7 ways to win new business for small and large agencies

Whether you’re 500 strong or two people in a spare bedroom it’s no secret that winning new business is becoming harder and harder for agencies of all shapes and sizes. While there’s no one quick resolution to snagging a new client, Lucky Generals founding partner Andy Nairn, Simon Myers partner, Prophet and business consultant Chris Merrington shared these pearls of advice at The Drum's Brief Encounters event earlier today (24 November) to help you secure your next pitch.

Small agencies: Advice from Andy Nairn, founding partner, Lucky Generals

Don’t be greedy

As a small or growing agency it can be tempting to go after a large piece of business from a notable client to build up your reputation but in the experience of Nairn it’s wiser to take a side project and then “nibble your way up” to earn a bigger chunk. Two year-old Lucky Generals experienced this after it created a small piece of CSR work for Paddy Power which blew up to 400 million impressions across social media in a single week and eventually led to the agency to win the £25m creative account outright.

Rope in some partners

Running a three-man band? If you have the big ideas but not necessarily the skills to follow them though the best thing you can do is strike up partnerships with those who do. Being a smaller agency can actually be advantageous here, according to Nairn because it presents the opportunity to work with the people you hold in the highest regard within their specialism.

Think big, but don’t kid yourselves

“Big agencies are no better at coming up with a big idea, in fact it may be harder for them because of the levels of processes they have to go through,” according to Nairn. As an example Lucky Generals won Pot Noodle’s creative account after pitching the idea to parent company Unilever that the snack had become synonymous with “slacker culture” and lazy teens.

The agency wanted to flip its key brand benefit - simplicity - so that it appealed to today's go-getters and the creative was built around the idea of ‘You Can Make It’ and featured a young man who dreams of becoming a boxer.

But don’t kid yourself. “People like idea of giving a small agency their business, it’s bit more exciting and it makes them feel more entrepreneurial,” said Nairn. “Usually there is great chemistry but there has to be a moment when you look them in the eye and say are you realistically going to be able to sign this off with your bosses?”

Large agencies: advice from Chris Merrington founder, Spring 80:20 and Simon Myers, partner at prophet

Choose carefully

When it comes to picking a client to work with it pays to be choosey – if you go after anything and everything there is going to be more than a whiff of desperation, according to Merrington.

“There are clients out there called profit vampires and they suck the probability out of you,” he said. “These are the most loyal clients because they get a nice cheap deal… they actually suck the mojo out of the agency.”

Ask your client these questions

Why did you select us to pitch? If it’s a referral it can give you confidence but if they found you in a league table it could be a warning sign.

Besides you, who would be the decision maker for this pitch? You need to know if you’re talking to the right person and who else to make contact with.

Who else will be at the pitch? Find out their agenda.

How important is this to your business? Working out if budgets might be slashed at a later date might help inform your decision.

And for those chasing new business abroad…

“Don’t go unless a potential client wants you to go,” advises Myers. “It’s easy to open an office, the hard bit is to make money from it in a sustainable manner.”

“Dubai was flavour of the month about 10 years ago and we weren’t there and thought we’ve got to be there. We went, didn’t like it and [also] we were too late: we were very late to the party.”

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