Paul Venables, founder and executive creative director of Venables, Bell & Partners, has been sharing his intimate knowledge about how startup online ad agencies can thrive, even in tough economic conditions. Aspiring business development managers might do well to listen up.
Keeping human, keeping lean
Writing as a guest columnist on AdAge, Venables challenges the assumption that, with agencies popping up from coast to coast, there’s no room for new ones. But the successful ones need to be different if they’re to inspire their team’s creativity, which means making the work environment special – business development managers, search engine marketing specialists and creatives need to be treated “like living, breathing human beings,” not cogs in a machine.
And there’s no need to be timorous about market meltdowns and recessions. Provided agencies learn from the hard times (as indeed Venables, Bell & Partner did when the dot com bubble burst and the post‑9/11 market calamity struck within months of each other), prospects can be good. Just don’t let the record Dow lead to reckless overindulgence. As Venables puts it, “Don’t start fat. Don’t get fat.”
Another don’t: don’t think that clients will be impressed with a witty, esoteric moniker. They won’t be. Venables says, “You are a brand. Your agency is a brand. Makes life easier (especially in the beginning) when they’re one and the same.”
The art of persuasion
But there are some crucial do’s to practice, too. Take on work that “feels good and right and fulfilling to you.” Venables believes that hunting for external validation in the press or YouTube comments is way less important than choosing the right projects. He also thinks that once a team has been appointed, their inspiration comes not from motivational speeches by executives but simply from believing in them. And business development managers would be well advised, he says, to discard clever pitch tactics in favor of rigorous case studies.
One pivotal point for Venables is to remember that advertising is an art of persuasion:
“Not selling them, not bullshitting them, not throwing technology at them, not making them swoon with popular music, not impressing them with celebrity connections, not tricking them into caring about something they don’t. Science can help, but in advertising as in life, it’s the art of understanding, relating to and connecting with people.”