Stefan Bradley, Research, Insight and Operations Director at The Art of New Business brings us another fascinating write-up, this time of his own event.

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Ian Priest highlighted the need for adaptation in his keynote presentation on Tuesday and it’s true, times they are a-changing. Agencies are adapting their business models and diversifying their service offerings to become more agile. So you’d think that the same would apply to the way they go about winning new business wouldn’t you? Not according to the research we (The Art of New Business) carried out this year.

It was the 4th event from Good Pitch Week and we were up. Sarah Bradley presented the findings of our 2013 UK client and Global agency research before leading a (very lively) panel debate. Emma Harris, former Director of Sales and Marketing at Eurostar; Steph Brimacombe, Group Marketing Director at VCCP; Zaid Al-Qassab, Managing Director of P&G Beauty and Richard Robinson, Managing Partner at Oystercatchers were our special guests and, with help from an eagerly vocal audience, we discussed the issue of whether agencies practice what they preach when it comes to marketing themselves.

 

Frustrated clients

Our client research, carried out in association with The Marketing Academy, asked senior clients from companies including Kimberly-Clark, GSK, BP Castrol, Adidas, Mondelez International and Phones 4U to share with us their feelings regarding agency new business tactics. Chief amongst the results was the frustration of being bombarded with up to 20 unsolicited agency approaches every day.

Clients need to be able to trust agencies to deliver; they want to see that they can address the specific business problems that keep them awake at night. The generic, mass-mailer style cold approach that many agencies seem to favour fails to deliver on both of these counts.

This avalanche of communication isn’t limited to telephone and email either. Professional networking sites like LinkedIn are becoming devalued, such is the volume of approaches clients receive. This avenue is rapidly becoming the new ‘cold call’ and clients told us they’re considering locking accounts to get respite from the onslaught.

The panel agreed. Zaid commented he never responds to cold approaches from agencies unless they’re recommended by his contacts; the expensive mailers that land on his desk either go in the bin or get given to his children to play with.

So if the feeling of frustration in clients is so prolific and we know how clients think agencies should be approaching business development, how do agencies measure up? Our global agency new business attitudes survey (in association with Worldwide Partners, the world’s biggest network of owner operated agencies) revealed some interesting perspectives:

Award winning?

Over 60% of agencies we spoke to cited boosting their profile through tactics like PR and winning awards as an important new business tactic. This is an interesting one for us as we’ve always had feedback from clients that they are a bit sceptical of the value of awards (particularly the self-congratulatory, ego boosting, excuse-for-a-piss-up type our industry seems so fond of). The panel agreed. What does make a client sit up and take notice, however, are awards related to the performance of specific campaigns as they demonstrate the agency’s thinking and approach to business challenges.

 

Email

Over half the agencies we polled said they use email as a new business tool, despite the fact that less than 10% found it effective. That said, email was still reportedly far more successful than telephone and direct mail, which only around 1 in 20 said was working for them (no surprise given what clients told us).

 

Love and Understanding

Unsurprisingly, our research found recommendations and word of mouth were by far the most important source of new business for agencies. This point more than any other stimulated another healthy debate between the audience and the panel.

It’s been a common theme throughout Good Pitch Week: relationships are an agency’s most important currency. Trust is the most important factor when choosing a supplier – build amazing relationships with your clients and they’ll happily recommend you to their peers.

 

Shared Responsibility

Everyone at an agency has a responsibility for building and maintaining excellent relationships with clients and prospects at every touch point, no matter how difficult the situation might be. There was no shortage of input as panellists and audience members shared stories of outgoing agencies downing tools during transition periods and of agencies throwing their toys out the pram after losing a pitch (obviously forgetting that marketing directors like to talk to each and tend to change roles every couple of years).

Another recurring story was that of some agency MDs not trusting the expertise of their new business people; the MD wouldn’t try and tell their planning director how to do their job, but for some reason, when it comes to business development, everyone seems to have an opinion.

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Practice what you preach

Our session didn’t reveal any radical new ideas – there was no gasping in shock as panellists aired their frustrations, though there was a constant stream of positive debate (so much so we had to get the panellists up on stage early and run an interactive session that could have lasted all day). Judging by the charged atmosphere and passion of the audience, the issue of winning new business is obviously one these guys care about. A lot.

So why is it that agencies don’t always practice what they preach?

In our opinion a huge responsibility lies with agency management to ensure that the new business director is given the time, support and investment they need to take a long term approach. Good business development is all about consistency, intelligence, patience and using a ‘little and often’ approach.

If you’re in the business of marketing, the most important business to market is your own. You need a firm understanding of who you are, what you stand for and what your ‘why?’ is. Invest in building quality relationships and play the ‘long game’ because tacit acceptance in this industry that ‘the cobbler’s children have the worst shoes’ is no longer okay.

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