New Business Clangers

Last week I saw an economic forecast from Citibank which was quite depressing. The gloom and doom in the general business press strongly suggests 2012 is going to be challenging. Therefore in the current climate I have assumed every business in the wider advertising world would be on red alert for any new business opportunity. However I’m helping one client at the moment search for appropriate agency partners and it has been, at times, jaw dropping in terms of response and reaction.

Before going in to the clangers I have to say for the record some agencies were excellent and handled the process with a professional and positive approach. However for the benefit of CEO’s of agencies here are some remarkable experiences – and I target CEO’s because they need to be fully in the loop of how their agency handles initial new business enquiries.

  • Getting past the front desk

In some instances I called the main number of the agency and asked the receptionist for someone who could talk to me about a new business enquiry. Several times nothing happened because the person who answered the call didn’t know what to do – amazing. They were not included in the long list.

  • Keeping the website up to date.

In two cases I found the new business name on the agency website. In one case I was told the person no longer worked there and in another the person was on holiday. In neither case was no one else was offered up. How about the boss? Bad feeling that they couldn’t keep their website up to date.

  • Don’t talk about yourself.

I found people fell in to two broad camps; those that wanted to talk about the client and those that wanted to talk about themselves. In one case we were told the agency was very busy on a major pitch (one we must have read about in the trade press which of course we hadn’t) which was of absolutely no relevance to us. In the main the big networks want to talk about scale, this is only relevant if the client wants it which was not a priority for us.

  • A bit of homework

I positioned our first meetings as just a chat over a coffee which some people were a bit too literal in their take out. It would have been the easiest task to check out this client and their business – their website is the major source of transactions – but several people we met had not even looked let alone draw any conclusions. I found this staggering and downright laziness or maybe arrogance.

  • How about a bit of follow up?

During the course of our sessions the agencies we met were given quite of lot of insight in to the plans and issues relating to the client. I would have thought quite thought provoking and genuinely very interesting but over 50% of the people we met did not follow up; even with a ‘good to meet you’ note. How about ‘what more can we provide you with?’ or ‘our CEO would love to meet you’ or ‘We don’t have a client in your sector and we would love to continue the conversation’. Ziltch, radio silence.

I have been tempted to drop a note to the CEO’s of the poor performers but decided against it. In the end I felt it isn’t my job to tell them how to run their business.

First impressions are vital to get right because it is very true how they influence decision making. Only one agency had briefed reception we were arriving and in their case they were just on the ball from the moment we walked in. They just continued to impress all the way through to leaving and it all felt genuine, not a show. They stood out head and shoulders above the others, they were the most memorable and the most ‘liked’

I have been in literally hundreds of stage 1 meetings with prospective clients and I’ve always asked myself ‘what will they remember the next day?’ We forget that a client on a search might see 3/4 agencies in a day and the next day it is all a blur. The team will recall simple points. When it gets to pitches the same question is even more important. There are some great stories of how agencies have achieved the memorable moment. One story was the old British Rail client going to the final agency pitch and the senior client team were left waiting in reception, ignored, given bad coffee from chipped cups. When they were almost ready to walk out they were asked in to the board room and the opening line from the agency was ‘you have just experienced what British Rail customers experience every day!’. Magic.

We pitched for the European launch of PlayStation in the mid 90’s and we came to the conclusion none of us could do justice to the creative proposals as they required performing. Days before the pitch we asked Hugh Dennis in to the agency and explained what we were trying to do. He played the part of the main protagonist in the campaign idea on the day. When he appeared the client team were open mouthed and were entertained for an hour as he delivered the scripts in character. It was one of those moments people never forget and we won the account.

M&C Saatchi have a reputation of taking no prisoners, in particular with new business. I know some of the key players quite well and it is clear they throw everything at the whole process; the belief is it is there to be lost by making mistakes on the way though. Pitches are often won before the pitch itself.

In today’s Evening Standard (11/01/12) there is an article about called ‘How ad land got its mojo back in Soho’ and features six new’ish agencies doing well in a tough world. The point being made is new is good and attractive, most importantly their future is about taking share from other players. There isn’t any growth in 2012 according to the economic forecasts so share is the only path to growth. The commonality is freshness and energy and of course talent. Tough times require fresh thinking and energy; and I bet these agencies have it in truck loads.

Returning to my recent experiences I have been really surprised at some of the sloppy, dis-interested reaction to a £5m carrot and interestingly the one that stood out mentioned above was independent, young and so energetic I was exhausted after the meeting. CEO’s please take note!

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