Tough Truths To Help Drive Growth

The easing of lockdown restrictions is acting as a spur to the economy and brands are becoming more confident in increasing ad budgets. Recent figures from the Ad Association/WARC predict that the UK ad market is set to grow by more than 15% this year compared with a 7.2% decline last year and even Sir Martin Sorrell is “extremely optimistic” about the economic recovery.

Propeller Group’s recent Tough Truths panel at the Winning Together event brought together consultants and brands to discuss how to position for growth, what has been learned over the past year of upheaval and tips on the dos and don’ts for new business in the future.

The panel included James Taylor, Global Procurement Director, Media, Digital & Consumer Planning at Diageo, Zoe Trimble, Head of Marketing at Lucozade Ribena Suntory and Martin Jones, Managing Partner at intermediary the AAR. It was chaired by Propeller Director of Content Branwell Johnson.

Getting on the radar

It’s a reality check to realise most marketers only take a real interest in agencies when the review process sparks into life. As Martin pointed out, it’s rather like buying a new car, you are intensely interested in the market for a short space of time.

Sources of information for clients to stay informed can include peer recommendations, the trade press or analysts such as Gartner or Forrester. This reinforces the need for the agency to have a steady drumbeat of content and activity to maintain profile.

But there is a new cohort to keep aware of your agency brand now. Procurement is becoming more the ‘window’ onto the marketplace for brands and James said: “It’s a key part of our role to know the marketplace. At the end of the day, we can only buy from a marketplace we know and understand.”

“We want to feel like we know that marketplace way before our brand marketing colleagues start talking about reviews and pitches. And from a Diageo perspective, we want to be in the conversation with marketing right at the start.”

Thought leadership that illustrates innovation, strategic thinking and a point of difference between agencies can also cut through with LinkedIn now a valuable channel. James said: “Pulling out some of the new thinking is the important bit, as opposed to new people” while Zoe pointed out thought leadership “seeds the agency in the back of my mind” for when she might need to consider her requirements.

A generic approach to cold approaches won’t work, you need to find a way to add value to stand out. “It can be tough getting on the radar. I don’t engage with cold calls – I get 20–30 emails a day. If someone says I have this great idea for Lucozade … sharing that knowledge can help.”

Post-pandemic pitch practice

The pitch process has been disrupted by the pandemic and for many, this has been a virtual experience. Marketers are excited by the prospect of face-to-face pitches once again and Martin stressed the need to bring a little ‘pizzazz’ back into the presentations – and to keep something for ‘a big reveal’.

However, the panel said that some elements of the process will now stay virtual. The chemistry meeting and the pitch itself may be face to face but “not every conversation will be face to face” and the more routine work contributing to a pitch will be done remotely.

Martin highlighted the importance of ‘casting’ in this blended world and pointed out there is “nowhere to hide” on Zoom; it soon becomes apparent if someone is in the virtual room with nothing to say. Teams may bring along an agency colleague for a specific reason at a physical meeting but this does not work on video platforms.

He also pointed out that the chemistry between agency teams pitching online can be revealing if they have not had the chance to bond as a team. This may carry over into real world presentations and agencies had to “get back into the rhythm of pitching activity … as a team.”

Zoe stressed that the importance of people and culture is always paramount, together with “a passion for the brand – don’t underestimate that. We want to see people who really want to work on our business.”

One final crucial tip from Martin for agencies large and small was to talk about the client benefits, not agency features. From a marketer’s point of view “seeing work for other clients is like being shown photos of other people’s children – they are lovely, I don’t just care about them half as much as you do.”

Diversity is a deliverable

The panel confirmed the recent focus brands and procurement are placing on diversity within agencies. Intermediaries are being asked to pull together lists of agencies with strong D&I creds and James warned that agencies should not think the pitch line-up alone will do the job: “It’s not difficult to delve down a couple of layers and into other parts of the business – we want to see the direction of travel and leadership involvement to change cultures and HR processes. Diversity can’t be a front. It’s a real deliverable.”

“We fully believe that the people who work in our organisation should be a replication of the consumer base targeting, which is broad and wide. Diversity is not a superficial ask.”

Martin said that some leeway was given, as it’s not possible for an agency to change its composition overnight, but it was very important to know what the plans are to encourage diversity in the agency.


After the pitch comes the negotiation and James was adamant that procurement is not there just to drive the price down (though price remains important) and Diageo does recognise the value all agencies bring. “We are looking at how is this [agency solution] going to improve our efficiencies as a business, our structure, our way of thinking, speed to market and understanding of our consumers. All this has value.”

He added: “Use your procurement guys as enablers. There are no separate procurement objectives and my team only wins if our brands win. We can be friends to new business.”

Zoe stressed that marketers looked at value and “a lower price can sometimes signal lower value. Be truthful and realistic from price point of view.”

Martin added that he has never found price to get in the way of an appointment: “[As a marketer] you go with the people you want to work with, and then you do the best deal you can with them.”

New business teams with the right skills, structures and processes in place and backed with the support of the whole agency are primed to take advantage of emerging opportunities. PR and content are increasingly important to help you stay top of mind with a range of roles in the times between agency reviews – and make sure you are staying relevant and adding real value at every step of the new business process. Click here to watch the full recording of Tough Truths and get in touch if you’d like help with your own approach.