Close-Up: Live Issue - What's the secret of new business?

As the role changes, what are the key qualities of a good new-business director, Noel Bussey asks.

Clemmow Hornby Inge, one of the most successful new-business agencies in town, is losing its new-business chief, Ben Slater, to Bartle Bogle Hegarty's New York operation. Good heads of new business play a pivotal role at agencies, so the choice of a successor will be an important one.

Agencies recognise their importance, a fact borne out by new AAR research that reveals that the new-business directors at 18 out of the top 20 ad agencies are members of the board. They don't just find prospective clients, but bring staff together, run pitches and often handle PR.

Martin Jones, the director of advertising at the AAR, says: "It's an absolutely vital role. A good agency will find a new-business director and adapt to their personality. It is imperative that you don't get a cultural mismatch."

One of the most vital attributes for a new-business director is a thick skin. Grant Duncan, the chief executive of Publicis, spent two years as the new-business director for CDP before moving into account management.

He says: "After two years in the role, I felt brutalised. It's constant rejection and a lot of handling defeat."

Being heavily involved in every pitch means new-business directors take a lot of the responsibility when the agency loses. "They are given rough treatment by everybody, from senior management to their peers and the press," Matt Edwards, the WCRS marketing director, says. "When the agency is picking up business, everything is fine; when it doesn't win anything for a while, the new-business director takes a lot of the blame."

Along with the thick skin, it is imperative that new-business directors are personable, charming, enthusiastic, competitive and ne-ver take no for an answer, as well as commanding respect from clients and the rest of the agency. Edwards says: "They also need to be decisive and clear in leading the pitch, while being strong-willed enough to say no to the senior management team when needed."

As the role is developing and widening, so the types of industry executives taking on the job are changing. "There are now a number of successful new-business directors who see the position as a step into senior management, and these people are bringing extra qualities to the job," Duncan says.

Instead of entering the role from a PR or sales background, these people already work in the agency, often as account managers.

This type of new-business director is increasingly prevalent because agencies need someone who can, according to Jones, "drive the machine while being thoughtful, strategic and insightful".

"Clients don't really have time to be wined, dined and seduced by agencies any more, so these insightful backroom new-business directors will be the ones coming to the fore and going on to higher achievements," he adds.

The list of duties in the new-business director's job description, and the qualities needed to perform them, show how tough, and important, the role is in a modern agency and how it can be a good springboard for someone looking to move up to agency management.

Sarah Gold, the joint managing director at CHI, observes: "The skills needed to be a great new-business director are invariably those of great agency heads, and it's no surprise that one often leads to the other."

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AGENCY MD - Sarah Gold, joint managing director, Clemmow Hornby Inge

"A great new-business director is the person who best exemplifies what an agency is all about. They have to be a brand ambassador, so their qualities should reflect the qualities of the agency.

"Having said that, there are some attributes that every new-business director needs. They need to be ballsy and never take no for an answer. People forget it's as much a tough internal job as it is external. And, above all, they need to be the eternal agency optimist, truly believing and making others believe that the pitch is never over until the fat lady sings.

"They're such a rare breed that when you find one, you treasure them."

NEW-BUSINESS DIRECTOR - Richard Exon, group business development director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"Contrary to popular belief, a new-business director needs to be centrally involved with every facet of the agency. They need a length of service in the agency so they understand how it works.

"Ideally, you need someone from an account handling background, but with a flair for strategic development and understanding.

"There also needs to be a degree of entrepreneurial spirit.

"The role is changing and it's becoming increasingly recognised in the industry that the role should be filled by a talented person from within the agency."

PITCH CONSULTANT - Martin Jones, director of advertising, the AAR

"A new-business director needs to be egalitarian, lateral-thinking, determined and opportunistic. They also need a huge attention to detail that verges on paranoia, because little problems can become disproportionately important in new business.

"It's an extremely important role because they need to get on with everybody at every level of the business, while being the eyes and ears of the management and the pulse of the agency. It's also fundamental that it's a full-time job, you can't do something else at the same time."

CLIENT - Andy Cray, brand director, Carling

"Going through the pitch process, as we have just done, it was very reassuring to have the new-business directors constantly checking our expectations and that the agencies were delivering what we wanted. This is the epitome of the new-business role, in my eyes.

"They need to bring the agency's offering to the fore and link what we are looking for to what they can offer us.

"Outside of a pitch situation, we often receive calls from new-business directors, and we're happy to accept them so we know who else is out there. But we make it clear from the outset that we are not looking around. We wouldn't want to lead anyone on."