Jobs Report: The Art of New Business

The metier of bringing new clients into the agency (and keeping them) has changed. In our new series of job profiles, we take a look at business development.

Jobs Report: The Art of New Business

By Mark Tungate 

“In the old days,” says Ulrich Proeschel, VP business development Europe at TBWA, “the business development person was the guy with the Rolodex. The one with the right phone numbers.”

In other words he – or potentially “she”, but we’re back in the Mad Men era here – was hired for his contacts. He was a schmoozer, a winer and diner, who practically charmed accounts into the agency.

“He was working in isolation, and he ran the show,” says Ulrich. “But now, as with most aspects of our business, things have changed dramatically, and it’s all about collaboration.”

Ulrich believes there are two types of business development person. “One of these characters will jump on a pitch and lead the process, and they literally create the feeling that they win the business. I see myself in another way: as a coach, a person who enables a team to win the business. Because if I don’t make it feel as if the team has won the business, with me as a neutral enabler, there’s a chance the relationship will break down when I move on.”

 

CASTING


Others in the business development role agree that it’s changed. Jemima Monies, head of new business and PR at Adam&EveDDB in London, says: “It’s considerably more complicated and pressured, with fewer traditional new business opportunities coming into the market and lots more agencies on the scene. Not to mention the rise of procurement and a drastically different media landscape.”

This changed situation requires a more nuanced approach, says Ulrich. “In today’s world there’s no ‘one size fits all’. It used to be that you sent your top creative and account guys in with the managing director and they were supposed to win the business. Today, clients are very clear on what they want. It’s about reading, understanding and respecting the client. And then finding the perfect cast to fit that particular issue.”

It’s almost, he says, like casting a movie. “The next step is: do the clients like the cast? Is it working? Because we’ll very quickly need to accelerate the process. In the meantime I’m moving between the client and the team as a moderator.”

This mixture of diplomat and “client whisperer” may be why people in PR positions often move into business development – and indeed why the two roles sometimes overlap. “At the end of the day it’s about relationship building,” says Ulrich, who comes from a PR background. “You need to quickly evolve matters from a test situation into, ‘hey, this is a relationship’.”

Jemima also started out in a PR role, after writing about marketing as a journalist. “New business isn’t just about pitching,” she points out. “It goes hand in hand with PR and touches every aspect of agency life. So you need to be a good all-rounder: creative, strategic, efficient, innovative, numerate and have a painstaking attention to detail.”

Another common route into the role is via account management, which was the one taken by Cat Davis, chief marketing officer at Gyro UK (see full interview here). She jokes that “back in the day many traditionally thought of new business folk as bubbly hostesses, shop windows for the agency, great at choosing flowers, dressing the room and getting the right biscuits sorted – which is about as far from the actual job as you could possibly get.”

Instead, she says: “New business is highly strategic and demands that the person doing it is fully immersed in all areas of the agency, whilst displaying a resilience and determination that not everyone is lucky enough to have.”

 

CHEMISTRY


That relationships are key is confirmed by the name of the so-called “chemistry meeting”, roughly halfway through the pitch process. “The only purpose of the chemistry meeting is to be invited to the pitch,” says Ulrich. “Before that, the consultant or the client are looking for excuses to kick candidates out of the process. After that, the psychology changes – you’re on the list of three favorites and the client has to choose the one they really want to work with. They need to fall in love.”

The pitch itself has also become a more extravagant affair, says Jemima. “You don’t just show a mood film and a few print executions anymore – there’s social, experiential, in-store, on trade, on pack, employee engagement, the list goes on…Pitches are full on productions that require meticulous planning and orchestration.”

The new business person must stage manage this complexity, says Ulrich. “You have to be at a certain level of seniority so you can make the right calls: I want this person on the pitch, but not that person. For example, I don’t want the CEO at the chemistry meeting, because they’ll overshadow proceedings. I want the team who’ll actually be working on the business.”

 

THE NEVER-ENDING PITCH


But there’s another thing that’s changed – and it’s why you need full-time business development people: the pitch process is now open-ended. “You may have a situation where the client picks agency A, but after a few months it’s clear the relationship isn’t working, so you have to be ready to step in. It’s important to make sure you’re not forgotten.”

Even after the pitch has been won, there’s a bigger relationship management aspect than there used to be, says Ulrich. “In the past it might have been, ‘Let’s have a nice dinner’ or ‘let’s play a round of golf’. But compliance doesn’t allow that any more. So for me it’s really about being a combination of coach and intermediary, translating the languages of the two parties.”

Once again, he emphasises the importance of teamwork. “It’s no longer a guy with a Rolodex. It’s about someone who can manage collaboration internally, collaboration with the clients – and potentially collaboration with external partners. The role has evolved with the industry.”

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