worked. During that latter period when agency search consultants entered the business, it became critical to build awareness and relationships with these folks. What are the elements of an effective new business program today?

Everything you can think of. And try to move each peanut along every day. That’s how to get lucky with new business!

*D.O. wrote a series of amazing ads for the agency that ran in Ad Age and that listed his famous ‘rules’ for advertising, targeted to specific business categories in which he wanted clients; e.g., ten rules for food advertising, six rules for travel marketers, etc.

**Ogilvy had been a researcher for the Gallup organization early in his career and he believed that bringing prospective clients new information about their businesses was a critical way to get meetings and assignments.

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