If new business wants more respect, it needs to become more proactive

"The industry's definition of ‘new business’ wasn’t really what I regarded as new business"

There’s recently been discussion that the industry needs to support its new business managers more. As one myself it’s no surprise that I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment: new business for any industry has a direct impact on a company’s growth, and there is nothing more important than this both culturally and financially.

However, I can’t help feeling like the role of new business has potentially lost its stature because we, as new business professionals, have let it happen.

I have only been working in the advertising industry for a few years – before I joined ad-land I worked in various 'hard sales' roles. And as an outsider looking into the industry, its definition of new business wasn’t really what I regarded as new business.

To me, new business has always leaned more towards a sales role than anything else. It has always been about developing narratives to persuade your target market that your product or service is the hand-in-glove fit for them and the answer to all their challenges. It is the proactive searching of the market to find clients that will benefit from your offering and then once you find them, building that relationship with them.

The admin has always come second for me. Don’t get me wrong, what comes after the initial contact is still absolutely critical to successful new business. But the hierarchy should always be proactive first, reactive second.

This is how it works in most new business roles, so why should it be different in advertising?

I think perhaps that new business departments or individuals have let their role become devalued. In far too many cases, the person responsible for new business in an agency is seen as the person who expertly answers the incoming RFIs or puts together the credentials document before an important client pitch or meeting. This isn’t new business; it is inbound admin at best.

The concept of waiting for briefs to come in is something that really grinds with me. In years gone by, the bigger, more established agencies have had the luxury of RFI after RFI landing in their inbox.

However, with the changing media landscape – as well as more and more clients looking to a wider range of agencies – this luxury is likely to become a rarity. Agencies can no longer afford to have their new business teams or individuals as in-bound sales or admin people.

The process of building relationships and actively trying to speak with prospects has become a lost art within the advertising industry.

‘Content is king’ is something that you hear at every new business breakfast, seminar and networking event. Yes, it absolutely is, but what is more important is what you do with that content. Posting content on your website or social channels is the easy part, but if we are honest it requires little effort.

Proactively shoving that content under the nose of your number one new business target in an engaging way is much harder. It can be easy to shy away from the harder work when it has become accepted wisdom that new business is more inbound then outbound.

If we want new business to be truly considered at the top table as a key cog in the machine – if we want our voices to be heard – then new business needs to stick its neck out. It needs to fight really hard to become a respected part of an agency’s makeup again – not by answering RFIs, building decks and getting good coverage in the trade press but by becoming more proactive, more outward facing and – essentially – more like sales.

It needs to take responsibility for driving the agency forward and making sure that every single person in the building comes on that journey.

Only then will us new business managers get our voice, one hustle at a time.

Jack Williams is head of new business at Atomic London

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