As I understand it, there are things a fly fisherman can accomplish with a two-pound test fly-fishing line that he can’t with a six-pound line, whatever that may be. The conundrum is how do you then catch a big fish on a light line?

A lot of students, seniors in the spring-semester mostly, would ask about finding a job in an ad agency following their upcoming graduation. They were looking for names of, and introductions to, agency principals they could interview with to ask for a job. Occasionally, not often, this approach could work.

If asked, I would tell students that if they were attempting to contact an agency executive to request a meeting regarding possible employment, they were essentially asking the exec to quickly evaluate and make a judgment about hiring. They were backing the department head into a corner and pressuring him or her for a decision, even if the response might be “I or somebody will get back to you.” What likely happens is that the young person’s name will get passed to HR and die a slow death–or often a quick one. There’s a better approach.

Instead of asking the agency executive for a job interview, I’d tell students to ask whether they could get a meeting to discuss ideas or suggestions of how to get into the business. That professional would no doubt be able to provide valuable insight about the business that was not available from a classroom–and at the same time appreciate the compliment of being asked to share suggestions borne out only from experience.

As a parallel, consider how agency management is always asking why a prospective client should select them instead of other certainly qualified agencies. Project managers and sales staffs will quickly answer with various value propositions, all relevant and competitive. But a good agency CEO will counter with the fact that before you can even place the reasons in front of a prospective client to select your shop, you have to get him or her in front of you. You have to get them to a meeting. Instead of preaching that your way is a better way, a better way would be to suggest that your value proposition might be something to consider, that your agency may or may not be a fit. Who wouldn’t want to have a discussion about maybe finding a better way?

Sadly—it’s true that some agency new business people don’t posses a lot of depth or experience when it comes to engaging a prospective client into a protracted discussion about marketing, communications, branding, budget development, mixed media, direct response, share of marketing, social media, positioning, value proposition, share of voice, research or PR, etc.

Hiring a good agency can create a measurable, impact on a client’s overall revenue, but it comes with costs and risks that can cause a client CEO to take a deep breath and pause. There’s a lot to consider and a lot of questions that need to be answered. The last thing that a good client CEO wants, is to talk to an agency representative that’s all about the transaction. Half the reason an advertising agency gets hired is that the prospective client liked them–trusted them. The relationship between a business and its agency is different from that with any other vendor. It gets real personal.

While at BBDO, I was assigned to work on the Xerox account. But first I had to go through the Xerox sales training program. While the Xerox program was quite comprehensive, the one axiom that stood out for me was you can’t start selling until you know what the problem is that has to be solved—and then have some sense of how to solve it.

Too often, those charged with new business responsibility are overly focused on the low hanging fruit. They ignore the fact that before picking the fruit, they need to fertilize and water the orchard. Too many of us have become too transactional. We’re selling radio & TV spots, direct mail and social media like they were appliances at Sears, without enough regard to solving the problem. Nobody wants a drill–they want a hole in the wall. Clients don’t want more ads–they want more business. Before we sell them marketing communications stuff, we have to be able to provide solutions to their problems. It’s a process.

So the fly fisherman throws out his two-pound line and is able to make the fly on the hook at the end of the line mimic a real flying bug because the line is so light. With some skill the fly fisherman is able to snag that six-pound fish.   But now if he pulls in the line too soon, the line will break. He has to tire the big fish out. With some patience, he’ll pull in the prize catch. It’s a process.

At those initial meetings, smart clients aren’t deciding whether or not they’re going to hire a shop. They’re deciding if they want to have the next meeting. The six-pound fish on a two-pound line approach holds true not only for hooking prospective clients, but also for graduates trying to hook a job.