Tough Truths for Agency New Business

Leading agency new business is a challenge at the best of times and under pandemic conditions it’s been even tougher. Advice from client-side can be incredibly valuable in honing your prospecting strategies and avoiding pitfalls.

With this in mind, Propeller’s Tough Truths session at the recent Winning Together conference for BD assembled representatives from procurement, brand marketing and an agency-client consultancy for a frank discussion on ways agencies can help themselves and improve their chances of converting new business.

Watch the panel in full here.

The panel included Stephanie Bell, Executive Director, Procurement, Global Marketing Services & Transformation at Avon; Angus Crowther, Founding Partner and Client Services lead at marketing advisory partner Alchemists, and Emma Martell, Head of Social Content at Avanti (previously Virgin Trains). The session was moderated by Propeller Group’s Director of Content Branwell Johnson.

How clients collate a shortlist

Collation depends on what the client is looking for and the pandemic has meant there’s less long-term thinking at work, according to Stephanie. “It’s now more short-term. It’s about getting results quickly and really fast responses from agencies and responses that fit with all the other business changes that are happening across a company.”

“I tend to go and look at the work, the client portfolio and reach out quietly to another of their clients to find out what’s not on the [agency] deck.”

Angus added that there’s  an awful lot of consolidation of agency rosters  and clients want those that they do employ to work more effectively together. “Clients are not looking for one discipline so much anymore – they need help with brand strategy, defining their proposition, comms and linking this to ecommerce. Agencies have to be able to do more and in less time.”

Emma stressed. “I have to see that spark and how they tackle a brief in an original way.”

She and Steph agreed that media profile “definitely has an impact” but so does thought leadership that is genuinely fresh and engaging. 

Staff retention was also flagged by Emma, who said: “If people don’t seem happy at the agency I know I won’t get great work.” 

Other factors are less important.  The traditional agency ‘sizzle reel’ is not regarded as very helpful as it “doesn’t say that much or feel like a personalised approach.” The relevance of awards varies depending on the kind of award. Those that demonstrate effectiveness are useful but the panel said they were well aware some agencies do not make awards a focus, so individual creds are much more important.

How to kick off a conversation

The importance of high-calibre thought leadership on LinkedIn that provokes, challenges and comes at things from a different angle was highlighted as a way to start attracting interest. If a prospect engages with content then the LinkedIn algorithm surfaces more content from the agency for that person. But Steph warned “I don’t want two minute reads that repeat what everyone else is saying.”

She said she liked the tactic whereby an agency posts content and tags senior prospects with a call to action asking ‘what’s your point of view?”. She points out that seeing your own name associated with peers can draw you in. “It feels like they are putting their arms around you and saying ‘you’re my kind of people’”.

Emma said: “When approaching people you need to show quite quickly how you can add value to that person. I’ve been offered free creative workshops, but you don’t know how good going it’s to be until you’ve done it and that’s an hour of your life you’re not getting back.”

Angus added: “Cold approaches can be deeply irritating if done badly or clumsily … to be constantly bombarded really has a negative effect and people need to be respectful of [the client’s] time. It’s more useful to get in touch with thought leadership or an interesting point of view, it’s more charming and subtle.”

How to build a relationship with procurement

When procurement enters new business conversations and the pitch process differs depending on the company organisation but Steph says “the sooner the better is the ideal situation.”

She stressed that this is so procurement can have a deeper knowledge of the agency and the value they bring and pointed out that establishing relationships across an organisation and getting the buy-in of more people will make a deal that is much easier to close. Agencies should not become defensive or aggressive when procurement enters the picture, although Steph says she has seen less of this attitude in recent years.

Angus said that it’s not sensible to treat procurement any different to the marketing team – Alchemists co-founder Vlad Komanicky has a procurement background and his advice is to keep procurement involved in exactly the same conversations throughout the process and on an equal footing. 

Emma added that as procurement has so much experience it’s foolish not to involve them and she looks to them for advice “especially around any red flags that are not so obvious to us.”

How to keep in touch if you don’t win the business

Agencies should stay in contact even if they don’t win the business – as the panel points out there is a reason they were invited on to the pitch – but they must realise the marketer needs to put all their time, energy and focus into helping the agency they have chosen succeed. Steph’s advice to marketers is: “Don’t make empty promises and offer a ‘maybe in three months or six months’.”

Angus warned that poor behaviour if you lose a pitch will be held against you. “It means a lot how agencies take good or bad news – some have behaved so badly we’ve been reluctant to get them on the next pitch. There will be another opportunity and if an agency has come very close and done their best, they will get another shot [on another pitch].”

Tough Truths Top Takeaways

  • Fresh, challenging thought leadership on LinkedIn can work in building connections
  • Sizzle reels are no longer required
  • The best approaches show how you can add value – suggest a solution to a client problem, even if it’s just a few sentences
  • Keep procurement in the same conversations you are having with marketing
  • Take losing gracefully – how you act will be remembered 

If you need help starting conversations with your target clients and get noticed for the right reasons, then get in touch to find out how we can help.