How to create explosive growth in an agency during a recession


By Diane Young | Co-founder

June 5, 2013 | 7 min read

Diane Young continues her reports from the Mirren Conference in New York on the changing nature of new business. Read the first installment of the series here.

Jordan Zimmerman hard at work

You know you are in for an interesting hour when the speaker on stage says that he is “happy to share my secrets with you because I am confident that you will completely fuckin’ ignore me, and I hope you do.”

It gets more intriguing when he thanks the new business people in the room from the bottom of his heart – for being so easy to beat in pitches and in business that he is able to drive a fantastic sports car, travel to client meetings in a private jet, live between two beautiful mansions and be in the process of completing his new 130,000 ft2 office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

That’s how Jordan Zimmerman, founder of Zimmerman Advertising (retail brand building specialist and part of the Omincom Group), opened his keynote address at the Mirren Conference in New York. He’s brash and loud, but when a guy who has built a $3billion billings agency (Ad Age recently published that Zimmerman’s revenue is $121million) comes to tell you how he did it, it’s definitely worth sitting up and listening.

It’s clear from the start that this won’t be a presentation that contains anything remotely fluffy. As he says himself, he makes ads that most agency heads wouldn’t admit to. For Zimmerman it’s all about the numbers as he takes the view that advertising is no longer a science of the arts, but a science of metrics.

He describes how his day is taken up with looking at the numbers – not his own, but the clients’ sales figures. His time is focussed on looking at clients’ store traffic, transaction numbers, basket sizes on a daily basis and their P&Ls on a monthly basis. Based on what’s contained there, his attention is focussed on tweaking activities with a view to helping clients achieve a better balance sheet.

This is of especial interest to him because, he explains, he makes sure he has skin in the game with every client. Not only does he insist that the agency gets a share of client business upticks as part of its remuneration but he also personally buys shares in the client businesses and encourages his staff to do the same.

As a result, he ensures the agency is focused on work that drives transactions. He’ll often put proposals by staff to the test of whether, if it was their family’s money, would they spend it that way.

High profile brand Papa John’s is one of Zimmerman’s accounts, and Zimmerman was the creator of the ‘Better ingredients. Better pizza.’ strapline. One of their tasks was to expand the loyalty programme for the brand, but faced with a 3:1 outspend compared to other brands he describes how they had to market harder. Instead of going for a spot on the Superbowl, they went down the route of NFC Playoffs sponsorship, creating spots based around the coin toss. He relates how more than a million new members enrolled in the loyalty programme within 2 weeks, sales rose by $178m and Papa John stock rose by 20 per cent and then a further 10 per cent in the following weeks. Zimmerman won double on that one, with increased agency money and a big boost to his Papa John shares.

With another client, Party City, the agency was up against a chairman who didn’t believe in marketing, advertising or the internet. In spite of having around 800 stores across the USA, the brand didn’t have a transactional website. By some means of persuasion, the details of which were not shared, Zimmerman changed the mindset of the senior executives and within a short space of time, Party City was making in excess of $100m of online sales.

Perhaps the change of mindset came from Zimmerman’s approach of ‘do it my way – if it doesn’t work, fire me’. He claims that many agencies just take the fees and avoid making this type of commitment. He describes how selling greetings cards at the age of eight taught him that “no” doesn’t matter and that it’s really important to be able to create likeability and trust, which could be why he can change minds and make things happen. It’s also why he says he’ll walk away from deals that don’t have the right compensation model for the agency.

Zimmerman summed up his approach into six key pieces of advice.

First, stop using metrics as a punchline and actually use them. Be a business solutions firm that happens to do marketing. Focus on your clients’ bottom lines and KPIs that matter like in-store sales, conversion and basket size. Look at spreadsheets, not storyboards.

Second, align yourself with the client chairman and CEO. The CMO is not your best friend, due to their short tenures. With marketing being such a big expense for companies, this helps to make sure that when the CMO goes, you don’t.

Third, relentlessly pursue the client’s goal, but never rest in the glory. This mantra is emblazoned on the walls at Zimmerman’s to remind the staff that it’s all about the client cashflow, profitability, sales.

Four, be clear about who the stakeholders are. Not the media, not awards shows, not agency buddies. Clients are the stakeholders and they care about results. And by the way, make friends with the search consultants (intermediaries). If you don’t like them, that’s your fault. Align with them and give them confidence that you will make them look good.

Five, don’t use soft measures like awareness or brand equity.

Six, it might be about location, location, location but there is only one location that counts and that is 11 Wall Street.

So spoke Jordan Zimmerman. Throughout his hour, he contradicted himself on a few occasions, for example showing a picture of his totally empty awards trophy cabinet because awards are about the input, not the outcome, but admitting later that they do like to win awards. But apart from that it’s clear he’s totally focussed on his successful agency formula – as he describes it - the world’s only truly metrics-driven agency.

Zimmerman suggested at the start of his slot, that he was only invited to speak to ‘stir the shit up’. He definitely did – talk of one’s private jet or lack thereof cropped up many times over the following days.

Diane Young is a director at Recommended Agency Register


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