Startups Seeking Advertisers: Tips for the “Road Less Traveled”

By June 16, 2011






Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.  -Robert Frost

First of all, let me say congratulations!  By creating an advertising model at product launch, it would seem that you’re in the minority of companies taking the “road less traveled” for conducting business as a start-up.  Recent success has been found in focusing on the user first and ad revenue second (such as Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter), but part of me has to believe their reasoning wasn’t so altruistic.  Enduring a relentless pursuit of funding, managing a growing user base, AND calling on individual advertisers/agencies to secure marketing dollars has to be an extremely difficult task — maybe those other companies just chose the easy route.

Like a cyclist in the Tour de France, you must get a twisted pleasure out of torturing yourself both mentally and physically.  Or maybe it’s that your business is specifically focused on advertisers or, perhaps more likely, your initial investors have required you to take this road.  Whatever the case may be, I tip my hat off to you as I realize the challenge that you face.  Working as a digital media buyer and strategist, agency-side, for many years has afforded me a handful of encounters with entrepreneurs like yourself.

To make both our lives a little easier and meetings more productive, allow me to offer some tips for success in approaching advertisers/agencies:

  • Dumb it down: This is often the first failure of any start-up that I take a meeting. If I need to ask a thousand questions just to grasp the product, my clients won’t have a chance.
  • Walk through the entire experience: Offer a simple flow of your product- how consumers find it, what steps they take to use it, what they ultimately get out of it, etc. Appeal to the “user” in all of us.
  • Make it exciting: Use your passion as a sales tactic. Agency folk and clients alike are looking for start-ups that could be the “next big thing,” so do what you can to blow our minds!
  • Be humble: In articulating your plan for world domination, you’re likely to be disrupting something traditional. Realize that while my clients are open to innovation, they won’t be turning their back on tradition overnight, so tread lightly.
  • Know what you’re asking for, but be flexible: Come with your vision for how advertisers would best fit into your service and we’ll customize/tweak from there. Do not come with a “blank slate” approach and hope that I’ll build an ad model for you.
  • Don’t rely on the voice over: Your sales deck should give a very clear understanding of your product and how advertisers can benefit. This will get passed around internally and discussed without your presence so it needs to stand on its own.
  • Understand the agency process: Believe it or not, I’m essentially an internal salesman; a recommendation of your start-up to my clients requires me to “sell” them on your product, so be prepared to give me all the tools/information I need to make that as easy as possible.

Simple, exciting, concise, understanding – all the tips above aren’t new, or groundbreaking by any means, but they’re often overlooked in the frenzy of starting a company and meeting with prospective advertisers.  Finding success down the “road less traveled” will certainly “make all the difference,” so if you can build a cushy little sidecar for that fancy road bike of yours, I’m willing to pay for a ride.