It’s been a rollercoaster ride for new business directors over the first half of the year.
Those tasked with business development have had to generate leads and establish meaningful business relationships against an accelerating backdrop of structural change in the media, marketing and advertising industry and anxieties about the wider economy (thank you, Brexit).
The industry has been moving fast to grapple with these challenges around the shift in client expectations of the way they want to work with partners. Established holding groups have been streamlining their structures and rationalising their agency brands.
WPP’s famous ad agency JWT merged with Wunderman, Engine Group restructured into three divisions and retired its agency brand WCRS and consultancy Accenture has carried on its acquisition spree, recently buying Droga 5. Meanwhile, Sir Martin Sorrell is muscling up his s4Capital vehicle with buys including MightyHive.
How was it for you?
Every agency’s experience of the first half of the year will be unique, depending on its client portfolio and where it is focusing its efforts. But it’s still good to hear how your peers are doing and their experience of the first half of the year.
Some agencies have had a strong first half and report winning new clients, while others say business is not quite hitting the heights of last year with clients curbing spend and pitches taking longer to complete.
Harry Hugo, Co-founder and Chief Campaigns Officer at The Goat Agency , says: “New business has been great so far this year globally and we continue to grow in the UK too.”
At Upfront we’ve seen some agencies steal a march on competitors by focusing on what clients really need. Retention is key but if you agonise too much about holding on to your existing clients you risk overlooking what matters to them.
Changing nature of the brief
It’s vital to know how clients are now approaching their briefs and what elements are changing, so you can better respond. Richard Dutton, CMO of Engine, says: “The briefs we are getting are more focussed on delivering business outcomes rather than a specific discipline.”
Jim Hawker, co-founder of Threepipe, echoes these thoughts: “Clients have more open briefs than ever before and are not wedded to one channel or approach to solve their particular problem.”
The sources of new business have pretty much remained the same as expected. Agencies report that briefs have come from their networks, intermediaries, direct and through recommendations. Jim points out that referrals from partner agencies have “been a great source of new business”.
Hugo adds: “Referral and recommendation have always been our main channel and about 75-80% of all our new business comes from recommendations or referrals.”
Advice for growth in H2
Change can be a good thing for new business as brands are often open to new ways of doing things. There are opportunities out there for agencies that take a pro-active approach.
Experienced business development hands offer several useful tips to help navigate the choppy waters of the second-half of the year, which are likely to be exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding the leave-date for Brexit.
· Be channel neutral – focus on your prospect’s desired outcomes and the best way to achieve them.
· Take a pro-active approach and focus on what’s important to clients in the here and now. There are opportunities out there to evolve client relationships and win new work.
· Pick your battles. Make sure you are well placed to win a pitch from the outset rather than chasing every opportunity.
· Keep reviewing and figure out what’s working and what’s not. Make sure you’re selling the right thing and listening to your client.
The agency heads we spoke to are overall positive about the opportunities to grow the bottom line in the second half of the year and think those businesses that keep changing, learning and adapting will maintain their momentum.
Expect more insight into new business strategy at this year’s Pitch Perfect conference, to be held by The Drum on September 19th. Part of the event will be the unveiling of the latest version of The BD100 – the annual list highlighting the best creative agency business developers in the UK. The call for nominations is now open, so help us make it a true list of the best of the best with your suggestions.
Jody Osman, Managing Director, Upfront Business Development.