How to Land a Major Brand Client and Kick Start Your Agency Growth
Do you want to know how to land major brands? Bill Durrant had been working for a big agency for years when he decided to leave and work freelance for a while. That’s when opportunity knocked and an old Nestle client asked him to work on his new account, Clif Bar. This is the client that really started his agency Ex Verus, which helps brands develop a paid media strategy that drives visible sales growth and merchandise those results to leadership. In today’s episode, he sits down with Jason to talk about how good timing has as much to do as being good, what is it like to work with major brands like Coca-Cola, why it is so important for him to develop a relationship with clients, and his three-tier approach.
3 Golden Nuggets
- How to get in with the major brands? For Bill, getting a major brand’s attention was all about timing and also making a good impression. He had been working at a big agency and worked on the Nestle account. He eventually decided to leave and start working freelance when an old Nestle client called him to handle the marketing for his new account, Clif Bar. What tells people who want to land a major client is that within these same organizations there are many brand managers in charge of growth stage brands that need creative input and are willing to work with smaller agencies that can bring some new and interesting input.
- Work on your relationship with clients. When his agency got their first client, they set the goal to start building relationships with as many people within the organization as possible. They also started getting introduced to people from other departments and other products, with the possibility of working with them too. Also, the same people that he worked with during those years eventually went on to other companies and called them to start growing those brands. Good clients will take you everywhere they go. This is why Bill values his relationship with them and even makes it a point to fly out every once in a while and touch base with his most valuable clients.
- The three-tier approach. With client relationships being such a core element of business, you have to make sure that clients build this relationship with the agency more so than with a key member of the team. Team members will leave sometimes for different reasons, and the client shouldn’t feel like their communication with the agency will change for the worst because of it. This is why Bill has established a three-tier approach where there’s a senior leadership level, junior planners, and associate planners. In case someone in one of those levels leaves, there’s still two other points of contact that have developed a relationship with the client.
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Landing Major Brands and How Good Clients Will Take You Everywhere
Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, everybody? Jason Swenk here. I am excited I have another amazing guest on the show. We’re going to talk about the landing big well-known brands. Because a lot of you have been reaching out, how do we get these big brands? Like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and all these major brands? Well, on today’s episode, we’re going to talk about that with this amazing guest. So let’s go ahead and get it.
Hey, Bill. Welcome to the show.
Bill: [00:00:34] Hey, thanks so much for having me, Jason.
Jason: [00:00:36] Yeah, man. I’m excited to have you on. So for the ones that have not heard of you yet tell us who you are and what do you do?
Bill: [00:00:47] Alright, I am Bill Durrant and I’m the president and founder of Ex Verus Media. We’re based out in Los Angeles and we are a paid media agency focused in that space, uh, really designed to create culture, creating growth-stage brands. Um, to work with those brands, to build them, to grow them from a media standpoint. Uh, and not just their brands, but also immediate demand as well.
So the performance side of the world as well.
Jason: [00:01:12] Awesome. Well, tell us, how, how did you get into this space? I’m always curious and like, what was your first project or deal?
Bill: [00:01:20] Yeah. You know, I think our origin story is a little… You know, it’s a little funny. It shows you how important it is to be a lucky and good, not just good.
Um, I had worked for a number of years at a big agency and worked on, uh, the Nestle accounts. I worked with a number of grants from Nestle and, uh, I had decided to leave, um, just start doing some freelance work.
And while I was doing that, I got a phone call from a former Nestle client who said, hey, I’m running a part of the marketing organization at Clif Bar now. And we’d love to know if, uh, you might be able to be a one-person media agency, um, for us. And of course I had no idea how to do that. But found myself saying yes.
And, uh, that turned into an incredible and a very long run with Clif Bar, um, which started the agency. So from very small projects, um, to consolidating all of their media and advertising across the organization and using that as the launchpad for what we are today.
Jason: [00:02:24] Well, shit, dude. You went and straight to the, a huge brand. Um, yes, that was, uh, that was good timing and, uh… I don’t know, luck, but I think that was just good timing.
Bill: [00:02:39] Yeah. You know, I, I think so. And, and I think, you know, like I said, it shows you it’s important to be good. It’s important to be ready when opportunities come up.
But it’s also important, you know, at that point in time, Clif Bar was not investing very much money into paid media. So it wasn’t a stretch for me to do the work and to bring on one or two team members. Um, the real stretch was I think, in people’s imaginations when they understood like wait Clif Bar, I mean, that they’ve got to be a billion-dollar brand.
And, you know, taking advantage of, you know, essentially the credibility that that gave us. I didn’t have to tell anyone, you know, hey, they’re not necessarily spending $10 million a year in media. Um, they’re not a massive account, at least right now. And being able to do that and to leverage that credibility, um, is ultimately what started to land us our next relationships.
Jason: [00:03:31] Yeah. And I, and I think really kind of… Talk a little bit about, cause a lot of times people think these big brands are so intimidating. Like they get so nervous and I’m like, they’re just people like you and me. They just got, but they got to get a thousand different approvals and they make decisions on committees, you know, and all that kind of stuff.
But like, talk a little bit about that. Like I remember when we landed our first big one, I was just naive. And I didn’t even, I didn’t even know they were big. Like I remember, and I even lost it a really big account cause I didn’t even know who they were. Which I always tell on the show Berkshire Hathaway.
I was like, who are you guys?
Bill: [00:04:16] Yeah. It’s um, I can’t believe you told Warren Buffett to screw off, but that’s a, um, that’s definitely a story. I, you know, I think you’re absolutely right. These are people who put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. And particularly if you’re a creative agency or an agency where, you know, everything isn’t continuously trying to be consolidated, like it is on the media side.
Um, there’s a lot of opportunity for them to, you know, really want to stand out and break through just within their organization, let alone to consumers. So, you know, there are folks that are going to be more willing within those organizations to work with an agency of any size, uh, if it brings them the right, the right kind of breakthrough work.
And what we also found is that within those organizations, these large organizations, there’s a Coca-Cola and sure everybody would want to work with Coca-Cola or with Sprite, or, you know, even with minute maid or some of the larger brands. But from our standpoint, you know, working with Coca-Cola doesn’t necessarily mean working with those massive brands and trying to take on the largest agencies in the world.
Um, there are folks that are brand managers on really interesting growth stage brands. They really need our help and creative thinking. Um, and there’s huge opportunities to not only do great work with brands like that, and then have the benefit of saying, you know, I get to work with, with a fortune 100 company.
Um, but to actually get work out of that, that then becomes part of your calling card to future opportunity.
Jason: [00:05:49] Yeah. Yeah. I remember I did an interview, our Four interview. So if you guys want to go check it out, it’s jasonswenk.com/four. The number four, it’s a pretty long URL. And I interviewed, uh, Del Ross of IHG International Hotel Group. And at the time he was director of… He’s not there. So don’t hit Del up anymore. And, uh, I asked him, I said, how can smaller agencies that haven’t worked with bigger brands get into bed with bigger brands? And he was like, look, just like what you said, be innovative, call me up and tell me something that is new. That’s changing.
Don’t just say, hey, I take you out to golf or send me a stupid, you know, puzzle that I have to solve in order to get, get his attention. And he’s like, look, just say, hey, I was wondering like… And this was as example when Facebook was coming out with his pay-per-click and saying, hey, have you heard of power editor? And the remarketing possibility that you can do in the hospitality space?
I’d love to do a test project for you. And that’s, that’s what we did with Lotus Cars. And that’s what we did with Hitachi Power Tools and a number of different, bigger brands. And once you got in there, I want you to tell us about this too, about, especially with Clif… You know, uh, the Clif Bar.
There are so many different side businesses or divisions in those. So how did you start building relationships in order to grow that account?
Bill: [00:07:18] Well, I think the point that you just made is a really important one. And, uh, you know, I think our success is a testament to this strategy and the strategic approach, because it, it really is a win-win for everyone.
And when you can show that client how they’re, they’re winning by doing something or learning something that they wouldn’t have experienced or been exposed to before, um, your business is going to grow, right? And I think with Clif Bar, you know, we were kind of… It’s funny, I came from Nestle where, you know, there’s typically one agency group that runs all Nestle brands regardless of where they are in the country. And so portfolio management was very important.
And so we came into the Clif Bar relationship really saying, you know, this is going to be about portfolio management. Even if there’s one or two brands that spend the most. And this is going to be about building relationships with as many people within the organization as possible.
Now, an organization like Clif makes that really easy, just great people, uh, all the way through. And what we found was that not only were we, you know, picking up and, and working with additional brands within Clif, which, which ultimately I think helps the bottom line. Um, what we also found was that those folks would then progress in their careers and move outside of the walls of Clif and move to other organizations.
And in fact, that’s, that’s exactly what happened and we’ve kind of evolved our relationship. We now work with, uh, Premier Protein and PowerBar and Supreme Protein, which is literally down the street. But as people progressed in their careers and moved to other organizations, um, we then had new startup brands and new opportunities to work with.
So it raised the tide of the boat and it helps us diversify as well away from one kind of main client comprising the bulk of our revenue. And so we saw that strategy paying off, not just right away. Um, hey, could you introduce me to such and such at such and such brand we’d love to chat with them. You know, you’re already an insider, so you’ve already got trust and a reason to be there.
Um, so you’re not just a cold call, uh, when you’re asking for introductions to the other brand managers. But even when you’re not necessarily getting work from them today, you may be getting work from them tomorrow. It’s still important to continue to build those relationships
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Yeah, one of our mastermind members, um, does a lot of work with Facebook and some of the key people at Facebook. She was telling us this and some of the other members are like, oh, that means you’re going to lose Facebook? And she was like no, no, no. And I was, I knew it was coming. I was like, I’m getting new business from all these other companies.
And it was like, you build relationships with these people, you know, they take you everywhere. We saw that as well, but it’s about building that relationship, not just being transactional. And I think so many, like one of our other mastermind members, we always have a digital agency experience in Colorado.
And I remember I’m already talking about we always make it one of the things in the first month we have to go physically, this is pre-COVID… Go visit them and just build rapport and help them out. And always, rather than just sending stupid reports, like, why do agencies just send reports? Like, you know what happens to your report?
It just… They look at it first month. They might ask the question and then all the other ones it goes in the garbage. And then they forget about you.
Bill: [00:11:58] Oh my goodness. That’s exactly right. And you’re right to talk about how to differentiate yourself and creating that personal communication is, is, is really one of the top ways to do it.
We still have a very limited client base, uh, here in Los Angeles. We still only had one or two clients over the last six years that we could actually drive to. And we made it a point to fly and to be in person with people. So I’ve had status with Southwest Airlines for 10 years
Because of that, because it’s so easy to fly from, from Burbank to Oakland and to be there in person and to continue to cultivate those relationships. And, and to do that with people that I genuinely like and genuinely consider friends now
Jason: [00:12:52] What, um…? Switching focus just a little bit, because you have about 30 people that you were telling me in the pre-show, your people will leave sometimes. They build relationships with your clients.
Um, I know one of the hard things that people have an agency, let’s say you have a project manager, account manager leading like a major account, and that person decides to leave. How do you maintain that relationship going forward with that client as a key person left?
Bill: [00:13:26] That’s a great question. You know, I think what we do is we try to make it like a three-tiered approach. So you’ve got folks that are at a senior leadership level. You know, we’ve got 30 people and, you know, maybe four or five people kind of fit that, fit that descriptor. And that’s even a growth from where we were just six months ago.
Uh, so we’ve got a senior leadership level. We’ve got, you know, uh, an associate director manager kind of media planner core team. And then you’ve got your kind of junior planners and associate planners, and that’s kind of how our structure works from a client relationship standpoint. We’re I think continuously thinking about where’s the relationship at all three levels. So that if a person who’s core, especially this day where there’s been so much turnover just in general across the industry.
You know, there’s still going to be someone at the other two levels with whom the client has a strong relationship. And then we know that mission one, once we get a new person in to replace who’s left, is for them to build that relationship with the clients. That’s just as important as it is for them to build a relationship with the folks internally as well.
Um, we take that very seriously. So the first thing we do is we look at what are these three levels? How can we always have two strong points of contact at different levels? Uh, regardless of who’s left, um, because you’ll find that sometimes clients just really love a particular associate planner or someone who’s at a more entry-level role, because that’s the person that’s getting them, the information that they’re asking for on a daily basis and doing a great job. And not just showing up every week or every month, um, for other things.
Uh, the other thing that we like to do from a relationship standpoint is, again, to prioritize those relationships. And to understand that this really is a relationship business uh, first and foremost, and a results business as a very close second. Um, we always have to be mindful of results and the innovation that we’re bringing to clients. But we know that we don’t have a business long-term if we’re not cultivating relationships and keeping those strong.
So it’s very important to us as an organization to hire properly. We’re not just going to hire someone who’s got the particular skillset that our client is looking for. We’re also going to hire someone that we think that they’re going to blend well with and to work well with and to enjoy on a personal level.
Um, and somebody who’s articulated enough to maintain that level of relationship with them and not just a technical expert. So that’s the other big piece that’s so important and foundational to everything is that if you’re hiring correctly, you’re really setting yourself up to be successful in that. Uh, without even necessarily having to have a strategic approach after that.
Jason: [00:16:21] Yeah. I mean, we’re in a people relationship business, both hiring, like you were saying, and, and managing those relationships. I love that. And I love that the three points of contact and always having two points. It’s kind of like climbing a mountain. You never want just one point of contact. I mean, you know, I watched that free solo in my hand still… you know clam up when I’m thinking of him just holding on with one hand.
I’m like at least two points and you, you’re, you’re going to make it. Uh, well, depending on which mountain you choose, I guess.
Bill: [00:16:56] That’s the perfect analogy I’m going to steal that analogy. Yeah, exactly.
Jason: [00:17:00] Well, we, we love mountains here, right? So that’s why I live in the mountains. Well, this has all been amazing. Um, tell us a little bit about the book called Digital Stone Age.
Bill: [00:17:11] Yeah. So Digital Stone Age was a book that was designed to, uh, essentially have a conversation, um, at more of the readers pace that we found ourselves increasingly having with brands over the last couple of years.
And that conversation was really around this idea of… Uh, you know, I’m a growing brand, I may have a decent media budget. Uh, I may not, I may, you know, be kind of bootstrapping, uh, with a smaller budget, at least compared to my peer set. And as a result, everything that I do has to be digital. And we found a lot of brand managers coming in with this mindset or everything that I do has to be social.
And, you know, they weren’t necessarily wrong in wanting to be in those places and to utilize those tactics. But what we found is that they weren’t being neutral about it, and they weren’t truly understanding what is going to truly grow my brand based on where consumers are now. And, you know, essentially the thesis of the book is you have to take care of generating that immediate demand. But you also have to take care of building a brand simultaneously. And as important and critical as digital tactics have been, you know, tactics that were kind of native to the digital space.
Uh, what we also found was that people are still watching TV. People are still viewing… Now post-COVID, hopefully, post-COVID doesn’t even make sense. But people are still viewing, um, out-of-home advertising. So we’re seeing that grow again in 2021 and then beyond, um, people are still utilizing tactics that might feel old-fashioned to a very modern digital marketer, and they’re using them very successfully.
Um, simultaneously you’ve got folks who are doing the same thing of, uh, you know, I I’ve always been in TV. I’ve always been on a radio. I’ve always been an outdoor. And I would like to just continue with what’s worked and we know that that’s not what works best either. There truly is a synergistic effect by taking different kinds of media channels and different approaches, um, and using them simultaneously than trying to double down on one particular approach or tactic.
So writing a book about that and essentially laying out the evidence that proves that over studies that have been done by people far more, far more intelligent than I… Over thousands of brands and over the last 10 years, it’s really powerful and exciting to see that and to know… Hey, I now have a blueprint or a path forward and a strategic framework on how to be successful in growing a brand in this modern era where even if a particular channel isn’t a digital channel. It’s still becoming more and more digitized.
And being able to lean into those trends and be modern, but also simultaneously driving, uh, results with your budgets. Uh, that’s a very powerful thing to be able to say you can do as a marketer.
Jason: [00:20:15] Well, I lied. Last question. Has the book gotten you a lot of business with some of the brands that you want?
Bill: [00:20:22] You know, I think what it does is two things. Um, number one is it immediately drives credibility that we know what we’re talking about. Um, so we don’t use it as a lead magnet per se. We use it as a compliment to, uh, our introduction process and our proposal process, um, with clients. And so it’s a little bit harder to quantify.
But we know that, um, the book and some of the work that we’ve done as extensions of that from a PR standpoint, just getting our message out to the press, um, have generated interest and inbound leads. And have generated clients for us. That’s, I think, the most satisfying thing to know is we were able to obtain a client by doing things the right way and leaning in on thought leadership. Not just having to rely on referrals of course, which are important, but you can’t just rely on them, uh, or other channels or tactics that might’ve felt less, um, true to who we are.
Jason: [00:21:23] Well, I, you know, we have a lot of mastermind members that have written books and what they’ll do is they literally send it out to their top 100 list. And they’ll actually have like a bookmark and a special note on the page they want them to read. And it’s customized to them, right?
And then they get this book. If they like reading, then it’s gold. If they’re like me and they’re like, ah, kryptonite throw it away, right? So you got to make sure you know your audience. Um, but, uh, yeah, some mastermind members crush it on that. So if you’re not doing it, try that part out.
Bill: [00:21:58] I love that. I love that idea. Uh, the idea of shipping out a hundred packages is a little scary. But the, I, the idea of physically getting something into their hands is so powerful. Love it. Yeah.
Jason: [00:22:09] Awesome. Well, cool. Um, what’s the website for the agency? And then obviously, you know, the Digital Stone Age, I think you can get on an Amazon Barnes and noble all over. So congrats on that. But what’s the website address people will go and check the agency out?
Bill: [00:22:25] Yep. exverus.com. It’s just E X V E R U S means from the truth in Latin.
Jason: [00:22:31] Awesome. Glad you spelled that out because I bet a lot of people would have messed that up. But thanks so much for coming on the show, uh, loved having you. Um, and if you guys liked this episode, you’ll make sure you get subscribe. Uh, however you’re listening to it.
And if you want to be around other amazing agency owners that can really elevate you faster. And these are experienced agency owners that are pushing you and they’re growing at a rapid pace. I’d love to have you guys go to digitalagencyelite.com and go apply.
Um, we make everyone go through an application process, interview process just to make sure help you out. And that you’re right for the group, but these are the best of the best agency owners sharing what’s working and be able to see the things that you might not be able to see.
So go do that now. And until next time, have a Swenk day.