‘I’m a new business hunter’: McCann NY’s new growth boss on pitching under pressure
After joining last month from Virtue, Suresh Raj says McCann must be selective if it is to boost growth without grinding down staff.
Suresh Raj, McCann New York’s chief growth officer / TED 2019
Pitching for new business is a nexus for stress and burnout for staff within the ad industry. But with the economic weather currently blowing against agency fortunes, there’s necessarily pressure upon execs to find fresh clients and fresh growth – to think about the bottom line first and work out how they’ll service new accounts later.
According to Suresh Raj, the recently appointed chief growth officer of McCann New York, agencies have to resist that impulse and “double down” on client vetting.
He tells The Drum: “Vetting should be done all the time, in every circumstance by every agency. A lot of agencies just go after everything and you could create burnout and exhaustion.”
Raj is the latest name to depart Virtue, the agency business established by Vice Media Group, following the latter’s collapse earlier this year. In his new berth as chief growth office of McCann New York, he’s been tasked with drumming up new business for the storied Manhattan ad shop.
That’s not an easy brief at the best of times. Right now, however, is quite far from the best of times for the industry as a whole and for McCann parent firm IPG, which had to revise its growth expectations for 2023 down to just 1%-2% in July.
Raj says that McCann itself has coped better than its rivals. “We’ve actually had tremendous momentum,” he notes, drawing attention to wins with retailer TJ Maxx, insurer Prudential and vodka brand Smirnoff. “The remit is: take this amazing momentum and build,” he explains.
After stints on the new business side at MHP, Ogilvy, Zeno Group, Vision7 and, latterly, Virtue (a subject Raj declines to discuss), this isn’t the first time Raj has been tasked with drumming up new growth in adverse conditions. He says: “I’m a hunter, I’m a new business hunter. And I love the thrill of the chase.”
That said, Raj argues that the agency must be selective going forward. “We are going to be very strategic about opportunity. We’re not going to just go after everything. Sometimes, the pitch process takes six, nine or 12 months and there’s only so much you can put into it. So the vetting process is particularly important.”
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The right opportunities, he explains, means “opportunities to do the best work, with clients that want the best work… the impetus to create amazing work that lives evergreen” (matched, of course, with “the right level of budget”)
Given the decline of agency-of-record appointments and the shifting way that clients are now “purchasing expertise,” Raj sees opportunity in landing and expanding upon ‘lead’ agency roles. In practical terms, that means “building a relationship with one major project and, from there, building a cadence of work that follows through.”
Emphasizing the agency’s range will help it achieve that goal, he says. “We want to have everything available. If a client does come in and want a big legacy brand platform, that’s our bread and butter. But if they want the ability to work in the space of innovation as well as content, we have that capability and we’ll use that as a door to open a relationship with the client and hopefully lead to ongoing work from there. We are building our business to flex with the changing times.”
Though go-to-market plans are still nascent, Raj aims to lean heavily on McCann’s social content and influencer practice, Content Studios, led by chief social marketing officer Monica Tailor. “It will likely be one of the key things I go to market with simply because it meets the evolving needs of CMOs,” he explains.
“Our real strength is in helping legacy brands modernize themselves. Because of the width and depth of our expertise, we can flex across multiple sectors. We understand different audiences, we understand what’s happening and changing in the current times and we know how to take a brand through an evolution.”