Your Terrible Ad Agency Collateral-What To Avoid

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A post in the Harvard Business Review (How the Rift Between Sales and Marketing Undermines Reps) has several effective tips relative to new business, and specifically, for the purpose of this post, agency collateral, often the bane of agency new business.

What does the messaging look like, how long or short, is it worth doing at all?

All questions we hear.

And from the post, one trait we often see:

Yet much of the sales support marketing provides falls short because it’s focused on teaching customers about the supplier’s business, not the customer’s.

(Insert agency into supplier above) We’ve probably beaten this to death by now, but remember,  it’s not all about you.  I like the advice the authors give later on in the post.

Virtually all marketing collateral suffers from the same flaw. If the first five pages — and the first ten slides — of your collateral or sales pitch deck are about you (and they almost invariably are), you’ve got it wrong. Build messages that lead to your unique capabilities. In a teaching conversation, the supplier enters the conversation at the end, not the beginning.

Agency Collateral

Agency Collateral And The Coming of the Clone Army

I had a conversation with agency principals this week about initial messaging.

Another good point from the post, although not technically focused on agencies:

Worse, the function responsible more than any other for differentiating your solution in the marketplace often churns out collateral and sales tools that look and sound exactly like everyone else’s.

In that conversation, we discussed new business messaging and the tendency for it all to start looking alike.

We find that sometimes agencies can get too focused on making their messaging astoundingly different from other agencies, obsessing to the point you can’t tell what they do or that they’re even an agency.

Keep in mind, as glaringly obvious as it sounds, invariably there will be some sameness to every agency’s messaging. That’s what they all are, after all.

(And those that go too far into their own genius come off as just pretentious.)

Agency Collateral-Here Comes The Crap

Back to the Harvard Review post :

Most companies’ marketing materials make generic claims like “an industry leader with decades of experience helping global customers achieve business objectives through unique solutions and uncompromised value.” Blah, blah, blah. . . So, you say to your customers, “Our solution is unique,” and your customers don’t believe you. Why should they? Your message sure isn’t. Their reply? “That’s fantastic. Can I get a discount?”

Ouch.  All too true however.

In your initial messaging, starting with your elevator pitch, be plainspoken, direct and focus on the offering or offerings that set you apart.

And remember those terms that you really need to avoid.

I just so happen to have an initial list.

Via the HRB blog: a recent study by public relations expert Adam Sherk, analyzing the most frequent terms in company communications. The top ten below:

  1. Leader
  2. leading
  3. best
  4. top
  5. unique
  6. great
  7. solution
  8. largest
  9. innovative
  10. innovator


A good place to start-avoid the above.


I'm the VP of Sales at RSW/US. We specialize in working with services firms to help drive and close new business-if you need help with that, email me at What I actually do: drive sales efforts to bring ad agencies and services firms on board with RSW, create content around successful new business tactics and help drive RSW/US marketing objectives, including social media channels, blog content, webinars, video and speaking engagements. Dig it.