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Which new business opportunities did agencies pursue in 2020?

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Ellen Quin

Over the course of last year agencies in the UK took advantage of the pandemic freeze to re-evaluate their core priorities. That in turn led many agencies to turn their attention to their new business procurement practices, both in terms of number and the size of the accounts for which they bid.

According to JFDI and Opinium New Business Barometer 2020, agencies outperformed expectations when it came chasing down new business. At the same time, the overall cooling effect of lockdowns and decreased brand spend meant that some opportunities were deferred or reawarded to incumbents. What the research demonstrates, though, is that filling the pipeline is a priority for agencies of all sizes.

Key findings

Most agencies have taken a haircut when it comes to their forecast for the next few months. Large and medium agency revenue targets fell 46% to £2.21m, and small agency fell 19% to £1.07m overall. As a result, medium and large agencies had a dual focus on filling pipelines and converting more pitches (54% and 36% respectively), while small agencies were more likely to focus on filling pipelines (76%).

Due to the cooling effect on budgets, that meant that while agencies were pursuing more opportunities than in the previous year, the average value of those opportunities decreased. Medium and large agencies pursued 48 opportunities on average, while small agencies went for 24. The average total value of opportunities was £5.18m for medium and large agencies, down 8%, and £1.25m for small agencies, down 23%.

Unsurprisingly, a withdrawn budget was cited as the most common reason for agencies not winning new business pitches. 34% of the surveyed agencies noted that was the case, while 22% said they were rarely given detailed reasons.

Virtual reality

Predictably given the rapid shift to virtual pitching, gaining clients’ attention and building upon a relationship were the biggest challenges encountered by agencies over the course of the year. 43% of respondents said that getting the attention of a client was difficult, while 39% said they found it difficult to then turn that attention into a pitch. Once invited to pitch, building chemistry with client pitch teams (47%) was by far the biggest difficulty encountered at this stage.

It does seem, however, that agencies in general rapidly adjusted to remote pitches, and many would prefer to see a hybrid model maintained in the future.

Of the results, Mark Clark, managing director of JFDI, said: “Our research has found that despite the challenges arising from the pandemic, UK agencies came out fighting for new business during the year. Regardless of size, all agencies pursued more opportunities, with medium-sized agencies doubling marketing spend and larger agencies re-deploying available capacity to work on a greater volume of pitches.

“There are two conflicting, client-driven forces that agencies will have to contend with in 2021 – the forces of retention and the forces of review, the turbulence from which will make the new business market more difficult and dangerous to navigate.”

Josh Glendinning, associate director at Opinium, said: “As an agency ourselves and one that serves many others in the marketing and communications space, we know how difficult and unpredictable the past year has been. However, one of the greatest strengths of UK creative industries has always been an ability to adapt and thrive in changing and challenging situations.

“This year’s barometer gives a real sense of how agencies have not only survived, but often also thrived in this environment. Many may look back and view changes made during the turmoil of the past 12 months as having been pivotal to their growth and the prosperity of the wider industry.”

For more information or to get more in-depth results from JFDI and Opinium New Business Barometer 2020, please reach out to mark@jfdi.uk.com.

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