In geography class, you were taught that wind is caused by air moving from a high-pressure system to an area of low pressure. When the sun warms the Earth’s surface the air heats up causing it to rise – creating a region of low pressure. Nature always strives for balance and so air from the surrounding regions of higher pressure flows toward the low-pressure region. The result is wind.

As a small agency, your momentum is also dictated by opposing forces because creativity is driven by decisions. Like wind, decisions always flow from areas of high pressure, to where the pressure is lowest. It is very difficult – if not impossible – for a decision to go in the other direction.

Pressure manifests in the form of resistance to ideas, constant questioning, endless changes, hesitation or complete non-decision. To generate forward momentum, the agency must balance these pressures and create the conditions possible for the client to say yes.

Pressure has different sources. It could be internal from the corporate environment, external from market forces, or (most dangerously) from the subconscious depths of their own personal insecurities. It’s up to you to figure out the location and the nature of the resistance.

Whatever the case, the creative solution must produce an area of low pressure for the decision to go in your direction. Controversial ideas, big production budgets or complex solutions with many moving parts all dial up the pressure. Unfortunately, the good ideas tend to include one or more of these characteristics.

In a big agency, pressure can often be defeated by the agency’s power alone. An agency with a high profile generates enough energy on its own to create the right conditions to get their ideas over the line, but it is rare for a small player to possess this kind of clout. Of course, the easiest way to reduce resistance is to create work that is safe, inexpensive and unremarkable (and many do) but that doesn’t go anywhere good. Small agencies who want to punch above their weight must do more.

This can be achieved in a few ways. If you are highly charismatic, you may be able to influence the client. If you are a great performer you may be able to blow them away with presentation. If you are great at relationships, you may be able to build trust.

All of this works, but the most powerful thing of all is something a lot deeper and a lot more terrifying. The way I’ve seen it work best is when the agency is willing to feel the pressure on the client’s behalf.


Feeling the pressure is no walk in the park. Are you ready to accept responsibility for your client the same way you accept responsibility for a family member? Are you honestly prepared to step in front of your client? Can you leave your own comfort zone, set aside your own deep-seated fears and desires and actually empathize?

Trust me, it’s not that easy. It’s easy to fake understanding. There’s no risk in feigning sincerity, but really feeling their pressure means really feeling their pain. Real, undiluted empathy is scary.

It’s also very, very, very powerful.

The most consistently persuasive small agencies I’ve worked with have an ability – either consciously or unconsciously – to understand the forces both internal, external, psychological and personal, exerting pressure on the client. The best ones have the empathy to sympathize and the ability to finesse their solution and lead the process in a way that disarms fears and builds confidence.

When combined with all the above tactics, time and time again they are the ones who win more projects and more pitches against far bigger foes. They are often victorious in battles they have no right to win