The BD Sessions: insights, inspiration and empathy

Upfront, part of the Propeller Group, and The BD100 have successfully launched has successfully launched The BD Sessions – an interactive virtual meet up for those involved in generating new business to share insights and encouragement in this challenging time – and to have some fun in the process. 

With three guest speakers and held together by quick-thinking link man Alister Heywood (or Ali Woods under his stand-up comedy nom-de-plume), the inaugural session attracted dozens of BD practitioners 

The speakers – Charlie Martyn, head of New Business at Wunderman-Thompson, Cat Hartland, Head of The Drum Recommends and Dave Currie, CEO of Winmo and agency search consultancy AAR Partners – gave hints and tips and advice about tackling morale, the appropriate strategy for business development right now and what sectors are offering opportunities for potential business conversations. 

Serve Don’t Sell

The overriding message was ‘serve don’t sell’ – this is not a time for the hard sell but rather to show you can add value and support without expectation of an immediate brief.

Advice for keeping the team cohesive and alert to opportunity from Charlie included maintaining  a good dose of positivity. The BD team is often seen as the source of news and excitement within the agency so find what nuggets you can to keep people upbeat across the board – whether it’s about clients and their successes or light-hearted memes and gifs.

At the same time the agency must present its best face to the wider world, so BD and marketing need to work together to come up with ways to show the agency has a strong culture, is resilient and innovative.

“What you say isn’t enough. It’s what you do that builds a culture of positivity”, said Charlie.

Positivity can translate into real benefits, according to the theory that those with an upbeat mindset are better at spotting opportunity; their ‘peripheral vision’ is more developed and they can identify potential in the most unlikely ways.

Relationship Building

In terms of relationship-building there are opportunities to strengthen ties and make new connections that should deliver in the longer term. The importance of building trust and maintaining share of voice was underlined by Dave who said: “Your competitors are either going to hunker down or are going to pivot and be deliberate and strategic.”

Cat pointed out that current clients will need all the help you can provide and your support will give long-term payback:“Your clients will remember how you treated them during this time.”

Clients often still don’t know the full breadth of an agency’s capabilities and so now it a good time to remind them of all the things you can do. Many are switching their budgets and creative execution into digital formats and they’ll need assistance. But lay out how you can help without it becoming a hard-nosed upsell conversation, stressed Cat.

Charlie added that one of the best things an agency can do right now is “help their clients not be tone deaf.” Some brands are making missteps in their messaging or the way they are delivering those messages. If you can bring some crisis-comms advice to the table, you will be invaluable.

The current pandemic means that business strategy has to be “a long-term play” said Dave and agencies need to set up expectations with Managing Directors and Chief marketing Officers, who in many cases are becoming Chief Growth Officers  “with a broader view of what their business needs.”

Where to find business and how to win it

Live briefs are still coming through and according to recent research from The Drum Recommends, 80% of conversations are still taking place directly with agencies (rather than through intermediaries or procurement). Pitches are still taking place and both clients and agencies are having to adjust to how this is done virtually – for instance, for those on the creative agency side the element of ‘pitch theatre’ is harder to deliver.

Cat said that the focus “should be on supplying the information prospects want to know.” Prepare the case studies and use the conversations to show the way you work and your processes in ‘the new normal’ to your best advantage.

Dave brought some granular insights based on very recent market data. 

Looking over categories, he said that some retailers were doing well and upping spend with marketing budget going into social media, sponsored posts, podcast sponsorships and other channels. Sub-categories showing spikes in ad spend include Home Improvement, Gaming, Health & Fitness, Home Office equipment, Consumer Electronics and many more.The players in these categories are now in a fierce battle for share of voice.

Online services from counselling to personal finance advice are also ramping up and looking for assistance in moving from a  ‘freemium’ model where the lower tier of capability is free into subscription-based models. This can include developing tone of voice to practical UX design skills.

CPG challenger brands are also finding they are being trialled in greater volume than ever as they become substitutes in people’s grocery baskets for brands that are in short supply. Their  challenge is to find ways of keeping hold of the customer so it’s not a one-off sale.

Remember we’re human

Finally, the speakers agreed that recent weeks has taught everyone – if they needed reminding – that we are all human, clients and agencies alike. People have a lot more to deal with now they are trying to work from the home environment and businesses are under huge pressure, so kindness and empathy should be the order of the day.

The next BD Sessions is scheduled for April 23rd with a speaker line up and topic to be announced. The format will be lively, interactive  and keep you on your toes, so make sure you are there to help keep the BD community flourishing.