Editorial: New business is a vital part of adland

As the recession wanes and agencies begin to look beyond just battening down the accounts they have, the focus on new business will intensify, as will the pressures on those charged with getting prospects through the door. So it's an apposite time for the AAR to reveal the results of its research into what new business went where in 2003 and which shops were best at either getting on to pitches or at exploiting new-business opportunities.

Like most statistics, they don't necessarily paint an accurate picture. The growing consolidation within the client community and the agency world means network offices may be the fortunate beneficiaries of a global realignment without much effort on their part. In other words, the agencies that top the new-business table aren't necessarily the best at winning it.

Perhaps this contradiction is a reflection of the lingering ambivalence a lot of agencies have about new-business directors and a reminder of how important it is that their status should be raised. This has always been difficult. The IPA has no training course on how to be a new-business director and there are too few outstanding practitioners available to pass on their skills.

Moreover, the fiercely competitive environment in which new-business directors operate will always make them reluctant to teach the tricks of their trade to others.

Now more than ever, it's important agency chiefs overcome the perception of new-business directors as slightly sleazy operators whom they'd rather do without if at all possible; and there's always the chief executive who thinks he's better than any new-business director.

For the most part, talented agency people are reluctant to go into new business because the job is so highly accountable and perceived to have a direct bearing on an agency's success or lack of it. Also, agencies are often more concerned about having their best people managing accounts rather than winning new ones. In fact, new business demands all the strategic skills of the best account people. Knowing which prospects to target, the long-term tactics needed to reel them in and how to circumvent client defence mechanisms takes talent.

So does the ability to match clients with the agency staff most likely to be able to establish a rapport with them. Clients rarely "buy" agencies but the people they believe they can best work with.The best new-business directors are proud of what their agencies do and are loyal ambassadors.

To operate most effectively they must be brought into the heart of agency activity.

For too long, new-business directors have been agency fringe players, left to their own devices and misunderstood. It's about time they came in from the cold.

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