How top agencies Huge, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, BBDO and McGarry Bowen tackle new business


By Diane Young | Co-founder

June 24, 2013 | 8 min read

Recommended Agency Register director Diane Young continues her series of reports from the Mirren Conference in New York, where the new business directors of Huge, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, BBDO and McGarry Bowen came together to discuss the shifting sands of new business within agencies.

RAR director Diane Young

The panel consisted of Simon Bond (chief marketing officer of BBDO), Brandon Cooke (managing director of business development at McGarry Bowen), Jessica Lewis (director of business development at CP+B) and Chris Hayes (managing director of business development at Huge). It was chaired by Brent Hodgins of Mirren.

Right away it was clear that seismic shifts are being experienced. Cooke observed that pitches are now much more likely to be quick and dirty than formal, but that more often the CMO will come in and run the pitch personally. Bond has seen a diminution of leads coming in traditional ways, while Lewis is finding that clients are choosing agencies for projects and using this as a testing ground to replace the pitch process. This represents a threat for larger agencies and an opportunity for smaller ones, who are more willing to take on small projects for big clients to add weight to their showreels.

Cooke has also sensed that clients seem more likely to seek multiple opinions and so rosters are becoming more common. Hayes has seen an increase in integrated pitches, but does feel that digital has now properly got the attention of the C-suite and now has a seat at the table.

Bond reported that agency appointments are being made but because of the speed at which changes are being made, the pitch process is often omitted. This magnifies the importance of relationships.

The conversation turned to how life is changing for NBDs, with a consensus that the new business role is becoming more of a marketing role.

The production of content for marketing purposes is one of the new roles. The four participants disagreed on the value of some content marketing, specifically white papers. Neither CP+B or McGarry Bowen had ever had hot leads coming from white papers. The former felt that it was better to focus on their work and their results and relevant case studies, while McGarry Bowen was more likely to spend time producing research and information that was specifically for a client target.

BBDO on the other hand claimed to have success at getting meetings from 99 per cent of their whitepaper activity. What was the difference? They produce one paper per office per month, to ensure variety. They find champions in different topics. The client account teams are then responsible for personalising these papers for their clients, making them highly relevant and personal. The papers are passed to the clients by the account teams, making them into a gift of knowledge and insight.

Huge have taken a different approach again, having hired two full-time writers to produce content for clients and for the agency.

The group then moved on to discuss how NBD people should manage their bosses in order to make sure that their tenure was longer than most NBDs.

Bond from BBDO (rather ironically given the discussion of short tenures) compared the role to being like a football manager, putting together a team of stars to win. Then communication with management and others in the agency is key. Where there is a sense of shared wins and losses, then there was less blame. An inherent culture of growth was also mentioned where every creative and account person is tasked with working out how they can grow their business by 15 per cent.

Lewis felt that it was important that the NBD person interviews the agency when considering a post. For instance she described how she removed herself from a recruitment process when the agency stated that they would not share case studies ‘due to confidentiality’ – she feels it is impossible to sell in that situation. She also feels that new business is a team effort. Giving weekly updates of prospects, incoming and other leads means that performance is not just being judged on wins.

Cooke felt strongly that for success, the NBD must have a seat at the management table.

When asked what a NBD should conquer early in the role, Lewis had one answer – win! To help do this, identify the gold within the agency, the people who can get the agency back on the up. Hayes added that finding people who are really good at chemistry within the agency will help with early success. He also mentioned that a big part of the role is keeping certain people away from the new business process.

So what would they look for in recruiting a new business person?

Cooke said that he would look for a collaborator, with strategic abilities and a creative mind, but pointed out that this is really hard to find. He advised asking strategic questions at interview and for examples of collaborative working.

Bond seeks relentless passion and energy, because the role involves crazy hours. Tough skin is also a must because although losing sucks, it does happen.

Hayes wants new biz people who really are committed to new business and don’t just see it as a stepping stone to another role. Cameleon-like capabilities are also valuable because of the need to change between different industries. A quick learner, with patience and persistence is desirable.

Lewis believes that there are some people who are meant for the role and the other panellists agreed. They’ve got commitment and they can close. She’d look for someone who demonstrated this by closing the interview.

When probed about what new business tools they favour, there was a surprising leaning away from new-tech solutions, aside from the use of Google and LinkedIn.

BBDO said their best tool for prospecting is the phone. They focussed on making new relationships. They use LinkedIn and other social tools to find out what their prospects like, what they read, how they live their life.

Huge also took a fairly low-tech approach, using a spreadsheet of prospects and a set time each day to make calls. They also had what they called a ‘director of intelligence’ – someone who makes it their business to know what CMOs are moving, what clients are unhappy.

McGarry Bowen was also keen on research, to the point where they outsource this for new business. The writers they have on retainer might, for example, be asked to do a profile on the beer category, identifying trends and news in the sector. They also make sure that they know where their clients are attending events, whether that be Cannes or a beer convention. Even if there are no direct leads, they see the client’s world and gain knowledge that will help them to form a relationship.

In terms of what they see as the biggest potential inhibitors of growth over the next 12-24 months, McGarry Bowen cited uncertainty in the C-suite which agencies can help with by offering confident suggestions, sold with conviction and the close study of the client business. Huge identified the biggest challenge as getting talent within the agency. BBDO mentioned clients’ lack of time for pitches, meaning that agencies are picked just because they are known to the client.

Overall, NBDs are experiencing much more immersion in their agency brands and are clear that relationships and providing relevant insight to client prospects are key to the future.

Also in the Mirren series:

The disintegration of integration - and five other observations about how agency models are changing

How to create explosive growth in an agency during a recession

Bad clients get bad work: Here's what good ones want from their agencies


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