CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/RETAINING NEW CLIENTS - Can shops maintain new-business momentum?/Winning accounts is fine. But agencies have to keep them, Claire Cozens writes

Lose one of your new clients within a year of winning it and you can (just about) put it down to a misfortune; lose two and it begins to look like carelessness. Last week, Sega handed its pounds 60 million pan-European account to Bartle Bogle Hegarty out of WCRS just weeks after another new WCRS client - Rover international - left for M&C Saatchi.

Lose one of your new clients within a year of winning it and you

can (just about) put it down to a misfortune; lose two and it begins to

look like carelessness. Last week, Sega handed its pounds 60 million

pan-European account to Bartle Bogle Hegarty out of WCRS just weeks

after another new WCRS client - Rover international - left for M&C

Saatchi.



New business is the lifeblood of every agency. Nothing else gets the

adrenaline flowing, the champagne corks popping or the bonus cheques

flooding in like winning new accounts. And when it comes to new

business, WCRS had a pretty magnificent 1999, successfully wooing a

series of clients including Bupa, Sega, Anchor and Rover, making it a

contender for Campaign’s Agency of the Year.



But when a new-business success story becomes part of a revolving door

syndrome, with clients leaving the agency as quickly as they arrive,

alarm bells begin to sound.



It has long been known as the curse of Agency of the Year - agencies

have a hugely successful year then seem to lose their way a little in

the following 12 months. For some, particularly the smaller agencies,

the fallout is the inevitable consequence of rapid growth, while for

others it is a case of taking your eye off the ball.



BMP DDB, Agency of the Year in 1998, lost Sony in 1999 and St Luke’s,

which won the accolade in 1997, went on to lose Radio 1 and its place on

the UDV roster in 1998. To be fair, both agencies had their successes as

well as their failures in those years, but it does go to show that too

much new business can be detrimental.



Nevertheless, most agencies’ bonus schemes are heavily skewed towards

new business. The advertising rules of success state that hanging on to

your clients is less worthy of reward than gaining new ones. As Grant

Duncan, managing director of Publicis, says: ’There’s a bit of an

industry obsession with winning new business. It’s a kind of ’big willy’

syndrome - if you speak to other agency heads the first thing they ask

is what you are pitching for and if you don’t have anything to say you

feel sort of emasculated.’



WCRS has been tarred with the revolving door brush before. But Stephen

Woodford, its chief executive, believes that while this may have been

true five years ago, the latest losses were different. Rover was, he

says, only ever intended to be a launch project and Sega left because of

a disagreement over creative strategy.



’Historically the agency went from nothing to the top 20 in a short

space of time. If you’re going to grow that quickly there are those

pressures,’ he says. ’Now our focus is on producing the best quality

work for existing clients, which also happens to be the most powerful

new-business tool. Our new-business success in recent years is testimony

to that quality.’



So how do those agencies that manage to hang on to all their new

business do it? Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper spent much of 1997 at the top of

Campaign’s business performance league with a series of wins, including

Abbey National, Wonderbra and Haagen-Dazs. While Euro’s new-business

drive has since slowed, it has so far proved adept at keeping its

clients.



Brett Gosper, its chief executive, says: ’The only thing that is more

important than new business is existing business. If there’s a call to

be made, existing clients come first every time. But I also think when

you’re winning lots of business it benefits your clients because it

energises the whole place. There’s that old adage, if you want something

done, ask a busy man.’



St Luke’s closes its doors to new business at regular intervals to

ensure its existing clients are not neglected. ’It was one of the best

things we ever did,’ Andy Law, chairman at St Luke’s, says. ’One thing

many agencies seem to be blind to is that the river of new business

never stops. You get the feeling some people are flattered by an

approach from a client and that they’ll do anything to win it - they’ll

claim to be international even if they’ve only got affiliations with

agencies overseas. It’s a kind of prostitution of the business and it

does no-one any favours.’



Rupert Howell, chairman of HHCL & Partners, also advocates a more

selective approach to new business: ’When you start winning new

business, it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy - a lot of clients

suddenly come knocking on your door and a lot of agencies don’t know how

to say no to that. But I think it will happen less now - the dotcom

surge means that people can be a bit more choosy.’



M&C Saatchi, last year’s Agency of the Year after a string of wins that

included Sainsbury’s, BT and Rover, has not yet fallen victim to the

curse.



Moray MacLennan, joint chief executive, says: ’If you get it right

everyone benefits - I think every client wants their agency to do well.

But it’s important for the senior management not to spend all of its

time pitching. We are lucky because there are a lot of us, so we can all

do our share. Three pitches a year is probably the most anyone should

do.’



Most agencies agree that pitches should be conducted by the team that

will be running the account. Overloading the pitch team with senior

managers who are adept at impressing clients but won’t be involved in

the day-to-day running of the business is asking for trouble later. ’We

pitch with small teams of people with senior management there for

guidance but not actually part of the team,’ Woodford says. It is to be

hoped that the strategy pays off and Rover and Sega are the aberrations

WCRS claims they are.



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