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April 14, 2009
How To Win More New Business In a Tough Environment
It has been said that fairly or unfairly new business prowess is the way the market assesses ad agencies. You win and you are a star even if you’re not. You lose and you are judged harshly even if you shouldn’t be. But today, winning new business is more than just managing an agency’s perception. As the advertising pie is getting smaller, new business is critical for agency survival. So here are some tips on maximizing your effectiveness in procuring new business.
  1. You have to remind yourself and the team that new business is fundamentally different from their day jobs. When competing in the marketplace, the quality of the solution matters a great deal. When competing for new business only one thing matters – winning.
  2. That means that your academic solution doesn’t have to be brilliant. All it has to be is better than the one proposed by the other agencies in the pitch. And for that you need some guidance from the client, either directly through face to face meetings, or indirectly through intelligence gathering or through an intermediary, e.g., pitch consultants.
  3. It is therefore essential that you know specifically who is going to make the decision and you need to why the account is in review in order to calibrate your appeal.
  4. Confidence wins pitches. Select confident presenters – undeceive or nervous ones will not connect well with the clients.
  5. Passion wins pitches. More than smarts, more than relevant experience, passion is what clients look for in a partner.
  6. Friends win pitches. Make sure that all the members of your team get along because if agency members don’t get along with each other a client will never pick them. When agency members don’t get along with each other the client will assume that they will be a hard to get along partner. Remove dissenting members from your team even if they mean well or are very smart – otherwise they will cost you.
  7. You can’t win without practicing fanatically and often. Some agency people don’t like to practice because they believe that it will take away from their “spontaneity”. Big mistake. Agencies that don’t practice don’t win.
  8. Collaboration is important but new business pitches are an exercise in autocracy. You need to anoint one person to oversee the process and make decisions. And those decisions must be respected by all. Democracy is no way to go to war.
  9. Create a new business culture by sharing RFPs and presentations with everybody at the agency and by always including a young account person in the team that prepares the pitch, schooling them in different practices and giving them exposure to top management.
  10. Ditch the power point crutch. Flipping the light switch down and firing up a projector is a lousy way to connect with the clients. It shifts the focus away from the presenters and into a static object. Use the room as a stage, decorate with props and allow the presenters to be the lead actors.
  11. End the presentation by establishing momentum: present your 100 day plan to transfer the account and launch the advertising campaign, use the leave behind as a value added piece and not just as a copy of the presentation, and follow up with the client to see if there are areas that weren’t covered and they wish to probe.
  12. The most powerful tool in winning new business is the ability to listen. Agencies tend to talk too much and this is both disrespectful and stupid because listening allows you to get a better picture of what’s on the client’s mind.
At the end of the day winning new business is more of an art than a science. William Goldman, a brilliant award winning screenwriter who penned “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Marathon Man” once explained Hollywood thusly: “nobody knows”. Or, put another way, there is no formula to make a successful movie. There is also no foolproof formula that guarantees winning every new business pitch. But sticking close to this list will give you a better chance – that is something I’m sure of.

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Avi Dan, president & CEO of Avidan Strategies LLC, is one of the most respected advertising agency insiders. Avi’s 30+ years experience includes managing agencies and overseeing flagship global brands at Y&R and Publicis.  He also served on the boards of Saatchi & Saatchi and Euro RSCG and was featured in one of the most popular case studies of The Harvard Business School.

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