How to Start (and Sell) a Media Agency -- Brian Jacobs

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There’s a much-reposted piece out there on how to start a creative agency. Clearly the world needs a companion piece on media; and equally clearly it’s up to The Cog Blog to deliver such a thing. So, in the unlikely event that there are still people whose life-long ambition is to start a media agency, The Cog Blog offers this cut out and keep (we suggest you print it first) guide to attaining your dream.

1. Find a partner. It’s a lonely occupation doing this stuff so you need someone equally barmy to talk to. It helps if one of you is a trader and one a thinker. Traders rarely think; and thinkers definitely don’t do trades.

2. Find an accountant. There are herds of unemployed freelancers wandering around. Pick one. You know you don’t want to do all the money and admin stuff and sadly someone has to.

3. Think of an unlikely name. Your best bet is to look at the name of the pub you’ll no doubt be sitting in (didn’t do The7Stars any harm).

4. If you’re in The Crazy Cow, move to a different pub.

5. Find somewhere to sit. Try your mates; many have trodden this path before you and will have acres of empty space filled with desks made from driftwood and the ghosts of unfulfilled dreams. They might accommodate you.

6. Buy a computer. In fact buy loads and fill them with links and apps. Doesn’t really matter what they are, as long as there are a lot, with little itsy-bitsy logos.

7. Make a short list of any clients you know who might be crazy enough to entrust his or her budget to you. Odds are you’ll have worked with him or her before and not messed up, so start there.

8. Approach these prospects. Offer them any commercial terms, however crazy in return for a project. Try to keep the desperation out of your voice.

9. Work out how much you’ll have to spend on media research. A media agency without numbers is like a creative agency without a table football machine – simply unbelievable.

10. Review the research numbers; then cry. When you’ve stopped crying make a list of everyone you know who a) has money and b) might be prepared to back you. Approach same, ideally over lunch.

11. Buy a copy of “Bluff Your Way in Digital Marketing.”

12. Approach media owners. Share your dreams. Look hurt when they laugh. Ask for credit.

13. Work out a positioning that differentiates you from every other media agency. This is best done by selecting words at random from old Campaign or Advertising Age articles. However, as with all creative tasks there are some “must haves.” These include the words “storytelling,” “big data,” “programmatic,” “native,” “transparent” and “channel neutral.” It doesn’t matter what order or how you work them in as no-one knows what they mean anyway.

14. Call the trade press. Explain your unique positioning. Grovel.

15. Call the trade press back. Announce your first client.

16. Do work. Enter every award. Have lunch with past and likely future award judges. (This is a small pond, so knock yourself out.) Network. Attend every party, accept every invite. Use every social media site out there to make gnomic statements. Become known for same.

17. Have lunch with an old friend from GroupM. Be sure to be photographed (no, not a selfie).

18. Call the trade press to tell them you’ll never ever sell to Martin Sorrell (never did Chris Ingram any harm).

19. Sell to Martin Sorrell (never did Chris Ingram any harm).

20. Buy the pub where this crazy journey started and retire to run it. An alternative is to buy your local football club (as long as it’s not Manchester United).

Good luck. You’ll need it.

Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells atBrian JacobsLeo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director), Universal McCann (EMEA Director) and Millward Brown (EVP, Global Media). He has worked in the UK, EMEA and globally out of the USA. His experience covers shifts from full-service ad agencies to media agencies; from traditional single-commercial-channel TV to multi-faceted digital channels; and from media planning to multi-disciplinary communication planning. Brian can be reached at

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