November 2, 2018

Are you tired of searching for new business with minimal results?

Category: VIP Blog

We’re honored to have the great Michael Gass, expert in ad agency new business in this interview!

Eric Elliott:

Agency new business has changed for the better. This is an awesome episode. It’s going to be two parts. Today I’m interviewing Michael Gass from Fuel Lines, and he has the number one spot on Google for agency new business. Find out how you can get your dose of your Daily Development next.

If you’re running away from the future, man, you’re going to get caught up in the past.

Eric Elliott:

All right. Today I’m here with a friend, a consultant, a guru. And I don’t know if it’s okay if I call you a guru.

Michael Gass:

I don’t know about that.

Eric Elliott:

Someone that I think very highly of and so do a lot of other folks in the industry. And we take everything that he says very seriously, Mr. Michael Gass from Fuel Lines Agency New Business is on the line with us today. And Michael, just to kind of give you a history on Michael, Michael spent some years in the agency business, and he actually did it the old school way, when he did cold calling. And there was that one point where he took over, you know, doing the cold calling and doing all of the outbound calls, and he incorporated social media into how he started calling on new prospects, and more than anything attracting new people. And one thing Michael says that I really believe in is, he is the one that they come after now. He doesn’t have to go and search for new business. He does it all out of his corporate office in Alabama. He has clients all around the world. He’s been around the world, right, Michael?

Michael Gass:

Yeah.

Eric Elliott:

You know, and one of my favorite lines from Michael is when he first, he was on the west coast and I heard this in another podcast just researching Michael. Michael was on the west coast, and he got a new client on the west coast, and he said to himself, “I wonder what I would have had to have done with traditional media to be able to track this client?” So that line alone speaks volumes. So, everyone, I think you’re going to get a treat today from hearing from Mr. Michael Gass. And, Michael, I hope I didn’t blow anything, right?

Michael Gass:

No, not at all. Good to be with you, Eric.

Eric Elliott:

Thank you, Michael, it’s great to have you with us. So I’ll go right into it. Michael, for the two people that live under a rock that have never heard you, or heard you on a podcast, do you mind telling us about you, and what you do?

Michael Gass:

Almost all my advertising career has been spent on the business development side, and then in 2007 I had this hair-brained idea that I’d start my own consultancy. And I normally worked in two markets pretty much my whole career, Birmingham or Nashville; and outside of those two markets, I had zero awareness.

Eric Elliott:

Wow.

Michael Gass:

So I started very early on. A three-year almost study is really what triggered my interest in social media, where a CMO council study that was released the first part of 2008 said that 80 percent of the decision makers found their vendor, not the other way around. And so early on, I figured out it was more important to be found than to chase new business. And that’s why I created the blog Fuel Lines, fueling ad agency business, and started creating content. And as you had mentioned, you know, my fourth client lives on the west coast in Costa Mesa, California. I’m in a suburb of Birmingham called Alabaster, Alabama, and I was afraid of putting Alabaster on my business card, that anybody would take me seriously; but, you know, I have clients, literally — I’ve done work in almost all 50 states. I’ve done work for global agencies such as Havas Digital. It’s just been incredible at how this has worked, and I’ve just celebrated my 10th anniversary. And in 10 years I have never ever made a single cold call for any business.

Eric Elliott:

Not a single cold call?

Michael Gass:

No.

Eric Elliott:

You know, Michael…

Michael Gass:

And I don’t want to even do that, because the dynamic is so different. If you do this correctly, for the perspective client to put you in a position of authority as a trusted expert, when they initiate the call, the dynamic of that relationship is just so different.

Eric Elliott:

I agree. I agree.

Michael Gass:

And you actually can control the relationship. You’re not chasing the business. The perspective clients are actually pursuing you, because of that expertise.

Eric Elliott:

So, Michael, you brought up some great, great points just now. The one that’s really impressive you said you’ve done business with people in all 50 states, but people are coming to you, and it kind of puts you in that position, that you’re more of the consultant than the vendor; do you agree?

Michael Gass:

I would be considered just like a perspective client looking for an agency. When you do it the old-fashioned way, when you’re doing it through outbound marketing tactics, those interruptive type tactics, you’re chasing business. And you are treated immediately as a vendor, and that’s been a problem with small to mid-size agencies, whether they’re traditional ad agencies, digital, media, or PR firms, when you’re pursuing business like that, and you’re chasing business, you’re viewed as a vendor.

Eric Elliott:

Uh-huh.

Michael Gass:

And it’s so different though, when they’re actually looking for help, and you’re providing content that is of value, and they understand how you think, you know, when they’re receiving value from that. When they have that need, they’ll initiate the contact, provided you have, you know, the right calls to action.

Eric Elliott:

Now, one thing I do know about ad agency owners, we are a little bullheaded, and some of us, you know, we get in a business, we hang a shingle and then we forget the rest sometimes, or we forget some of the fundamentals, you know, the cold calling, I don’t think those things matter anymore; but what does it take for an ad agency owner to say, “I need to call Michael Gass.” I mean what are they going through? Put me in the mind of that business owner’s head, when they make that phone call or email to you?

Michael Gass:

They’re going through a lot of new business directors for one thing, and the average tenure is something like two years or less. And they’re not having success. They’re still trying to drive business and the agency owner — I mean business development is a historical problem for small to mid-size agencies, primarily, because they have no positioning.

Eric Elliott:

Uh-huh.

Michael Gass:

And they look and sound just alike. They’re, you know, they do this every day for their clients, they can’t do it for themselves, and that’s, you know, one of the primary things is to pick a target. Like who is your primary prospect and they can articulate that. All they can think about is missed opportunity and positioning is the foundation of new business. Before social media, and now in this social media stage that we’re in right now, you know, positioning is vitally important. It was so problematic when I started, the vast majority of my clients were in a perpetual state of rebranding.

Eric Elliott:

Uh-huh.

Michael Gass:

Because they could never make those hard business decisions.

Eric Elliott:

But what do you mean, like changing the websites, when you say rebranding?

Michael Gass:

Well, you know, that’s part of it. They were also in a perpetual state of redesigning the website. They could never get it finished. And it was so problematic back then, that we started creating a niche blog offsite. That allowed me to help them to drill down much tighter than they had ever dreamed possible, and in a, you know, we’d do a one-day workshop, where I would take them through the strategies, tactics, and tools that we utilize, and then the last part of the day, we spent on positioning. And I’ve done this with over 250 agencies. We’ve never failed to nail down their positioning in that two and a half-hour period.

Eric Elliott:

Wow.

Michael Gass:

And they’re sweating bullets. Like we’ve been dealing with this for years and how we’re going to do this in two and a half hours, but we come away with a primary target, and then a point, a strong point of differentiation, and all the focus that’s needed to create the niche blog, and we build that niche blog around the agency owner or owners, primarily, because, you know, they’re the least likely persons to leave in practicality.

Eric Elliott:

That’s right.

Michael Gass:

But it’s also their vision. I mean, they’ve established this culture and even though they are in this perpetual state of rebranding, it’s still the agency is part of their DNA. But what they forget, and why most agencies aren’t having success with social media and inbound marketing is, that they forget that it’s people wanting to connect with other people. And they’re trying to lead with the brick and mortar, so, you know, they’ve got the agency Twitter account, so they check that off their list. They’ve got a blog, but the blog is on the website. It’s usually content about the agency, promotions and new hires, and awards, and things like that, that the perspective client, at that point, doesn’t care about. And this way, when we create this niche blog, we’re leading with a person and it’s their individual social media accounts, their individual LinkedIn account, Twitter account, Facebook account even.

Eric Elliott:

Uh-huh.

Michael Gass:

And get them in building their online community, because building a community of prospects comes before business development. And a lot of times they’re very poor at developing an online community of prospects, because they’re not creating content of value and they’re not out there networking. And, you know, the efficiencies of this is just so great. That’s a part of what I have to do is, really help them to understand how beneficial social media is, and how efficient it is, and the freedom that it provides, and it allows small to mid-size agencies to catch come really big fish.

Eric Elliott:

Man, Michael, that’s just a wealth of information you’re giving us, man. It’s just awesome. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to go pay some bills real quick, and we’re going to come right back with Mr. Michael Gass, so stay tuned.

Eric Elliott:

Michael, I know 10 years ago, I think we all looked at social media as a fad or a joke. Do you think now business owners or agency owners, or even ad agencies themselves, take it serious, take social media seriously?

Michael Gass:

They take it serious, but, again, they missed the point because most agency principals aren’t participating, or they’re participating so lightly they just don’t see the value, and they’re missing the boat. Like in 2010 most agencies understood that this is not a communication channel that’s going to go away.

Eric Elliott:

Uh-huh.

Michael Gass:

So, you know, we jumped, you know, they jump in, but that’s literally what they did. No strategy, no real understanding of how this works, and for many priniciples they still don’t get it. Because when I go in and say, you know, they got a Twitter account, maybe they got 23 people following them.

Eric Elliott:

Wow.

Michael Gass:

And no connection to a primary target group. My audience and two Twitter accounts, Fuel Lines and then Michael Gass we got a 104,000 Twitter followers. That generates a significant amount of traffic to my site, and a lot of opportunities for engagement. And then growing my online community around LinkedIn, and then also Facebook and even Google Plus. I’ve got a Pinterest account and I’m active in Pinterest. And I’ve developed new business opportunities even from that platform.

Eric Elliott:

Well, that’s amazing.

Michael Gass:

But when you’re sitting on the sideline, and, you know, you’re not really a participant, you really don’t know — fully understand how it works and, you know, it’s almost funny to think that agencies are now selling social media, as a service, and they still don’t get it.

Eric Elliott:

Wow. Now, Michael, you brought up Pinterest. I mean, let’s just say — I know my wife she loves Pinterest, but if you mention it, you know, to the average male CEO or president of an ad agency they’ll say, “Pinterest, you know, what do I need to do with Pinterest?” I mean tell me more about that.

Michael Gass:

Yeah. Well, you know, some of these it’s good to just understand them, and enjoy them for what they are. So, you know, I’ve got a love for boating, and we’ve been in boats for a number of years and we own a houseboat. And our goal one day is to retire on a boat. So, you know, I’ve got a board that has nothing but cruisers, and houseboats, and interior designs and things like that. I’ve got a board that’s showing the image from all the various posts that I’ve written over the years.

Eric Elliott:

Uh-huh.

Michael Gass:

One of the things as I was exploring how I could utilize Pinterest for new business, I visited a lot of agencies, and other agencies are curious as to my experience and knowledge of, you know, what other agencies look like and how they match up. So I created an agency board of agency offices and, literally, all around the globe, because I’ve had an agency as far as Madrid, Spain to have a photographer to take photos just to include on my agency board. And then I get a call from B2B Magazine, the editor had asked a question in a LinkedIn group, “You know, is Pinterest good for B2B?” And I shared with them my example, and I think I’ve got over 2,000 followers of that single board and shared the example. And then I get a call from the B2B magazine to do an interview.

Eric Elliott:

Uh-huh.

Michael Gass:

And then I was written up in B2B magazine, and also in their digital format, and, you know, but it’s a part of building that kind of awareness. But, you know, you don’t really understand these things unless, again, you participate and you start thinking like a prospect.

Eric Elliott:

Yeah, now, I want to go back to one thing, and come back to what you said about thinking as a prospect. You talked about agencies aren’t positioning, Michael, and you also said and it almost seems like agencies they forgot to be consultants for themselves. And I saw a post that you had on Twitter, and it said, “Ad agencies are moving more into consultancy.”

Michael Gass:

Well, I suggest that they add that as a service line.

Eric Elliott:

Right.

Michael Gass:

Because a lot of — the average Fortune 500 company has 17 agency relationships. What they’re looking for is expertise, and they’re willing to pay for that. What would you feel like if you’re kind of the agency, the primary agency at a company, and then they hire your competitor as a consultant? I mean, you’ve just let the fox into the henhouse.

Eric Elliott:

Wow.

Michael Gass:

And they’ll hire a consultant before they’ll hire the agency, and what they’re willing to pay for is expertise. And, you know, it has a great net profit and a lot of — even the global agencies are adding consulting as a service line. There’s been several articles written in Ad Age reflecting that. It’s establishing that positioning of expertise. When we create that niche blog there is such a focus. I was working with an agency in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This is the old steel mining city…

Eric Elliott:

Uh-huh.

Michael Gass:

…that’s seen it’s better days. There’s a small agency there, and we’re trying to help them with positioning. And I’m in their office for the workshop and looking around, and I see all of these electric guitars and things on the walls, and then the stuff where the agency owners are musicians, they play in a band. And Martin Guitar, it’s based there, is one of their primary clients. It’s actually their biggest client and their only national client.

Eric Elliott:

Uh-huh.

Michael Gass:

So in the workshop is we’re exploring their positioning, and being able to leverage that expertise. We created a blog and it targets musical instrument and equipment manufacturers. And so they’re branding for these instruments and for, you know, the equipment, they’re getting good traction from the blog. I mean there is no other agency in this niche.

Eric Elliott:

Wow.

Michael Gass:

It gives these that our outside of even the U.S. a reason to want to do business with this small agency in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They go to this national conference in Anaheim, California. And we’ve done all the work through social media to do networking, prior to the event, connecting with event sponsors, speakers, and then prospects. They walked away with an invitation to meet with the owner and the C-Sweep executives at TB in Mississippi. And so they’re in Meridian, Mississippi with this great opportunity to generate new business, specifically because of this blog and this niche. They’re willing to do that because that’s not the only way they’re going to generate new business. You know, they still have a local bank, I think a community college they’ve done some work for, some resorts. They just picked up a new healthcare client, but here is TB, you know, of the largest equipment manufacturers here in the nation, and they invited them to come and meet to work out a relationship to help them with their marketing.

Eric Elliott:

That’s great. That’s incredible.

Michael Gass:

We had another agency, this is in Louisville, Kentucky, and she hired associates, primarily, a media agency, They wanted to grow more into a full service agency. They had 43 people in the media department. They have a creative staff of three, that included one the agency owners, so three people in the creative department. It’s in the midst of the recession, they’re bottom feeding for any kind of new business. Little project works to build their portfolio. When we did the workshop, and in our discovery session for the positioning the 800-pound gorilla client that they had was Kroger, a grocery chain of stores, and they had been placing media for them for almost like 20 years. If that account ever goes away, I mean the agency could literally go away.

Eric Elliott:

Wow, they could lose everything.

Michael Gass:

They know that they need to diversify, and, again, they want to grow the creative department, and how can we do that based on work that they can show, because you can’t just choose anything. You’ve got to have something to build upon, and one of the things that we recognized early on, was that they helped Kroger start a lot of stores. So we came up with the store starters, marketing resources for great grand openings. They purchased the URL, thestorestarters.com., and started creating content. Without an RFP, without having to pitch for business, just based on the positioning the two agency owners had gleamed, as the store starting gurus, Burlington Coat Factory reaches out to them, and asked them to help start — launched 22 new stores. A big piece of business, and it comes by way of this positioning. And, you know, they were never in any kind of a danger, and they’re willing to drill down that deep just, you know, here’s our point of differentiation, because it lives offsite, so it creates no confusion on the website. It links from that niche blog to the website, because we’re not going to hide the fact, principles, but we don’t lead with that.

Eric Elliott:

Yeah.

Michael Gass:

We’re leading with their knowledge of expertise.

Eric Elliott:

All right, that’s a wrap for part one. It was jam packed with info. We can’t thank Michael Gass enough for being part of the podcast, but wait, there’s more. There will be a Part 2 to this, so make sure you stay tuned and check your feed and your SoundCloud podcast, iTunes, wherever you listen to your podcast or get your content. So just stay tuned for part two coming your way, and be sure to rate us wherever you listen to your content. A one star is really cool, but a five star would be awesome for us. This is your Daily Development.

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