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Pitch Perfect 2018: Agency culture & the art of winning new business


By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

July 2, 2018 | 6 min read

New business is the lifeline of any agency. Without it, you would be sitting twiddling your thumbs. But how can you create a culture where you make everyone feel responsible for new business? How you can transcend that positive attitude, to ensure it becomes an infectious trait across the whole entire agency?

The Drum spoke to Digitas’ head of new business UK, Charlie Hunt and Stein IAS’ creative director, Reuben Webb, who will lead a panel session on new business at Pitch Perfect 2018, on why they think companies are failing to bring in new business and what should be done to fix this.

Qualify opportunities properly

Both Hunt and Webb attest to this. You need to adjust your offering against what you’re pitching for. As tempting as it is to go for everything, if what you’re going for is not in your ‘sweet spot’ you’re eventually reduce your chances of winning further from that spot you get, explains Webb.

“Ask the question, are we strongly aligned to the task? If you’re not, winning it may prove to be a poisoned chalice and losing is always a drain on morale and resources.

“Everyone loves a wild card entry but how often do they win? Make sure you are always a seeded entry by going for what you’re good at and declining if you’d be going to make up the numbers.”

It can be hard to turn away new business opportunities. However, Hunt believes that it is “important to focus your team’s already stretched capacity, and only commit when you know you can put your best foot forward.

“By qualifying in those opportunities that are the best possible fit, and not spreading yourselves thin, you’ll have a much stronger chance of converting.”

There is no ‘I’ in team

According to Hunt, more and more clients are requesting to meet the day-to-day team who will be working on their business, rather than the new business team and senior executives only.

“Of course, clients need to have access to senior leadership,” she explains. “But it’s also important to get the balance right by fielding both senior experts and the teams who will deliver the actual work. Building chemistry is a critical aspect to any process, and clients and agencies alike are accountable for making this possible.

“Clients who set agencies up for success by being collaborative during the process are only going to get the best out of all participants.”

Don’t go into a pitch divided says Webb. “‘I don’t agree with the strategy.’ ‘It’s not my preferred creative route.’ ‘I’d never have selected those media.’ Shut up and start being supportive.”

He adds that the individuals in the team should make each other feel good about what they’re going in with even if one has doubts. “If you win divided, someone in your team still loses. It’s worth remembering that pitches are rarely won on the strength of your solution alone.” But that’s not to say that agencies don’t have brilliant individuals, but pitching is a team sport.

“Pick your team members wisely based on their trust and support for each other.”

Consider you process and stick to it

Agencies like to pretend they are always in control, says Webb. However, just like with clients, they’re not.

“Never is this more apparent than during a pitch minus a strictly managed, pre-defined process. If you ever find yourself thinking, ‘we’re all over the place’ as the pitch date looms, consider your process. Who is the team? What are the roles? Who is responsible for what? Have a plan from the start and, most importantly, stick to it.”

A pitch is “the perfect breeding ground” for strong willed individuals who bend everyone to their will even if that means “breaking the plan and disregarding the input of the experts paid to provide it.”

Webb added that the best thing to do here is to bring in a firm but fair individual, who is independent from the pitch work, to take a helicopter view of proceedings. “They can put the train back on the rails if it starts to come off.”

Not having the opportunities in the first place

You’ve got to be in it to win it, says Hunt. Market your agency relevantly to your prospects and make sure you’ve been spotted on their radar and consideration lists to begin with.

Start close to home and do a little house cleaning. Hunt adds, “Does your website truly reflect your capabilities, proposition and ethos? What sort of thought leadership are you putting out into the universe? Is it tailored to showcase business problems you know how to solve? How do you stand out in a cluttered landscape and become both memorable and relevant?

“Any marketing strategy needs to have growth as one of its core objectives with activity from PR to events and thought leadership continuously stimulating conversation with prospective clients.”

Hunt and Webb are both speakers at The Drum’s Pitch Perfect, an event which focuses on helping agencies win new business. Check out the website for more information and to purchase tickets for the one day event, Wednesday 13 September.

​Sponsors of the event are BD100 and Digitas.

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