How would you define your role, is it simply about bringing new clients into the agency or is it more nuanced? Please tell us about your responsibilities.
I shifted into my role as EVP Business Development, North America, for RAPP at the end of 2020, having previously led client partnerships for an Omnicom sister agency. I’m responsible for building relationships that drive growth potential for our offices in the United States, and for stewarding our process for successfully converting new opportunities. That means that I spend a fair amount of my time connecting with leaders across Omnicom, looking for ways that RAPP might bring value to existing clients and/or in partnering to go after something new. It’s also important for me to establish, maintain and grow our relationship with agency search consultants and industry influencers. So much of our business is truly relationship-oriented. It’s critical for us to stay connected and top-of-mind, and to demonstrate our expertise and trustworthiness.
Where does most new business come from, where does the process tend to begin?
For RAPP, our new business comes from a variety of sources, including directly from consultants or brand procurement teams who are driving a pitch, or from within Omnicom as we form interagency teams to work on an opportunity together. The process usually begins with a formal RFI/RFP from a consultant or brand, an introduction to an existing client via a partner agency, or simply a conversation that evolves over time with the marketers and influencers we’re connected to across the industry.
It seems that many clients are moving towards project work rather than the old AOR model. How, if at all, has that changed how you approach a pitch?
There is an undeniable shift toward project-or pilot-based opportunities. With an ever-increasing drive toward marketing performance and measurable outcomes, brands have doubled down on seeking the right specialists for the job at-hand and are less confident that one agency can do all things. This has impacted not only the pitch process but also how agencies position themselves. It means we all need to be very honest about what we do best – and what’s not in our sweet spot. We must resist the temptation of saying that we can be all things to all brands, instead of expressing why we’re the absolute best choice for this particular assignment. And we need to be honest when we’re not the right agency for the work. Clients appreciate the transparency and may be even more likely to invite you to future pitches when you demonstrate they can trust you. Of course, once you win, the door is as open as it’s ever been to prove your value and drive organic growth by solving other business problems for your clients. But you first have to prove that you can solve the problem you’re given, that you’re willing to collaborate well with other partners, and that everyone involved can trust you.
In your opinion, what are the key things a client looks for in a pitch presentation, aside from the work?
Chemistry. We’ve all heard the adage, “clients buy the people, not the work,” and we see that time and time again. I think this has become even more important as a result of the pandemic. We’re seeing brands conducting chemistry sessions much earlier in the process and I think that’s been helpful in a time when being in the room together hasn’t been possible. The work is always hard enough – getting along shouldn’t be. I appreciate how brands seem to be placing increased value on personal relationships.
Price continues to be a major factor, too. Budgets are harder to come by and brands are still trying to do more with less. That’s never going to change. And because dollars are stretched thin, clients need to prove the performance of their efforts more than ever. Without a well-articulated plan for how you’re going to continually measure and optimize performance, you don’t stand a chance. Clients don’t have time for creative ideas that don’t directly drive business outcomes.
How did you adapt your process during COVID? Were there any advantages that emerged?
We all learned how to pitch virtually during the pandemic and there’s been a great sense of mutual tolerance for the inevitable technical challenges that come with that. Pitching virtually has improved the pitch product in some ways. The ability to have notes on screen has taken some of the pressure out of having to memorize lines. Clients don’t grade us for rote memorization – they grade the quality of the thinking and want to connect with the people they’ll be working with. I believe having access to visual aids and prompters has yielded better articulation in many cases. The ability to share private notes with the team, in real-time, has helped ensure key points are reinforced and that we hear and respond to what clients are saying or asking.
What are your predictions for agency growth in 2021, where do you see opportunity?
We expect to see the same growth trends occurring through 2021 and into 2022 – certainly more budgets shifting into digital and e-commerce, with an emphasis in brands wanting to go direct-to-consumer. We’ll see a bolus of new spending as brands seek to claw back share and spark growth that was hampered in 2020. We’re also seeing a tremendous amount of C-suite and organizational change happening across just about every industry, which inevitably brings both the possibility of risk and the potential for growth.