Media: Double Standards - Agencies hitting new business at a perfect pitch

Two specialists talk about the importance of new-business teams being fully integrated into their agencies and the all-important big pitch.

SAM PHILLIPS - new-business and marketing director, Omnicom Media Group

- There's been debate recently over whether agencies need new-business specialists. Is the role as important as ever or can it be handled differently these days?

I'm delighted to say that this wouldn't ever be a discussion point at Omnicom Media Group agencies. New-business and marketing professionals are intrinsic to every pitch, to all marketing and to all prospecting, and our value-add is significant both internally and externally. I don't believe that there's a single "right way" for agencies to focus their new-business specialists' attentions. Each of our agencies has its own very distinctive positioning, culture, client list and management, and so it follows that the way we approach things on the new-business and marketing fronts will vary by agency too.

- In general, what is the new-business market like right now?

Working across six UK agencies gives me a pretty good view of the marketplace, though pitching levels vary by agency, of course. Overall, I'd say that the market's still pretty buoyant, as it has been all year. OMD and PHD agencies have performed really well on the new-business front in 2008, winning far more than our fair share of pitches. I don't foresee things slowing down any time soon.

- How much of an isolated role is new-business within an agency? It seems at times a bit like being a goalkeeper in a football team. Vital but a bit removed from the rest of the team.

No, new-business is not an isolated role at any of our OMG agencies. In fact, quite the opposite. My teams are firmly integrated within their agencies and more often than not, they're central to goings on.

- What's your best celebration after a pitch victory?

Our recent Cadbury celebrations at PHD - a fantastic team performance brought home the bacon and we were, deservedly, still propping up the bar into the early hours. Truth be told, I don't think we do enough celebrating of pitches once we've won them. It's only too easy to get wrapped up in the next pitch, and the next one, and the next one ...

- What's the most frustrating part of your job?

Not enough hours in the day to execute all the great ideas we have.

- How long does it take to heal after a pitch defeat?

Depends on the scale of the pitch and the manner of defeat, but there's no time to wallow in self pity for long. You need to be an eternal optimist in my role and it's better to re-focus attentions on taking on board the learnings from a pitch-loss so that next time there's no healing to be done ... just celebrating. Fortunately, we've won many more pitches than we've lost in recent years so we've had less healing to do than most.

- Are most pitches now inevitably procurement driven, price-led and awarded on this basis?

No. Let's not deny that procurement specialists' involvement is more widespread than ever these days, but good clients recognise that extracting the best price/value is but one part of a bigger jigsaw. Thankfully, our clients still value great ideas, first-class creative thinking, strategic brilliance and artful execution too.

- What's the one quality or value about your agency that really helps in a pitch?

It varies by agency, but our hunger to win is palpable and our creativity is second to none.

MARK ROBINSON - marketing director, BJK&E

- There's been debate recently over whether agencies need new-business specialists. Is the role as important as ever or can it be handled differently these days?

Certainly the role has changed from when it was all about getting people in through the door. You could build a reputation on how many credentials presentations you gave. So while it's not about who you know, it is still about access to people and companies and having your ear to the ground. Which is why every agency has some new-business function, if only to handle all those requests from the burgeoning number of consultants. But that's not to say we can't all do things more efficiently on both sides. And in most cases the role is a marketing one embracing all external communications. Which makes a lot of sense.

- In general, what is the new-business market like right now?

Depends which way you are looking at it. There are media pitches around. At BJK&E, we gain from being the smallest agency in Group M, all the benefits of a small agency with big buying clout, and that seems to sustain us, whatever is happening elsewhere.

- How much of an isolated role is new-business within an agency? It seems at times a bit like being a goalkeeper in a football team. Vital but a bit removed from the rest of the team.

If new-business is isolated, then you are doing something wrong. It has to be at the centre of things. That old adage "new-business is everyone's business" is as true now as it ever was. It has to feed off and contribute to everything that is going on in the rest of the agency. So, on the football analogy front, I would have thought of it as more of a winger than a goalkeeper.

- What's your best celebration after a pitch victory?

Celebrations are funny things. The best celebrations can come when you finish the pitch, not necessarily when you win it. The other issue is that increasingly you know for ages that you have more or less won something but then embark on endless negotiations. Last year at BJK&E we had such a good run of wins that we took the whole agency off to Rimini for a few days. Now that was a celebration.

- What's the most frustrating part of your job?

Frustrations come with the territory. I get frustrated at being one of a load of agencies contacted, send off lengthy details on a myriad of stuff only to hear we were too small or have conflicting business. That could have been found out with a two-minute phone call.

- How long does it take to heal after a pitch defeat?

No time at all. It is the nature of media folk to just get back in there and fight another day. It's the role of a new-business person to come up with something new and take people's minds off any sense of failure.

- Are most pitches now inevitably procurement driven, price-led and awarded on this basis?

Procurement plays an increasingly important role. You get positive procurement involvement and Eurostar is an example of that. But often it is all down to price in the end. It can be very disheartening and can dampen down creativity. The key thing is to have clarity from the outset.

- What's the one quality or value about your agency that really helps in a pitch?

Shameless enthusiasm.

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