How to Win Business

Paul Venables, 30 Second MBA faculty-member and ad man, on what makes a company succeed and how a leader instills success.


I have an ad agency. It does great work. It’s a fun place to work. Growth and revenue and new business wins are absolutely nothing more than a by-product of those two facts. Our approach to new business might seem a bit unconventional, but Fast Company asked me to share it anyway.


Don’t do it for the money.*
I don’t know of a single creative person I respect who gets out of bed every morning to earn a paycheck. When things get tough, and that’s the default mode in this business, particularly at this time, “the money” ain’t going to pull you through. Better to make a reasonable fee working on something you genuinely have passion for than to make gobs on something you wouldn’t shed a tear over if it fell off the planet. Because, if it’s the latter, it will in fact eventually fall off your client roster.
*Note: Good luck with this one if you’re part of a holding company.

Don’t do it for the creative opportunity, either.
Sounds blasphemous coming from the Creative Director of a creative shop, I know. But I’ve been there. The creatives licking their chops thanks to some brand or product or category. Chasing a piece of business simply because it’s a “creative opportunity” is dangerous business. Those magic quoted words have a way of rendering all other ills invisible. But a sexy product and a with-it brand cannot begin to compensate for a passionless, clueless or flat-out lazy marketer.

Do it for the people.
The brand, category and product don’t matter. The people across the table do. We need to feel a client’s passion and energy. We know after they finish the meeting with us, they still have to run through the halls of their headquarters tearing down silos, championing the work and fighting off naysayers. We can’t succeed without that ingredient. It also doesn’t hurt to like them as people. When you’re sitting in a dark edit bay at three in the morning, it helps to remember you’re doing this because you believe in and care about the people you’re working for.

Chemistry meetings cut both ways.
Potential clients stroll into our offices for chemistry checks thinking they’re doing all the checking. On the other side of the table, we’re asking ourselves: Do we like these people enough to go into battle with them? Do we think their business model is sustainable? Have they made other changes in the organization necessary for success? Are they at all in denial? Do they understand what marketing can and can’t do? Is there going to be a key decision maker who is not present? The result is, well, let’s just say we say “no thanks” an awful lot.

Scare them.
Be so honest about their business, their thinking, their assumptions that you put them back on their heels. A good client will appreciate being challenged in a thoughtful, earnest way, and you’ll get to a better solution quicker. A bad one will fire up the bullshit generator and stick their fingers back in their ears.

One last thing.
Oh, and then you simply have to have several brilliant strategic insights and a razor-sharp creative idea that you blow out to exploit every known medium. But that’s the easy part. Finding the right people who will understand and appreciate it all is the bitch.


Paul Venables is part of the 30 Second MBA faculty, as well as the Founder and Creative Director of a hot independent west coast ad agency by the name of Venables Bell & Partners. Clients include Audi, HBO, Barclays, Intel, The Coca-Cola Company, ConAgra Foods, and ConocoPhillips. Prior to opening VB&P in 2001, Venables was Co-Creative Director, Associate Partner and heir apparent of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. By the end of his six plus years there he was running over $400 million in business and had won various and sundry industry awards for clients like Pacific Bell, Discover Card, Porsche, Bell Helmets, Nike, Polaroid, Netflix, HotBot, and SBC.