Media Perspective: Times are tough for the new-business directors in media

New-business directors everywhere must be thanking their lucky stars for the Government. While recent stats suggest that COI spending is on the way down, there are still plenty of COI planning briefs around, and the only current media pitches of any note are the BBC, the Royal Mail and The Metropolitan Police, all of them publicly funded bodies.

Public money aside, it seemed an especially fallow January for many new-business heads, with some even resorting to phoning the likes of me to discuss the odds of Asda/Morrisons/British Gas ever reviewing in the absence of any actual pitches.

Entertaining as such chats are, the characters on both ends of the phone would rather have real action to pitch for/write about. Of course, this is a cyclical thing; there are already signs that things are picking up as we get nearer to spring (big international pitches seem to be making a comeback following the news that Mattel is looking around). And, for those pitching, the BBC contest promises to be a fascinating one with the weight of ZenithOptimedia pitched against two smaller agencies in Media Planning Group and Mediaedge:cia.

However, I do have some lingering sympathy for the average new-business director. Even at the best of times it's often a lone wolf job, requiring scary amounts of resolve and initiative in the face of piss-taking from colleagues when things aren't going well. In addition, their media agency paymasters are apparently more Scrooge-like than their advertising and digital agency equivalents. Research from the AAR last November showed that not one media agency spends more than £500,000 on new business in a year (compared with 40 per cent of the top 20 ad agencies).

There are obvious reasons for this - some of them good in that media agencies could be seen as less profligate than their creative cousins. Yet many of them haven't helped matters in hanging on to the belief that a few (dozen) PowerPoint slides about themselves will clinch them the business, and that the pitch result is all about price anyway.

Reassuringly, there have been some examples of late of more creatively led pitch practice - oddly enough on accounts such as the BBC, which initially required acres of form filling - and in this, the role of the new-business chief can be vital.

So at the top end of the game, running new business is an art and a talent. The good new-business directors are hard to find and, in the manner of top football goalkeepers, might be a bit strange at times, but on reflection I'd say that more than 55 per cent of them deserve to be on their agency's board. Sadly, this is unlikely unless the volume of pitches suddenly increases.

ian.darby@haymarket.com.

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