How has the new-business landscape changed?

Globalisation and the demand for new services from clients have changed the nature of pitching for new business, two experts say.

Iain Jacob, President, Dynamic Markets, Starcom Mediavest Group
Iain Jacob, President, Dynamic Markets, Starcom Mediavest Group

IAIN JACOB, PRESIDENT, DYNAMIC MARKETS, STARCOM MEDIAVEST GROUP

- How has the process of pitching for new business changed in recent years?

Globalisation has changed everything. The big pitches are bigger, more professionally run and, obviously, more extensive. For example, our Novartis win in December covered 80 countries and five business divisions. The second big development is organic growth. Our clients want more from us as we help them embrace and win in the emergent areas of communication. It may not involve a pitch, but it certainly is new business and it is how we love to grow.

- What new pressures are clients putting on agencies when they pitch?

A pitch today looks radically different from one just five years ago. Clients are looking for more extensive services from a media company in areas such as content, analytics and social, so they need to pressure test how good you are in these spaces. While they are willing to remunerate new services, they demand efficiencies in the traditional areas. This is Darwinian pressure. Agencies without a broad palette of services are seeing their core business get pressurised. Finally, a modern client organisation involves matrix management and multiple decision-takers. Navigating this is a more complex affair these days.

- When should an agency decline to go for new business?

In large part, clients define agency cultures and, therefore, the ability to attract and retain the best people. Over time, I have learned that these are the best criteria on which to judge whether you should pitch or not. If you have a client that you can do great work for, invariably you have a healthy, remunerating and sustainable relationship. If you don't, it never ends in a good place for client or agency.

- How important is it to you that the chief executive of your agency takes an active interest in new business?

A chief executive who is not driving organic growth and new business is not doing their job properly. It really is that simple.

- What is the one thing you would like to change about the way clients handle new-business pitches?

One of the strongest corporate imperatives today is to simplify and streamline. Simplification is a competitive advantage for clients. With a focused client brief, it is much easier for the client to judge agency responses.

- Currently, how active is the new-business market in which you work?

While the UK is looking quiet, there is plenty going on globally. We often find ourselves being invited to pitch in specific capability areas such as search engine optimisation, strategic planning, social and analytics. This means pitching against a host of different types of organisation. While the set-piece pitch market has quiet moments, the revolution we are all living through really is generating a diverse range of opportunity.

CORMAC LOUGHRAN, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, AEGIS MEDIA UK

- How has the process of pitching for new business changed in recent years?

It has not changed anywhere near enough. Digital demands we are faster, more responsive and more data-savvy in our client relationships. But the pitch process remains archaic and has struggled to keep with the pace of change. Media agencies have suffered disproportionately in the lag. A considerable amount of time and money is still wasted on both sides. A large percentage of agencies continue to chase every opportunity, no matter how ill the fit. Some clients continue to use pitches as a consultative, benchmarking exercise with no consensus around what they want as an outcome. Recent IPA data around pitches revealed a frightening disparity between what pitches actually cost agencies versus what clients think they cost (£178,000 versus £31,000). The ongoing work of ISBA and the IPA is starting to have an impact in this area. See the progress being made to close the understanding gap at www.thegoodpitch.com.

- What new pressures are clients putting on agencies when they pitch?

The pressures are not new. Clients still ask us to do three simple things: bring great people; deliver the best work; prove we drive business value.

- When should an agency decline to go for new business?

There is only one question any agency contemplating joining a pitch process should ask itself: can we feasibly take on more business without compromising what we have already promised our existing clients? Basic stuff, I know, but I am still amazed at how few agencies fail to do so. The revolving door of new business in, existing business out starts when this issue is not addressed.

- How important is it to you that the chief executive of your agency takes an active interest in new business?

It has always been important to have the most senior-level new-business champions. The savvier chief executives will see growth potential not only in new business, but moreover in clients, people and new services offered. When it comes to pitches, new-business heads need to be clear with chief executives over the latter's roles. They should champion and sponsor. They should ensure the agency can fulfil its promises. If appointed, they will be fully accountable should the wheels fall off.

- What is the one thing you would like to change about the way clients handle new-business pitches?

Commit to being fast. Be fast in the process and fast in the decision.

- Currently, how active is the new-business market in which you work?

My cup runneth over! Clients' desire to add more rich, diversified services to their communications plans has created an abundance of opportunity, not only with prospective clients but more so with existing clients. The agency challenge is to be best equipped to offer the right people with the right skills and the right tools to take advantage of this.

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