Should agencies prepare for a bumper year of new business?

January brought a flurry of reviews announced by the likes of Just Eat, Asda and NatWest.

Snoop Dogg: Just Eat is among the brands to have called an agency review
Snoop Dogg: Just Eat is among the brands to have called an agency review

After a year in which new business opportunities seemed few and far between, agencies had plenty to keep them busy in January with a flurry of reviews.

At the top of the food chain, WPP is defending its integrated account with British Airways owner IAG. Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers with a 2019 spend of €7.27bn (£6.33bn), is also preparing to review its international media buying. And following JustEat’s merger with Takeaway.com, McCann London – which brought Snoop Dogg to the world of food delivery – will have to defend its global account with the brand.

Closer to home, retailers Asda and DFS, tea brands Twinings and Tetley, and price comparison site Moneysupermarket are all reviewing their creative accounts, while NatWest and Purplebricks are considering their media arrangements.

So is it right to deduce that pitching is back in a big way, or is the picture more complicated?

Victoria Fox

Chief executive, AAR

There’s a number of reasons for the recent increase in new business activity. Pent-up frustration after a quiet 2020, January traditionally being a busy month, and brand owners using lockdown to get their own houses in order before looking for external, and often new, agency support. We expect this initial flurry to stabilise over the coming months and return to pre-lockdown levels. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if we were to see another spike once there’s more certainty around what a post-lockdown world looks like.

Whether 2021 really is a bumper year for pitches, all agencies should be prepared. First, by ringfencing their "A Team": they’ll have perfected the art of pitching on Zoom and nailing that all-important chemistry. Second, by assessing every opportunity, ensuring they can and want to compete, and that they have the capacity to pitch alongside other opportunities. From our own observations, even the largest agencies struggle to pitch well on more than one or two pitches at once.

Angus Crowther

Founding partner, Alchemists

Due to the combination of uncertain times and the need for growth, we know that more clients will be looking to change their agency. Whether this is the right thing to do is another matter. We know that the best agencies will have over-serviced and done their level best to be as proactive with their current clients and work through the tensions and constantly changing plans together.

Those agencies that have reached the sufficient levels of trust with their clients will have been constantly innovating to make sure they’re getting the best from both teams. But it is such a shame to hear that a lack of proactivity is cited as one of the main reasons we hear for a review. And agencies can’t take a relationship for granted – as Just Eat has just proved. In terms of the top five global reviews at the moment, we reckon that about $5.7bn (£4.2bn) is up for review. So, yes, a bumper year would appear to be on the cards.

Tracey Barber

Global chief marketing officer, Havas Creative

Yes – although don’t expect new business as usual. While clients had largely been holding fire until the world returned to normal, what we’re seeing now isn’t just pent-up demand, but a realisation that it won’t. There’s an acknowledgment that requirements have changed, too – hence the rush to reassess partnerships. As well as the obvious influx of CX-driven briefs, we’re seeing more multi-market, multi-capability, integrated opportunities, often with fast turnarounds and with renewed focus on effectiveness. Clients are digging deep into agency culture and purpose, seeking partners who have adapted culturally to remote working and still delivered – and, fundamentally, those set up to help address the world as it is in 2021, not how it was in 2019.

Julian Douglas

Vice chairman, VCCP

Yes. I expect a big year in terms of the number of pitches though I'm not so sure there will be "bumper" financial prizes to match. Even with the welcome return of consumer confidence as we emerge from various lockdowns, the pressure on marketing budgets will remain higher than ever which may well result in a huge focus on value – cutting costs as well as value creation. The demands on delivering more for less are a new reality, but I remain confident that those agencies who are able to adapt, become more agile in the way they run their clients' business and deliver a positive impact for the bottom line, will thrive in 2021.

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