Close-Up: Cold calling - The fine line between charm and harassment

Gate-crashing a pitchlist can reap rewards, but the vast majority of unsolicited approaches are rejected, Kate Nettleton says.

Bypassing an intermediary and charming your way on to a pitchlist at the last minute can be a fruitful approach to new business.

Judy Mitchem, the chief marketing officer at Lowe, recalls using that technique to get on the Capital Radio list while at M&C Saatchi. After snaring a last-minute place, the agency went on to win the brief.

"A personal relationship opened that door, but we had to deliver a blinding pitch to get on the list. They don't just put you on the list for the sake of it," she says.

These direct approaches do work occasionally, but their success rate is dwindling. In fact, according to new research commissioned by the AAR and JFDI, 90 per cent of unsolicited approaches from agencies are immediately rejected.

But through the rose-tinted spectacles of a new-business director, that 10 per cent success rate is cause for celebration. Nina Jasinski, the marketing director at Leo Burnett and a member of the IPA new-business committee, explains: "If new-business directors had to wear a T-shirt slogan, it would say 'eternal optimism'. In the world of direct marketing, a 10 per cent response rate is a Grand Prix winner."

As long as clients continue to bite occasionally, directors will continue to fish for new business in this way. However, the age of cold calling and sending generic mailers is undoubtedly dead. There is now a new etiquette that must be adhered to. Mitchem says: "The market has changed dramatically in the past ten years and the trick is to keep ahead of it. Harassing clients is out, and personal relationships that lead to tailored approaches are in."

Mark Simpson, the director of marketing and communications at Ford Europe, agrees: "I generally do not react well to people calling out of the blue because they often haven't done any research and have no idea of our established relationships. But if they have something substantive to offer me, and they have done some homework, then it could lead to something. In fact, there are opportunities that I may miss if I just went through intermediaries."

So, despite the valued role that intermediaries play in ensuring best-practice standards are followed, there is still inherent value in approaching clients directly with well-researched proposals.

But tailoring your approach to clients can be a double-edged sword. "Clients hate people making a stab at what their problem is. There's a fine line between saying something interesting and overstepping the mark into second-guessing them," Jasinski explains.

With senior marketers receiving 20 new-business proposals a week, there is, of course, a danger of pissing them off.

"What you need to worry about is the agencies' relationship with the 90 per cent that turn them away. If it's a 'not now but we'll be in contact in the future', then that's great. If it's 'don't call again', then there is cause for concern," Simpson says.

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