50 Lessons Signing 100 Global Brands

It’s been a good month at Adludio  Since launching this mobile advertising company three years ago, not only have we just celebrated signing our 100th global brand, but we also lifted the crown for  ‘Best Advertising/Marketing business at the TechCrunch Europas awards

I still remember signing our first client (Heinz) as a small team of three and although the bell rings in the office a little more frequently  these days, the excitement of knowing the world’s biggest brands want to work with us, never grows old.

With 100+ brands in the past three years, some of the big players include:  

Nike, Unilever, LG, Paypal, Red Bull, BP, Nestle, Under Armour, McDonalds, Britvic, Proctor & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, Sony, Acer, Microsoft, Westfield, Pizza Hut, Mattel, Ebay, Statoil,  Barclays, Sky, Huawei, Lenovo & many many more. It’s an achievement I’m really really proud of.

Before starting Adludio, none of us founders had previous experience  selling to brands or the advertising industry in general, but we soon realized upskilling was necessary  to make Adludio a success. Although I’d still not claim to be a sales & advertising expert we’ve been lucky enough to hire a few people who are and as such, have  learnt a few things along the way that work

The quality of advice received on starting out was mixed (ranging from conflicting to just plain wrong), and like most industries some of the best lessons feel rather  counter-intuitive. So I thought it would be useful to condense some of these lessons into one post.

This is the post I wish I’d read  before launching three years ago.

Note: Although a lot of the points below are relevant specifically to the media industry, most lessons could be applied elsewhere, simply swap  the word ‘brand’ for ‘large company’!

  50 Lessons from Signing 100 Brands

  1.  When starting out, go directly to brands first  rather than via their agencies. Brands tend to get early ideas and move on them quickly, so I’d go straight to the source for your first five deals. Agencies will still meet and love what you do, but the conversion rate to deal will be much lower (this will likely change as you grow)
  2.  Bear in mind however that brands don’t usually manage their budget centrally. Commonly they leave this to their media and/or creative agencies so although going directly to brands is a great initial source of deals, it’s hard to scale this
  3.  With a few case studies (from going directly to brands) you’re ready to go to agencies. I’m sure there are exceptions to the above (where a startup has worked with agencies straight from the bat), but in my experience and after speaking to dozens other startups, this is what I believe to be the most effective strategy
  4.  There is a big rise in ‘Innovation ‘departments / labs /accelerators in agencies & brands, or independent innovation agencies connecting brands with tech startups (I personally believe we’re in a bubble for these at the moment, and brands will pull back when someone eventually questions the ROI, but like the fella says ‘make hay when the sun shines’). These include The Bakery (mainly UK), Kite (mainly US), Unilever Foundry (global), BBC Labs and dozens more. Note: if there’s enough interest I’ll compile a longer list of all these advertising / brand accelerators).
  5.  But are these brand accelerators really any good? The answer is:  We’ve done hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of deals partnering with some of these, so yes, they can be. But equally, there are others that are a waste of time. If in doubt, speak to the founder of a company who’s successfully worked with brands going through this program. If there aren’t any, alarm bells should be ringing.
  6.  These innovation labs & accelerators are a great way to get a foot in the door and an initial deal with large companies. But realize that they are just that – an initial foot in the door, and you won’t be able to scale this way (see point 2)
  7.  Agencies are a vital part of the brand ecosystem. Ignore them at your peril, they are hugely influential. There are hundreds of agencies that work with brands and I don’t think I’ll ever know the names of them all(or exactly what they do).

This is my simplistic understanding of the different kind of agencies:

  1.   Creative agencies focus on the ideas
  2.   Ad agencies create content such as video, TV ads etc
  3. Digital agencies create websites etc
  4. Media agencies manage ‘media’ budgets, which is essentially the placements of the ads created by other agencies onto websites, TV slots etc
  5. Just to make it more confusing, many of these agencies do a bit of all of these e.g. we’ve secured media budget from creative agencies and digital agencies in the past
  6. For this reason you probably need to talk to every agency you can. Most have innovation directors now, so that might be a good person to start with (I talk more about this below)
  7. Within all these agencies there are hundreds of staff with different titles. Counter intuitively you are usually better off meeting people who are not too senior, such as a CEO etc, as they won’t be close to the budgets. Think somewhere between manager and director level but exec is probably too low down the food chain. The perfect people for us to meet are  Account Directors, as they ultimately make the decisions  for our product. Do some research and find out who rolls the dice for yours.  15. Know who you’re speaking with in the brand / agency. There are a number of different roles that people will typically fall into. For ease, I have divided these in to three general categories:
  8. Buyer:Someone who is the ultimate decision maker one whether to buy your product (or propose it to the brand client to buy instead). There can be multiple people influencing this decision (see below), but usually one overarching decision maker. Knowing who this is is vital
  9. Pawn: Someone who you meet at a brand / agency, who may be useful and friendly but is not a decision maker, or particularly influential internally. The goal when speaking to a pawn is to leave a positive impression and get an introduction to the ‘Buyer’ (see above)
  10. Quarterback: A Quarterback (also known an advocate), is someone who probably is not a decision maker, but loves your product and will evangelise it internally and help you navigate the company with info and intros. A common mistake is to pressure a Quarterback into closing a deal when they are trying to help you. Remember that they are not the decision maker. Innovation Directors are typically quarterbacks, they will help you navigate inside an agency and intro you to the right people, but they don’t always have a budget themselves
  11. Presenting: Keep your deck short and aim for 5 slides, keeping it concise is a challenge but a 20 slide deck is  just lazy on your part. It just won’t get read by brand / agency folk who are super busy
  12. Always have a demo. Do not go to a meeting without some form of demo. Video demos are good, interactive demos are great, both is best
  13. Yes is not a yes unless the contract or I/O is signed
  14. Don’t send an agency or a brand a standard contract. They have existing systems and workflows already, find out what they are in advance and send them something that works with their system. Sending a standard contract will get their lawyers involved, will create delays and friction for your deal. One of the standard contracts used in media is called an ‘Insertion Order’ (or I/O)
  15. ‘Publishers’ are websites that have an attractive audience that advertisers want to access (this is called ‘ad inventory’). They are the supply side of the advertising marketplace, advertisers are the demand side of the marketplace. In the chicken / egg scenario of which to go for first, go for the demand side
  16. Most advertising spend can be divided into two large buckets: direct response advertising and brand advertising (statistically the split of global advertising spend is approx. 50:50 between these)
  17. Direct response advertising (or performance advertising as it’s also called), is advertising that a users clicks and it leads them to something specific, such as to download an app, or to a website where they can buy a product. Mobile gaming uses direct response advertising as it leads people to download the game app, ecommerce stores use it as it leads people to the page where they can buy the product.
  18. Brand advertising is advertising that builds awareness about a product. It educates people about a product and attempts to make a memorable impression so people will recall the product when making a purchase decision e.g. Few people would see a Coke ad and want to instantly buy a can of coke online to be posted out to them, but the next time you’re walking down the shopping aisle Coke wants you to remember you like the brand and buy a six pack. Most FMCG/CPG goods, cars, financial products fall into this bracket
  19. Don’t do any work for free. You just shouldn’t need to. Brands have lots of ££, and if they value what you’re offering them they will pay. People value things that cost them something. We’ve never done any work for free
  20. When you do a deal, make sure you confirm in writing what the KPI’s of the campaign are up front before the campaign starts. Otherwise 3 months later, people’s memories will get fuzzy, it will be unclear if you’ve done a good job or not & problems will arise
  21. You need advisors to help you, the world of advertising is full of complexities & counterintuitive nuances, which will take you years to figure out on your own. Good advisors shortcut this.  You’ll need a few advisors, most notably:
  22. Brand advisor: You’ll need an advisor that will give you the brand’s perspective on your product e.g. is your product something we want
  23. Agency advisor: You’ll need an advisor that will give you the agency’s perspective on your product e.g. is this something we want to show our clients (the brands)
  24. Advisors who have worked in brands and agencies are good for product market fit and some contacts, but will not give you great advice on how to sell to brands, as they have never done it themselves. You need to have an advisor who has successfully sold products to brands as similar as possible to yours
  25. Grey-haired advisor: Some kind of industry legend that adds credibility to your decks, give your strategic advice and has a strong black book of senior marketers and investors.
  26. Note that grey-haired advisors have usually been out of the game for a few years now and may not be current enough to give you great advice on current market needs and struggles
  27. Two steps advisor: Possibly the most valuable of all the advisors is having someone (probably another startup founder) who is two steps ahead of you building a similar business. They’re current enough to know the existing market dynamics and the struggles that come with them e.g. they are the person who will open up their CRM system and show you exactly how to set up yours. The other advisors won’t do that
  28. Hiring sales people is really hard as all sales people are pretty good at selling themselves (even the crap ones).
  29. In general, there are two kinds of sales people:
  30.  1) Product sales people. They are great at selling out of the box / cookie cutter products frequently. They are not great at thinking creatively, adapting sales pitches on the fly or being entrepreneurial. These are good for later stage products (post product market fit) but not early stage. You can find these people at most big companies
  31.   2) Consultative sales people are good at complex sales that require adapting every sales pitch to the customer’s needs. When your startup is in early stages, your product will change continuously. You’ll find these people selling complex products. Only believe they can, if the proof is in the pudding, ie. don’t just rely on their word.
  32.  The best hiring method I’ve come across is following the process from the book ‘Who?’, Read and follow that
  33. In B2C businesses, the winning product is usually the best one(best can be based on price point too). Selling to brands isn’t that straightforward. There are multiple people throughout the decision making process (similar to an enterprise sale) & each will have their own needs and agendas that may impact upon the final result
  34. Any kind of middle man between you and the client (e.g. agencies), may make suspect decisions eg. you may  have the best product on the market but it’ll create a lot of work for the agency individual , so lethargy wins and they decide against it,Or, the agency person is great friends with the salesperson from a rival product,  so again, you lose out on the deal. And FYI this  isn’t just the advertising industry, it’s pretty much any industry where gatekeepers control decisions
  1. Many agencies have a ‘preferred third party supplier list’ for every type of service imaginable (mobile, tv, radio, UGC, social etc etc)  that they agreed preferential terms (and commissions etc) with. Everyone in the agency is given this and have been instructed to work with these companies over others
  2. Sometimes you’ll pitch an idea to an agency that everyone loves, but then it doesn’t go ahead. Again, One of the reasons you missed out could be the aforementioned preferred supplier list and the fact that you weren’t on it (they’ll rarely share this reasoning with you btw)
  1. You need to systematize your sales process. Every sale you do will follow a repeatable process which is broadly similar for every business with subtle nuances for your particular business model. You need to understand the different stages as soon as possible
  2. One step of this sales process is RFP: Most brand deal flows include the stage called ‘Request for Proposal’ (or RFP). When a brand / agency has a piece of work coming up, they’ll create a brief, and then send this brief to a number of suppliers (hopefully that includes you). You’ll then need to send a proposal responding to this brief back to them. They’ll then choose a number of proposals that they think are best It’s a good thing to receive an RFP as you’re on a shortlist of suppliers that they’re considering to work with, but you haven’t closed the deal yet
  3. Once you systematise your sales process, you need to increase the volume of activity at the top of the funnel as possible e.g. usually a meeting (phone or face to face) is required before someone will send you an RFP. You will not receive an RFP without a meeting. Therefore you need to drive the number of meetings up, which will then result in a higher number of RFP’s and therefore closed deals =  $$
  4. You can track this in an excel sheet during the very early days (here’s a free template you can use), but very soon you’ll need to graduate to a CRM system,a piece of software that helps you manage your sales deals
  5. Salesforce is the most famous sales CRM, but unless you have prior experience with it and can navigate freely, I would not recommend this for startups.
  6. The sales CRM we have used for years and highly recommend is Pipedrive. It’s easy to set up, is visual intuitive and is made for startups.
  7. It’s as much work doing a £5k deal as a £50k or £100k deal, focus on the latter
  8. Best books to read on this stuff are: Predictable Revenue, Spin Selling and Hacking Sales

Conclusion

The media and advertising industry is a complex world, full of counter intuitive ways of doing business. By knowing most of these rules, you can navigate it easier, close more deals and in a shorter time.

Your Turn:

Did you find this list useful? Are there any more tips you’d give to help people close more deals with brands?  Do add them in the comments below if so:

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