How to Create a Winning Mindset

On Thursday 13th September, Upfront was proud to partner with The BD100 for its launch event, bringing together over 100 business developers and like-minded individuals for an evening celebrating new business and recognising the best in business development.

The evening was hosted by The BD100 founders, Upfront’s very own Jody Osman and Richard McHardy of the McHardy Collective, with a panel discussion led by Robin Bonn, founder of management consultancy, Co:definery and featuring: Kerry Glazer (CEO of AAR), Matt Edwards (CEO of WCRS), Roy Jugessur (Senior VP of Global Sales at Selligent) and Kate Bosomworth (Chief Marketing Officer at M&C Saatchi).

The theme of the discussion was mindset, including how to create a winning mindset, making sure you’re “pitch fit”, and everything in between. Each of the panel shared their experience, insight and ideas to provide inspiration and tips around a number of key topics.

Business Development should be at the heart of every agency

How do agencies create an environment where business development can thrive? Roy believes it starts from the top, whilst Kerry added that the best agencies are those that are led by people who put new business at the heart. Matt, who before becoming CEO, led business development at WCRS, drew on his knowledge both in new business as well as leadership. He argued that this environment can be created by educating your entire team about just how difficult new business is. All successes should be celebrated, not just a pitch win, but all the small successes that led to that point. Agreeing with Matt, Kate stated that new business doesn’t happen in silo, and the entire company – from top to bottom – needs to understand their relationship with the agency business developer.

Good mentors can be found close to home

As a mentor to various people, Kate advised that you need to think about what you want from your relationship with your mentor very carefully. No matter where you are in your career, you can always benefit from a mentor, whether you’re just getting started or if you’re running your own agency. Roy added that it is beneficial to build good relationships with leaders within your company and attributed high emotional intelligence as key to a good mentor. Matt agreed with this, and also recommended that if your agency is part of a larger agency network, make use of these connections and find mentors within other companies. Whilst there may be resistance to this due to the competitive nature of the job, Kerry argued that business development is a small but unique community and we should be taking advantage of our shared experiences.

There can be very little difference between success and failure

Whilst Business Development is often a team effort, it can often feel like a Business Developer’s personal responsibility – and when it’s not going the way you want, it can feel like a personal failure. Kerry advised that you need to be resilient, you need to galvanise yourself and your time, and don’t let your team try to get out of rehearsing for pitches. To achieve this Roy recommended that you need to plan, plan, plan and work hard to maintain creativity on a daily basis. Kate attributed one of the biggest struggles for business developers is coping with the highs and lows of the job: If it isn’t going brilliantly, then it’s awful, and there’s not really an in-between. Matt added that it’s a role with a very visible definition of success with a much less visible means of getting there.

It’s not just about the wins

On the night Diane Young, co-founder of The Drum, also asked what would be a reasonable rate of growth was for an agency to expect. All panellists agreed that this was incredibly difficult to measure and that it varied depending on agency. Robin highlighted that an agencies definition of growth should be unique to them and their plans as a business. Kerry and Kate agreed that retention of clients is often overlooked, and business development should be celebrated as much as new business. If a client’s budget increases, this can be as important for an agency’s growth as a new win.

You have to know when to say no

The subject of conversation soon moved to the topic of pitching. All panelists agreed that who you should be selective about who choose to pitch for, and you shouldn’t be afraid to reject new opportunities. Kate went on to elaborate: Say no to a pitch opportunity and believe me, you will have the attention of your business

Thank you to all the panelists for an insightful and thought-provoking discussion.
See the highlights of The BD100 2018 event below:

If you are interested in finding out more about The BD100, attending or speaking at any future events, then please get in touch.

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The Drum’s Pitch Perfect: 5 Key Take-aways

On Thursday 13th September, Upfront’s Senior Business Development Manager, Jessica Milham attended The Drum’s Pitch Perfect event for a day focused on sharing ideas, knowledge and skills to perfect your pitch and clinch that all important client.

Here are Jess’s key insights from the day:

Think about qualification

It’s my job to ask all the right questions and ensure we are qualifying the right opportunities for agencies. However, Peter Czap, Director of The Wow Company, gave me a fresh perspective of how we can be qualifying who you want to work with. It really stuck with me, it’s important to sit back and ask yourself questions such as: Who do you REALLY want to work with? What do you want to be famous for? What can you be the best in the world at? Those were only a few out of 21 questions and most of these we do ask, but it was more of the way in which you can ask these questions which really stuck with me. There is definitely value in constantly asking these questions.

Create a culture of winning new business

This was a theme throughout the day which carried into The BD100 evening event and being a business developer, it resonated with me. If you work for an agency, do you have the whole agency striving to win new business or do you find that BD activity is purely down to one person?

If it’s the latter, well, you really need to question why. Surely everyone working for the agency should be just as passionate about the success of the business. New business should be everyone’s business.

Put everything into a client’s perspective

There was a fabulous client workshop including speakers such as Anna Stark, Head of Marketing at Sloggi and Adrian Cutler, Account Director at Microsoft. It got me thinking about how best to approach brands – how can you make it more personal or interesting? The panel shared lots of interesting approaches that stood out and where agencies can add value, rather than just sell. Kristal Ireland, Head of Ecommerce and Retail at LNER explained that one agency she remembers that invited her to join an online book club, where people share their latest read across the industry!

Your client isn’t just your client

A running theme throughout the day was around how you should work together as team and focus on collaboration. Initially mentioned by Josie Cartridge, Customer Director at River Island, she referred to her agency Studio Blvd as her partner and the way they work is a collaborative process. They have an honest, open relationship and when something works, you celebrate together… When something isn’t quite right, you sit down and work out how you’re going to fix this.

Get out more

Having reflected on a fantastic day, it’s given me time to realise the value of getting out and meeting people who are working towards the same goals as you. Of course, it’s good to meet potential new clients, but it’s just as valuable to meet potential business partners, mentors, coaches, talk about best practice and share the highs and the lows of new business.

This year Pitch Perfect partnered with The BD100, an initiative aimed to recognise The UK’s most influential business developers. Upfront was proud to sponsor this event which provided a great platform to shine a light on the business development community and share experience and insight with a fantastic panel discussion – click here read the highlights.


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The Pitch Process: Evolution or Reinvention?

5 Key Takeaways from Upfront Straight Talking event: How can the pitch process be improved?

Last month Upfront Business Development hosted the latest in its Straight Talking Series, bringing together over 100 agencies and brands to debate the pitch process. Robin Bonn, Founder of Co:definery, led the discussion with representatives from brand, agency, intermediary and procurement. The expert panel consisted of Carolyn McKeever, Global Head of Downstream Marketing at Shell, Nina Jasinski, Chief Marketing Officer at Ogilvy, Charlie Carpenter, Managing Director at Creativebrief and Tina Fegent, from Tina Fegent Consulting.

  1. Views on the pitch process were split 

 Creativebrief’s recent research suggested that 61% of brands and 93% of agencies didn’t think the current pitch process was fit for purpose. Upfront’s Founder, Jody Osman, kicked off the day by asking the audience their views on this. The room was evenly split between those that agreed and those who disagreed. A good starting point to continue the discussion on how it can be improved.

There was also difference in opinion amongst the panel. Nina (agency) and Tina (procurement) were in general agreement that if the proper procedures are adhered to, the pitch process largely works. From the brand perspective, Carolyn agreed that the current process is working, but recognised the many flaws for both client and agency, and called for more fluidity in relationship between those involved. Charlie, as supported by Creativebrief’s research, highlighted the growing dissatisfaction with the current process by both brands and agencies. Due to increased selectivity of agencies, brands are not always getting the agencies they necessarily want, in which Carolyn agreed, based on her experiences at Shell, where five agencies that they wanted to work with turned them down.

  1. Agency stand out is vital

In order to stand out from the crowd, Nina commented that for agencies, “reputation is definitely paramount…if you don’t understand how the client is finding you and you’re hoping that its just going to happen by luck, it’s going to take a long time for you to grow”. Carolyn agreed with this statement. Whilst she concurred that a number of boxes need to be ticked to narrow down a short list of appropriate agencies, she commented that once it gets to pitching, every agency can do everything they need across every market in every possible way and it’s therefore very difficult to make the final decision.

“That final decision comes down to: did you like the people? Was the work good? Was there chemistry? Was there any diversity at all on their panel side?” (Shell)

  1. Partnership is a complicated term

Debate continued around to what extent the pitch demonstrates a good future relationship between client and agency. Carolyn argued that the more important question to be asked is “why are we even pitching?” commenting that the pitch process doesn’t fully give a sense of how the partnership will work. Charlie added  that the pitch process doesn’t offers a “true sense” of what it will be like to work with an agency. Nina contended that this doesn’t mean that they didn’t end up happy in the choice of agency and argued that transparency on both sides will create a stronger collaboration between client and agency.  After conducting a comprehensive global agency review earlier this year, Carolyn believes that the idea of “partnership is seriously lacking”, and in order to change this, both sides need to be open to the change. Tina commented that partnership is a really tough word to use, and one procurement doesn’t use lightly.

“Agencies are suppliers and while you should try to do the most to make sure it’s a two-way relationship, it’s ultimately a client- supplier relationship.” (Tina Fegent Consulting)

Tina did note that finding out about each other is essential, so workshops within the process need to be utilised. Charlie commented that the current process in place doesn’t promote a strong partnership, and clients will find much greater value from spending significant time with the agency, as indicated in the “try before you buy” process that Creativebrief are beginning to promote. He highlighted that the narrative around leverage which procurement specialist tend to argue needs to change in order to promote a successful partnership.

  1. One size doesn’t fit all

Although disagreement on best practices, all panellists were in general agreement that there wasn’t one strict structure of the pitch process that worked for every client and agency. There are over 20,000 agencies in the UK and 40 different agency models so there isn’t going to be one solution to suit everyone. Robin argued that there is an opportunity for both brands and agencies to challenge the process in place, and there are a whole variety of different pitching models, which can be tailored depending on type, size and resource of agency.

“It’s’ incumbent on everybody to have a conversation, and to push to have that conversation about what’s the right kind of model, both on the client and on the agency side. It’s a question of taking responsibility…agencies should make sure you have the remit, responsibility and the criteria that are pertinent, and give yourself permission to have that conversation with the client.” (Co:definery)

The day ended with Robin wrapping up and offering the advice that all parties need to choose the model that is right for them. It’s not about dramatic change, but evolution of the process to eventually get the best for all involved.

  1. Still plenty more to discuss

The conversation will continue at The Drum’s Pitch Perfect event on 13th September. That evening, The BD100 awards, will celebrate the best UK business developers; bringing together the Business Development community for a night of networking, conversation, insight and celebration.
Get your ticket for Pitch Perfect, and The BD100 event here

See more highlights from the event below:

If you are interested in finding out more about Pitch Perfect, attending or speaking at any future events, please get in touch.

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How Can The Pitch Process Be Improved?

Upfront announces next Straight-Talking event – 12 June 2018, The Soho Hotel

Pitching has always been a hot topic among agencies and brands and in recent months many are calling to rid the agency world of the pitch. As marketing budgets continue to feel economic pressures, new business is becoming increasingly competitive at all spending levels, and many are searching for a different solution – a practical, streamlined alternative to the traditional pitch.

On 12 June 2018, agencies and brands will come together for a panel discussion, hosted by Upfront Business Development, to examine the pitch process and debate how it can be improved.

The panel for the morning will be made up of agencies, brands, intermediaries and procurement – all bringing a different perspective.

The Brand Perspective

Carolyn McKeever is Shell’s Global Head of Downstream Marketing Communications. Her team develop the communication strategies and creative executions that drive consumer demand for Shell’s multi-billion dollar retail and lubricants global brand portfolio, across 40+ markets. She leads the capability programme on Integrated Marketing Communications and is committed to maximising professional competence within Shell’s global and local marketing teams. Prior to Shell she was at Boots, Zurich Financial Services and OgilvyOne. She has just conducted a comprehensive global agency review, project name ‘Agency of the Future’ and aims to share what she has learned at our event.

The Agency Perspective

Speaking exclusively from an agency perspective, Nina Jasinski, Chief Marketing Officer at Ogilvy, will draw from her extensive marketing experience across all disciplines. Having spent an equal amount of time working in advertising, as well as direct and digital agencies, she understands issues of integration, digital and convergence perfectly.

The Intermediary Perspective

Charlie Carpenter, Managing Director of Creativebrief will draw from his experience of working closely with both brands and agencies. Under Charlie’s direction Creativebrief has set a disruptive course, focusing on the power of technology to transform how brands and agencies can work together to create great content. Creativebrief are calling for more appropriate and effective alternative, which is fit for today’s landscape and previously hosted an event on ridding the agency of the pitch, as we know it.

The Procurement Perspective

Tina Fegent will be sharing her insights from a procurement perspective. She has a unique background having worked for both clients and agencies and was one of the first globally to get involved in Marketing Procurement. In 2006, she set up Tina Fegent Consulting to offer a procurement consultancy service to clients.

The discussion will be led by Robin Bonn, founder of New Business Management Consultancy, Co:definery. Robin has spent his whole career in new business, winning pitches for Skype, Eurostar, Fujitsu, Experian, Spotify, P&G, ITV, Microsoft, Facebook and Ford, to name a few. He launched Co:definery when he realised that agencies really are their own worst enemies, and in his own words said: “they keep churning out the same generic new business plans, wondering why they always get what they always got.”

Jody Osman, Managing Director at Upfront Business Development, said: “We’ve increasingly found both clients and agencies questioning the traditional pitch process and looking for a better way to find the right partners. We decided to bring together clients and agencies to discuss how the pitch process can be improved, as well as bringing in both the procurement and intermediary perspective who increasingly have a crucial role to play.”

The event will begin with breakfast at 8:30am, where there will be a chance to network with a mix of agencies and brands. The panel discussion will take place in the Screening Room, where the process around pitching will be closely explored by the panel, opening a Q&A at the end to the audience.

Register for tickets here.
Early bird ticket offers are on sale at a discounted price until 1st June 2018.

For further information contact Leiley Sanei on 020 3861 4450 or visit the Upfront website.


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The Drum’s RAR Awards Winners Announced

Earlier this week, The Drum hosted the annual RAR Awards, recognising the most highly respected agencies. The RAR awards are based solely on clients rating agencies that they have chosen through the register’s platform.

The biggest brands, including Nestle, Merlin Entertainment and Diageo, were required to give their opinion on agencies across industries.

The RAR then download these ratings from its database to see which agencies are the highest-rated by clients. The awards recognise these agencies. The winners reflect a clear regard their clients, who have rated them highly via

Grand Prix Winners

The Big Group was awarded the Grand Prix in the 100+ staff category. Established in 1991 and with a total of 131 staff today, the independent creative agency also broke into Econsultancy’s Annual Top 100 Digital agencies report top 50 for the 1st time last year.

In the 40-99 staff members category, Love took home the Grand Prix Award. Established in 2001, Love has won over 300 awards, including recognition by D&AD and voted global “Design Agency of the Year” by The Drum in 2015.

BURN and TMC Strategic Communications both won awards for agencies with under 40 staff members. This was impressively the third year in a row for TMC. The Manchester based agency took home several awards in this category, including design and B2B marketing.

Other Notable Winners

RRD took home several awards in the 100+ category, winning for Client Service, Creativity and innovation, Print and Service Delivery. They were also nominated in five other groupings

BURN also won for awards for Strategic Thinking and Data category, and was nominated in five other groupings in Agencies with under 40 members.

Refinery Marketing Communications also cleaned up in the 40-99 staff members category, winning in both Strategic Thinking and Direct Marketing. They were also nominated in 12 out of all 14 groupings.

The full list of winning agencies in the large, medium and small categories can be found here.

It was fantastic to see a number of Upfront clients recognised for their hard work and contribution to the industry. Congratulations to all agencies that were nominated and well done to all the category winners. This should  provide a great reference point for any future clients and confidence that you will deliver consistently.

It’s also great for new business and we know first hand how important the RAR can be when establishing credibility and confidence with future clients. If you’d like to find out more about how the RAR can help you to win new business, please get in contact.

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Nominations are now in for the BD100

The nominations are now in for the first ever BD100. We were overwhelmed by the response, with hundreds of the UK’s leading business developers now ready to compete to make the list.

Upfront is  proud to support the BD100, which has been launched to recognise the hard work of the most influential Business Developers in the UK. It’s a showcase of the biggest and brightest talent driving agency new business in the UK today.

It takes a particular skillset to be a Business Developer and as Robin Bonn recently wrote, Business Developers “come in all shapes and sizes, with different skills, backgrounds and perspectives”. The BD100 shines a light on these skills, all the pitches, the wisdom and the techniques required to be the best in the business of business development.

Now all the nominations are in, it’s time for the nominations to show us what they are all about and create their pitch as to why they should be part of The BD100.

Each nominee has until 31st March to answer a series of questions and get creative with their pitch. These will then all be uploaded to the BD100 site and found via #THE_BD100

Once all the pitches have been submitted, we will turn to the agency world to get voting. You will be able to view all nominee pitches on a live TINT, vote for the Business Developer and pitch that impresses you the most, and help to shape this year’s BD100.

The BD100 will then be celebrated at a special event talking place in May, date and location to be announced soon. Meet your peers, find out who made The BD100 List, and get your hands on the complete first edition of The BD100 book.

Click here for more details and to read more about The BD100.

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The Drum Pitch Perfect: Key Insights From The Day

On Thursday 28th September 2017 the Drum hosted it’s annual New Business event, Pitch Perfect. Upfront was in attendance for a day focused on helping agencies to win new business and share ideas to perfect your pitch to help you clinch that all-important client.

With an impressive speaker line up and a wide range of topics covered, here are our highlights and key insights from the presentations on the day:-

The day started with the Drum’s Managing Director, Richard Draycott providing a warm welcome and setting the scene by talking about the impact of wider economic factors on agency new business and – keeping those in mind – the importance of getting this right.

Apply empathy to understand decision makers emotional triggers

The first speaker to take to the stage was Tom Head, Director at Lab, who soon had the room talking to each other as he focused on the importance of taking a human approach to new business. Tom went on to discuss behavioural psychology and apply Lab’s classification of Monkey (how it makes me look), Lion (how it works) and Dog (how it makes me feel) to look at different drivers in client decision making, highlighting the importance of empathy when pitching and understanding emotional triggers.

8 Essential elements of any new business plan

Next up was Jody Sutter, Owner of The Sutter Company and a Business Development consultant who specializes in working with leadership at small to mid-sized ad agencies. Jody talked about the importance of having an annual plan to align expectations and allow you to prepare for, and measure, what can be a chaotic process. Jody shared her 8 essentials elements of any new business plan:

1) Start in the marketplace – understand industry trends and who your competitors are (now and in the future) so you know what you are up against. Don’t just think about things from your own agency perspective, but also consider the impact of changes in the marketplace on the brands you are targeting.

2) Performance – based on your agencies performance, make sure you know your current performance ratios to help you understand what you will need to do to achieve your targets. How is the company performing on new business? What is the split between reactive and proactive opportunities? What is your current pitch conversion rate?

3) Goals & benchmarks – strategic and financial. How much can you rely on organic growth? What is your likely attrition rate? What focus is needed on prospecting un-identifed new business – and what are timescales involved? Jody urged caution to make sure you account for annualised revenue and plan for what happens if you have a slow first quarter.

4) Meeting the goals – how much will you need to pitch to achieve your growth targets? What is reasonable sized client and what will it take to win them? Make sure you budget for new business and support required. Based on feedback from the audience, this is something many agencies aren’t currently doing.

5) Your team – who’s on your team and what do they do? Is it just you? What kind of agency are you? Jody shared a few typical examples: ‘Natural born hunters’, ‘natural born promoters’, ‘small team / multiple hats’, ‘CEO / Chief Sales Officer’, or ‘it’s your job, keep us out of it!’ Make sure you keep roles well organised and  play to your strengths.

6) PR and marketing – does your positioning serve you? How are you telling your story? Make sure you have a joined up plan, which you can email Jody for a template she is happy to share. Make sure your website is working for you. One particularly useful tip was to experiment with blogs which can feed into thought leadership.

7) Operations – what staff, tools, processes and materials do you need to ensure you are effective? How are you finding intelligence on prospects, and how are you tracking progress?

8) Executive summary – written last, goes first. You need a concise summary to your plan, use it to your advantage to highlight the key information from your plan.

Jody finished up her session by advising the audience to start planning NOW to make sure you can get out the gate fast in 2018.

Weave price and value into your proposal

Paul Williamson, Managing Director at Sports Ink, shared an interesting case study around the successful pricing for the 2012 Olympics and the success they enjoyed growing revenue through clever pricing. Paul went on to apply best practice to agency new business and in particular, the tender process. Paul recommended that agencies need to weave price and value into the process and not just have it as the last slide.

The importance of having purpose and thinking like a brand

After lunch, Lena Robinson, Co-Founder of Kiwi Gray had everyone fired up and motivated for the afternoon with her presentation, which looked at how to win before you pitch. Lena was quick to highlight the importance of thinking like a brand, rather than classifying yourself as an agency.

There are over 22,000 agencies out there so you need to have a clear purpose to stand out. A passionate Lena made it clear that purpose has to be lived and breathed by everyone – and to do this, you need to understand why you exist as a business. Don’t just talk about what you do, people are more likely to buy the reason why you do it. And the good news is that businesses with purposes make more money!

Lena went on to explain that this should come from the heart to ensure authenticity. With this comes both power and vulnerability, which is needed for true engagement. Be honest and open and stand up for what you believe in. Then share this through blogs, events and every conversation. Applying this to the pitch process, Lena felt that when responding to a brief, agencies often hold back as they don’t want to say the wrong thing, but a client will want you to guide them and help them identify what they really want. If you stay true to your beliefs you are more likely to win the right type of clients.

In summary, be brave, stick to your guns and remember that new business should be everyone’s responsibility.


Panel Discussion: how to ensure you are Pitch Perfect

It was then time for a panel discussion hosted by Steve Antoniewicz, Head of Consultancy at the Drum. Steve was joined by Greg Roberts, Head of Business Development at JellyfishJulia Fontaine, New Business and Marketing Director at Soul, Pete Gomori, Creative Director at Reading Room, Sasha Rae Russell, Business Development Manager at Banana Kick and Matthew Crissey, Sales Manager at List Partners Inc, to discuss the perfect pitch.

The discussion started by looking at how to prepare for a pitch: Greg highlighted that one of the biggest challenges for agencies is to free up time of the key people who need to be involved. To manage this effectively, Greg shared the process at Jellyfish, where for each pitch they will allocate a pitch lead to facilitate resource internally and a Strategic lead to focus on the pitch story.

Julia agreed that finding people’s time in the process was a key challenge, not just from your team, but the client too. Julia highlighted the importance of building a relationship with the client along the way (pre-pitch), as if you thrown in without having met the client your chances of success are low.

Pete also talked about the importance of getting to know the client and making sure you have done the maximum to understand them. This isn’t only based on your experience of meeting them, but doing your research. Making sure that you (and your team) have read their annual report, watched their videos, looked at their twitter feed. That way you can get a feel for what they are likely to respond to and make sure everyone is looking beyond just saying their bit.

Sasha agreed that it’s all about relationships and discussed the importance of understanding your clients specific requirements and finding ways to bring this to life for them in your pitch. Matthew then took on the conversation to apply this theme in relation to pre-pitch prospecting. Matthew highlighted the importance of using data and intelligence to help you know when and why to reach out to the right person – and using company insight and triggers to inform your approach and ensure relevance.

When it comes to pitching, the conversation moved on to delivery and whether you should practice dramatic theatre. This split opinion and Pete urged people to be themselves – think about how you come across and remember a pitch is not the same as a presentation.

The panel then discussed what happens if you don’t get the result you were hoping for. If you have built a relationship with the prospect you should ask for feedback and try to ensure as open and transparent as possible. Sometimes it can be a good idea for a CEO or Owner to ask a stakeholder for blunt feedback to get past the stock answers of ‘cultural fit’ or ‘close second’. Then try and understand what you could have done better.

If you do mange the perfect pitch and are lucky enough to win the business, also ask for feedback so you understand why.

Thanks to the Drum for a great day and some really useful take outs. Hopefully some of these will help you to perfect your pitch against the other 22,000 agencies out there.

Good luck!

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Planning for Growth: Key Insights from Upfront’s ‘Straight Talking’ Seminar

On Tuesday 19th September, Upfront hosted a breakfast seminar looking at how to plan and manage agency growth as the latest instalment of our ‘Straight Talking’ series. We brought together Founders, Owners, Managing Directors and Business Developers from a wide range of agencies to discuss the topic of growth.

Together with our impressive speakers and guest panel – which included Ian Farnfield, Mark Barber and Mary Keane-Dawson – we explored how agencies can plan, champion and create the right culture for growth and how to tackle the pressures and common barriers that can arise when expanding your business.

Ian Farnfield, partner at Creative Business consultancy Tonic Partners, shared his first hand experience as CEO of running two Global Brand agencies and provided a thought provoking presentation on how to plan for growth. Ian stressed the importance of minimising the ‘Reality Gap’ between ambitions and actions for growth. Ian highlighted the three critical elements involved in achieving this: the clarity of ambition, a clear action plan for growth and commitment to action.

The Clarity of Ambition

Agencies must outline their ambitions and clarify why they want to grow. Agencies need to understand what they want to grow, is it momentum, reputation or sale? Then look at what’s needed: clients and revenue, profitability and value. And think about the timescales involved, quickly or long term?

Action Plan for Growth

It’s then important to turn your ambition into action.

Where are your best opportunities to grow clients and revenues? Agencies must decide whether to continue with the same type of work or concentrate on new sectors or different types of work, stay in their home markets or go international, etc.

The next step is then to construct a plan on how to win that business. Look at what business development and marketing activities are required and understand whether you have the expertise and resources to implement properly, or identify what additional skills and support do you need to add.

You will also need to understand how the pursuit of growth may impact on your existing business. What does this mean for your cash flow and margins and will your senior management team be able to deal with the distraction of growth in their day-to-day activities?

An action plan should include all key actions and activities and have clear measures of success. This should not be constrained by the annual results cycle, you need to develop a plan that covers the period you are interested in and ensure your targets are practical and focussed.

Commitment to Action

Ideas and strategy plans are great, but a CEO has to decide if he/she, the team, the company really care about achieving the growth ambition. Nothing will happen without commitment to the end goal and the correct attitude to the task. Key questions you have to address:

  • Does everyone understand the plan?
  • Are all the key people suitably motivated and incentivised?
  • Is the ambition at the core of the day to day business?
  • Are there simple measures in place to assess progress?
  • Is the business agile enough to adapt to stay on track?
  • Are the management team prepared to make the tough decisions?

Growth can change cultures, attitudes and commitment, both positively or negatively.

Next up, Mark Barber, Strategic Communications, PR, Marketing and Business Consultant, shared his experience within both independent and global agencies and his insights into working with some of the UK’s most recognised consumer, b2b and media brands. Mark reinforced Ian’s sentiments that agencies need to build a culture where the entire team is focused on new business, it is everyone’s responsibility, from the receptionist to the CEO. The commitment to the overall ambition of your agency must be inherited by everyone within your business. Your people should know and understand the action plan and should be suitably motivated and incentivised to reach your goals. The agency ambition needs to be at the core of your day to day business.

Mark also stressed the importance of clearly defining the type of business you are looking to win in the short, medium and long term. Think creatively and build and nurture relationships with each of these targets and make sure you understand their business.

Mary Keane-Dawson then took to the floor to share her experience as a digital maven and entrepreneur, with a proven track record of growing and scaling companies shared her experience gained from roles at WPP, Steak, Reform, Collective, Ogilvy and now TMG PLC’s Global CEO of Performance Media.

Mary discussed some of the challenges when achieving rapid growth and how important it is to make sure that, operationally, you are set up to manage this. Mary shared her experience at Steak who went through a tremendous period of growth in a very short space of time and the importance of getting the right processes in place to sustain this.

When planning for growth, many agencies will have exit in mind. Mary shared her experience of growing and selling 3 different businesses. Mary advised caution for those looking to sell to a network, as it can result in loss of agency identity and culture. The hard work often starts after you have sold and client opportunities are not as free flowing as you would expect, with other agencies just as likely to copy your offer as provide referrals.

International expansion is often another big focus for growing agencies and the audience posed interesting questions around how to manage this. The panel shared their collective experience of operating in different countries where there was a big difference to the approach to work and time outside of it. The cultures in different countries can differ greatly and it was recommended that you should be careful not to simply try to recreate the same as you have in the UK.

In summary, to achieve the right type of growth: you need to know what you want to achieve, plan for it and be mindful of the different challenges that each route will present, and then make sure everyone is fully committed to it.

The final message from all the speakers was that you also need to make sure you have fun along the way and enjoy the journey!

To find out more about how your agency can plan for growth, please get it touch.

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Straight Talking: Growing your Business

Almost all agencies feel that they could be doing better in some way or other. Growing faster, delivering better work, attracting different people or simply making more money. In many cases the leaders think they have a clear view of the opportunities or problems, but often they’re not focusing on the most important things. And rarely do they have a full picture of how the whole business could become much more successful.

Are you frustrated with a lack of progress? If your business feels as if it is stuck in a bit of a rut, you’re struggling to find a way to create the changes you’d like, or just don’t have the time to think beyond doing the day to day work – you’re probably in the majority of businesses in the agency world.

Competition is always tough, business is fluid, markets are unpredictable and your assets and skills are mostly intangible. So it’s no surprise that it’s difficult to keep up with the latest benchmarks of good performance or to use these insights to gauge where your business has real potential to do better. It’s too easy to continue with unrealistic expectations, keep doing the same things, fall short and end up knocking the confidence out of everyone involved. With so many things to do, agencies really can’t afford to keep spending more time and money trying to solve the same challenges in the same old way.

On Tuesday 19th September at the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell, we will be hosting the next event in our exclusive breakfast series Straight Talking, where we’ll be focusing on how you can plan, achieve and sustain agency growth.

We will be joined by guest speaker Ian Farnfield, Partner at Tonic Partners. Ian has grown two major international agencies from small national businesses. He’s also driven the success of more than a dozen start-ups and worked for one of the world’s largest business consultancies. The team at Tonic help creative agencies achieve their business vision, by overcoming the common barriers to success, across the key areas of Growth, Efficiency and Profitability and will be sharing some of their insights and tips for growing your business.

Ian will then be joined by Mark Barber, Strategic Communications, PR, Marketing & Business Development Consultant as part of our expert panel. Mark will be on hand to share his experience within both independent and global agencies and consulting with some of the UK’s most recognised consumer, b2b and media brands.

If you are looking to grow your agency and push on to the next level, click here to join us.

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Does good new business start at Cannes?

There has been plenty of conversations about the value of Cannes Lions this year and whether you can justify the cost of a €32 Chicken Sandwich on the Croisette – and the thousands more that a trip can often cost an agency.

Whilst the focus of the week is to recognise creativity and sharing knowledge, there is also a big focus on networking. With BrainDating, Accenture’s bump and Connect wrist bands, plenty of action is focused towards making connections. We’re always interested in meeting new people, so Upfront went along this year and got talking to people to find out how they got on.

Jon Reid, Business Director at Set Live, the agency behind the unmissable YouTube beach experience at Cannes, knows first-hand the impact the event can have: “Each year we help Google to stand out at Cannes and we know how important this is to their business. However, if you are going to meet potential new clients it can be difficult if you don’t have an established presence there”.

Whilst Cannes brings together so many senior Marketers from across the world, conveniently into one place, you are competing heavily for their attention. “We had a range of exciting meetings lined up with high profile CMO’s who were all keen to meet us at Cannes, but it is always hard to actually tie down timings as there is so much going on and so many competing priorities. However, it’s been a great way to start a conversation”, Jon explains, “[…] and for many they will have experienced our work first hand if they made it down to the beach”.

Nick Stephens at Brand Experience Agency, Ignis, went for a more spontaneous approach. Armed with a networking pass, Nick managed to meet a great range of potential prospects by striking up new conversations around the hotels and beach bars of the Croisette: “I just identified who I wanted to speak to and went and found them. I was particularly keen to speak to the guys at the Weather Channel who have just been bought by IBM Watson. They ended up inviting me on their yacht, which was a great way to get to know them!”.

Miranda Glover, Business Director at digital agency E3, who received a nomination for their AI virtual assistant work for Arthritis Research, and won a commendation for a strategic report in the AdMap Prize, found the talks invaluable at Cannes: “The Cannes experience overall was extremely informative and inspiring. I went to lots of talks which gave me a great perspective on the future of our industry.” Miranda described Business Development happening by osmosis and feels confident that relationships will develop over time: “I met some great influencers and creators at the events and sure we will meet again, but Cannes doesn’t really suit a quick-fire agency pitch, instead we all want to assimilate knowledge and make new connections whilst we are there and then come back to it.”

One sure-fire way of getting people’s interest is to host a high-profile welcome party. Leading social analytics platform Crimson Hexagon did this to great effect with Twitter, at their Cabana right next to the palace. For the remainder of this week, the cabana served as a base for their meetings, while their executives worked the ground at partner events like WPP Stream and the Facebook VIP party. Marian Cramers, Director for Global Network Agency Growth at Crimson Hexagon, was particularly pleased with this third edition of Crimson @ Cannes. “I feel we have really established our brand and presence here over the years, people acknowledge our place in the ecosystem and we had many more C-suite and senior prospects and clients passing by. The relaxed space of the cabana and garden area also means they stay for quite a while, and we can have very open conversations about procurement procedures or changes within their org. Conversations we’re very unlikely to have anywhere else than here in Cannes!”

Overall, it may be difficult to justify the cost of Cannes as simply a New Business exercise. However, if approached responsibly and combined with meeting clients and gaining insight, then it still has an awful lot to offer and a great opportunity to meet a wide range of people in a relaxed environment.

We felt there is a lot more that the organisers Ascential can do to foster networking and introductions at Cannes to help make sure people get the most out of the week. For instance, no-one I spoke to got much out of the BrainDating app. Users found that it required far too much time and effort to organise anything and felt it would be better to make it easier to match people on relevant topics of discussion.

It certainly helps if you are doing something at Cannes or at least have a focal point to orientate meetings around. The YouTube beach was great for this and so was Crimson Hexagon’s Cabana. Hosting your own party is a great way to get people together and crucially, collect their contact info. And just being at Cannes you are likely to connect with like minded people, especially if you proactively introduce yourself to as many people as you can.

Apparently great stories start and continue at Cannes Lions. From all those that we spoke to during the week, lots of good conversations start there too. The question is now whether those good conversations will continue beyond Cannes? If they do and turn into new business, then it will certainly help to justify a return next year!

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