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.
Laure Ayel (LA): We are both part of the Global New business team. I have been with the team for 3 years, based in New York.
Theo Leany (TL): And I’m the newest addition to the team in London. Our extended Global team stretches across all continents and regions.
Simply put, our role is to help support our local teams and agencies to perform at their best when pitching. We don’t believe in a Global agenda being set centrally and then dictated to our agencies on the ground. Instead, we believe that to be a great network at a global level, we must be great at an individual, local level.
Our job is also to ensure that Havas is top of mind – and a ‘must-have' on the list for intermediaries, new business consultants and client procurement teams when they are looking for a new agency. Thanks to our 67 Havas Villages around the world, we can open doors across multiple regions and unlock opportunities for our teams to convert.
TL: Another way to look at it is to say that we’re the producers of the show – we build the right stage for the team, cast the right talents, rewrite some of the script to make sure it delivers and ultimately prep the cast so that they can perform to their absolute best on opening night!
Where does most new business come from, where does the process tend to begin?
LA: Opportunities can come from a lot of different sources; formal pitch processes big and small, or more organic conversations with current and ex-clients and prospects. Strong PR and marketing initiatives drive awareness and new business consultants, intermediaries, and industry experts help open yet more doors for us.
I would say that everything starts with nurturing and mining the great work and stories across our teams and capabilities. Everyone tends to function in their own little world. As the Global New business team, our responsibility is to ensure everyone shares more, talks more to each other, builds a connective tissue across teams and talents; showing that, in practice, we are stronger when we work together as a collective.
Then once we’ve tracked and sourced the best work and practices across our teams, our job is to amplify their success. First, internally to inspire others and then secondly through PR and marketing to strengthen our reputation and build the kind of fame you can’t ignore!
TL: One great example is the launch of our Havas CX network last October. We realized that we had strong pockets of expertise (North America, UK, France, India, Australia and Switzerland) and top-notch agencies in all areas of customer experience, from brand transformation to web development and design, CRM and customer engagement. But we were missing a common story, we were not coordinating this expertise across one team, there was no clear way of working together. So, we audited our strengths, brought resources together under one brand, trained and educated our internal troops to learn from each other, and empowered them to work on pitches and crucially, to win together. Since the launch, we have won exciting new assignments with Royal Canin, Aesop, VW and Diesel and we are pitching non-stop. That shows how sometimes infusing confidence and trust and uniting teams with complimentary skills, can make a real difference to the way we win.
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?
LA: This is not completely true. We have seen project-led pitches in the last 12 months no question, but new business momentum has also accelerated in other ways for us.
Firstly, our Village model – expertise gathered together across all disciplines; media, creative, production, PR, data etc. - has helped us extend our remit with some of our clients. The turbulence of the last 12 months has made many recognize our value as stronger, deeper partners and have therefore extended those partnerships into new areas.
We are also seeing Havas invited to more Global integrated AOR pitches. Some clients have been through massive disappointments with their current agencies, have had to face major structural changes in their sector and are looking, now more than ever, for greater efficiencies and effectiveness in the agency model and the partners they choose.
The market is so active right now that new doors are opening for us. Once you’ve proven that you can legitimately play and win against the traditional players, anything really is possible!
TL: It comes down to the willingness and ability of agencies to dictate the direction they want these client relationships to go. We constantly look at the bigger picture beyond the brief, to ask what problem are we trying to fix for this client? Rather than just serving up the single solution they came asking for. That brings capabilities & services outside the client's initial proposed scope into play. In doing this, you not only ensure that you are delivering to your promise to carry out the best, most effective, most efficient work, but also more importantly perhaps, you build long-lasting, successful relationships with that client, whether it began through project work or as their AOR.
In your opinion, what are the key things a client looks for in a pitch presentation, aside from the work?
TL: What we’ve learned over the last year, is that the “fluff” doesn’t work anymore. We are running, in a way, a purer version of new business than before, which is actually very refreshing…
It’s not only about the big slogans, or who is the most senior in the pitching room; it’s about a vision, a model, a framework, a way of working together, values you share with your clients and the chemistry that ultimately the teams project through the screen. Zoom calls don’t lie – in that context the creative work needs to resonate even more, the interactions and conversations tend to become more genuine, more meaningful and new voices and talents have the right to play and rise.
LA: We are all missing our colleagues, we are all craving the irreplaceable day-to-day energy in our agencies that infuse our work. But we’ve learned that there are ways to glue a virtual pitching team, have fun together, and deliver great work that we are all proud of - even if we don’t sit next to each other. We have held hands and hugged each other in new ways. And clients can see and feel that change, that glue, and they like it.
How did you adapt your process during COVID? Were there any advantages that emerged?
LA: COVID has been a huge learning curve for all of us. To be honest, from a global standpoint we were already working on Zoom, building work as a collective and at a distance. When everybody got locked down at home, one of the first thing we had to do was to share our tricks and tips with the rest of the organization to show them that we could all still function as a team.
We also did some other things differently:
1. We tracked intelligence and insights to share and distribute across the group as we were facing major transformation in the market. These made us smarter about the world around us, brands, technology and consumer behavior, which has proved vital for us and our clients.
2. We engaged with our external partners in new ways – this included sharing meaningful and timely comms and mailers, organizing webinars and online conferences to keep our conversations going.
3. We got rid of the superfluous and focused on the essentials – we had to reprioritize our ‘must-haves’ versus our ‘nice-to-haves', to tighten up our efforts.
All this made us smarter, more focused and more efficient; with teams quickly assembling across regions and villages like never before, from Madrid and Chicago to Johannesburg and Shanghai - what we’ve achieved in this time is unprecedented!
What are your predictions for agency growth in 2021, where do you see opportunity?
LA: There are sectors and players that have thrived during the pandemic, and of course, those who have had to completely reinvent the way they connect with their customers and redefine their larger role in society. We see growth and opportunities coming from all fronts, which presents an interesting challenge! Ultimately, what will make us successful is tied to our vision – making a meaningful difference to the brands, business, and people we work with.
Purpose has been a trendy word for years, but in view of what the world has been experiencing over the last year, more and more clients are looking for the right agency partner that shares their values and is committed to building back better.
TL: The fact that we were the first network to become B-Corp certified in our London Village 2 years ago, that we extended that certification to Amsterdam last December, and are now working on doing the same in our other key markets, really resonates with people. It shows that we are willing to “walk the walk”.
And we’re building a capabilities network that answers the needs of our clients in extraordinary times. Most of the big briefs that we receive now have some element of CX to them, whether it is explicit or sleight. This makes a lot of sense when you look at the transitions the world has gone through over the past year, but it seems like a change that is here to stay. We are uniquely placed to answer that need in the here and now, and for the future.
LA: It is so true. The last 12 months have showed us that you win when you’re able to show you’re smart, creative and inspiring but also generous, committed and honest at the same time.