Surviving, thriving and letting go by Keith Smith, Managing Director of new business platform The Advertist.

Survivor’s Guilt

Have you been successful during the pandemic?

If so, there’s a chance that you’re probably thinking that it’s best not to brag about it when some businesses are suffering.

In business terms this is not healthy.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, unashamed new business #bizdev person and in our line of work, where there is disruption and upheaval, there are opportunities.

Wars are won on strategy; battles are won by disruption. Using disruption as an opportunity can be a very effective new business tool – as long as it comes with a heavy dose of compassion.

Because today’s winning agencies aren’t the monolithic business empires we grew to admire. Today’s winning businesses embrace behaviors like flexibility, agility, low-friction and flat management.


In the spirit of adaptability, new business is about being able to seamlessly transition from a waltz to a samba, to have options in the tank so that when life – or business – changing events occur, you can switch streams.

Many of the agency heads I have spoken to about this agree that focusing on a core set of skills that can be deployed in multiple directions for a variety of purposes is the winning business model for the next decade.

Think of the old ‘hit and miss’ engine that began the revolution of farming mechanization. It was a low-cost, lean-burning, multi-purpose engine that came with a mass of attachments that allowed it to be used for threshing corn, bailing hay, sawing lumber or washing clothes.

That’s how your business – and by association your new business function – needs to think.

And when you find that you’re playing Simultaneous Exhibition chess like a creative Bobby Fischer, don’t feel guilty.

Feel proud that your ability to stay loose and spot these opportunities has given your team the reassurance that they can place their trust in you.


Another topic that comes up regularly in the new business #businessdevelopment world is ‘letting go.’

Leadership comes with the responsibility to recognize when you need to stop being the main front-of-house new business person and delegate.

It’s a huge struggle to hand over the crown jewels of the new business function but if your agency is to grow, that is exactly what needs to be done.

You simply don’t have the bandwidth to do a great job in a new business role, when you now also need to step back, look at payroll, look at direction, funding and HR issues, taking your agency from six, to seven figure income.

So many agency owners think that by devoting an hour or so a day to new business, that’s going to be enough. But that wasn’t the approach when they started and it certainly won’t do now.

An agency constantly needs a full-time focus on its new business, either through a dedicated person or team, or through an outsourced company of experts.

Both work and there’s no right or wrong, you just need to find the right fit for your business.

And remember, when you do delegate this function, it needs to be oozing the personality of your agency.

It’s not some remote Siberian outpost.

It’s your front-of-house.

Your meeter, greeter and seater.

So, the more immersed they are in the agency’s culture, the better ambassador for your agency they will be.

Just like you were.