Change the Rules of Competition for Ad Agency New Business

Michael Gass Ad Agency new business

“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to step away from the shore” – Nobel Prize-winning author André Gide.

I read an insightful article on why the focus of a company’s (agency’s) business strategy should not be upon its competitors. The article was written by Gabor George Burt, internationally recognized expert on innovation, creativity and strategy development, and the author of the book, Slingshot.

Burt states,

“In today’s marketplace, I would argue that doing something unprecedented is not just adventurous but imperative … eliminating competition by trying to beat it is dangerously shortsighted.

Small to midsize ad agencies, for the most part, have been asleep at the wheel while our industry has been totally reshaped from traditional marketing to digital marketing.

Burt provides a similar example of what happened to Kodak in 2003 when it was caught sleeping as the world transitioned from film to digital photography.

“The company severely misjudged the speed and impact of this transition and its lifestyle implications. As a result, Kodak’s core business, in which it was clearly dominating its competitors, was on a fast track to obsolescence.”

What were the consequences?

  • After 70+ years, Kodak was delisted from the Dow Jones Industrial 30 Index of leading American companies in 2004. Kodak then embarked on a radical and painful restructuring to reestablish its relevance.
  • It had to cut 25,000 jobs.
  • It posted 8 consecutive quarters of losses through the end of 2006, with a single quarterly loss of as much as $1 billion in 2005.
  • Even though Kodak quickly became a leader in digital photography, it was not a sustainably profitable business.

Burt writes,

“In simplified terms, the company’s core business shifted from being a monopoly to being a commodity in the blink of an eye, and it had to scramble to reinvent itself.”

Lessons for Ad Agencies:

There are too many agencies that look, act, and talk just the same. It’s time to rethink long-held strategic assumptions about your agency and challenge decades of conventional wisdom in our industry. You must push to learn, grow, and innovate. Especially when it comes to new business.

How to change the rules and break out of the pack:

  • Change breeds opportunity. Don’t play by the rules. Unlevel the playing field and redefine the rules of the competition. Be the first to find new opportunities. “With the unveiling of the iPad,” Burt writes, “Apple symbolically stepped away from the familiar confines of the PC era, leaving behind its own initial core business along with the competition.”
  • Don’t wait for other agencies to lead the way, be innovative. French novelist Marcel Proust said, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”
  • Break out of your comfort zone. Agencies have been comfortable in the middle of the road. But today, as William C. Taylor says, “the middle of the road is the road to ruin. The only thing in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos.”
  • Remember that having a SYSTEM for new business is critical to success. Many of us want to succeed but we lack the discipline to prepare for success. We need to leave our comfort zone of complacency if we’re going to attain a successful new business program. When you have a system, you get into a routine of knowing what’s important. And then you spend a lot more time doing the things that make it better.
  • Stimulate creativity for agency new business. Dramatically shift your agency’s thinking, spur innovation, and enthusiasm by setting some challenging new business goals.

Instead of trying to figure out how to beat your competitors, a smart strategy looks to change the rules of competition altogether.

“The middle of the road is the road to ruin. The only thing in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos.” – William C. Taylor Click To Tweet

​Email me at if you have questions or you’d like an overview of my program. I’d be glad to also include a copy of my guide, Seven Steps for Fueling New Business Through Social Media.

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