Part 2/4: How to Attract New Clients

July 19, 2019

Evan Pitchie

Part 2/4 of the commentary on Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy.

Part 1: How to Manage an Ad Agency

In Part 2, we explore Ogilvy's advice on how an agency can win new business.

It’s important to know that starting a company of any kind is hard work. On the first day that the company was open for business, he told his staff:

“This is a new agency, struggling for life. For some time we shall be overworked and underpaid.”

Ogilvy believed in his agency and set high goals. He made a list of his dream clients and kept it as a reminder of what they are working towards. In the end, he ended up working with all of them.


Promotion is a powerful tool if used right. With thousands of agencies that clients can choose from, Ogilvy knew he needed massive exposure.

With no Internet at the time, the press was the best way to get the exposure he needed. So, he became friends with reporters and they would always publish anything he gave them.

When giving a speech, he made sure that they created a stir so that people would talk about it and remember him.

He would send frequent progress reports about the agency to current, former and prospective clients so that they would see it as a thriving company and the agency would remain top of mind.

In his opinion, had he remained more “professional” it would have taken him 20 additional years to achieve the success he wanted.

New Business

Getting the first few clients is the hardest for an agency because they have no credibility or record of success.

Ogilvy suggests doing speculative work for free for the prospect. He encourages that you go above-and-beyond even if there’s a risk you’ll get nothing in return.

The reason for it is that it shows the prospect that you are dedicated and gives them an idea of the type of work you can do.

An interesting quote from the book reads:

“Next to luck, fertility and midnight oil are the best weapons when hunting new business.”

That being said, once the business is established, the focus then becomes about presenting who you are as an agency and learning about the client’s problems they want to solve. When talking with a prospective client, let them do most of the talking.

He advises never to take an account that is so big that you cannot afford to lose it or else you will live in fear. There is also the fact that you might neglect your other clients to ensure you please the larger client and that will tarnish your agency’s reputation.

Type of Clients to Work With

To ensure mutual growth and success between agency and client, Ogilvy encourages you to accept clients if the engagement meets the following 10 criteria:

  1. You must be proud to advertise the product
  2. You must believe you can do a better job than their previous agency
  3. Avoid advertising products with declining sales over a long period of time. This usually means that there are flaws in the product or there are management issues
  4. The prospect wants the agency to make a profit (and be successful)
  5. If the project is likely to be unprofitable, will you be able to do great work
  6. You are able to get along with the people you will be working with
  7. Avoid clients where advertising is not a high priority
  8. Never take new products before they are tested. The risk is too high and the agency is likely to be blamed if the market does not react well to the product
  9. Avoid associations or committees where decisions need to be made by too many people. It will be hard to have a consensus and it likely won’t be worth the amount they are paying
  10. Sometimes a prospect might offer their business if you hire a certain person, don’t play the game as it could backfire

These are the tactics that contributed to making Ogilvy the grand agency that it is today. Many of them still applicable today that agencies and other business can use.

In the next part of the series, we’ll explore Ogilvy’s advice on how to retain clients.