Media: Double Standards - Winning the scramble for new business in 2009

The downturn has produced a year of unprecedented new-business opportunities. Euan Hudghton and Cormac Loughran reveal how they have thrived on it.

CORMAC LOUGHRAN - business development director, Mediaedge:cia

- How would you describe this year in terms of the new-business activity?

Rarely do you see nearly 10 per cent of the market at pitch. 2009 has been a time of abundant opportunity. With so much business under review, it will be considered a pivotal year - with some futures made and some futures broken.

- What has been your highlight of the year?

There have been a lot of highs this year at Mediaedge:cia - winning seven Hollis awards, including Sponsorship Agency of the Year; retaining our Danone and Lionsgate accounts. However, the one that really means the most to me was winning Lloyds Banking Group, the most testing pitch of this, or any other, year.

- Why are so many advertisers reviewing their media?

There are two major factors at play, the difficult economic backdrop and the digital challenge. The downturn has been a major catalyst for change with most clients seeing their marketing budgets culled and, therefore, going to market seeking extra value. Digital has been central to the majority of the pitch briefs we are receiving and without highly strategic, commercially focused solutions, agencies will not progress beyond the request for information stage. If I were still wearing my client hat, I'd certainly be weighing up the value and effectiveness benefits a pitch would bring.

- When you're pitching, what strength does your agency have that others don't?

It's a secret. But one we're happy to share with any prospective client (07710 097626).

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

Some pitches taking 13 months to conclude. We have had a few challenging experiences where clients have started a pitch process then either frozen the brief or introduced a significant curve-ball part-way through.

- How good are media agencies, generally, at marketing themselves?

Fundamentally, our industry is driven by reputation and recommendation. Simply put, if you're delivering the goods for your existing clients, other clients will want to talk to you.

- How much do you enjoy getting involved in your network's global/international reviews?

It's always exciting to see how other countries operate and then work out what ideas and approaches we can borrow to improve our own proposition. Though I don't always enjoy the 4am call from our Kazakhstan office chasing up the team rates we promised it.

EUAN HUDGHTON - head of new business and marketing, PHD

- How would you describe this year in terms of the new-business activity?

Incredibly busy but very fulfilling. While it is fair to say account reviews across the market have primarily been driven by value and efficiencies, PHD has nonetheless seen an encouraging number of clients attaching great importance to top-class strategic planning and the value it adds to the competitive pricing we can deliver.

- What has been your highlight of the year?

The thing that has made me happiest is that, despite challenging conditions, we have stuck to a brave strategy and it has worked. At the end of 2008, PHD made a resolution to pitch less, pitch better and increase our focus on delivering top-class servicing to our existing clients. Winning accounts such as Confused.com, Green & Black's, Global Radio and Act on CO2, coupled with the job our management and client teams have done in retaining clients, has resulted in PHD delivering a significant jump in net new billings. Personally, my greatest fulfilment is the vast improvements I've made to our pitching process and internal communications.

- Why are so many advertisers reviewing their media?

It's a combination of the straightforward economics of advertisers ensuring they're getting the most media they can for the budgets they have, and clients seeking agency partners they can trust and rely on to deliver great work. The past 18 months haven't been a time for media agencies to under-deliver. There's nothing clients need less in the most challenging financial climate they have ever faced than an agency that isn't stood squarely beside them, providing support, expertise and work that makes a difference.

- When you're pitching, what strength does your agency have that others don't?

It could be tempting to rattle off a list of tools, systems and processes, but the real answer is that all of the PHD Group companies are hard-wired to go beyond the obvious and create media solutions that find a better way of delivering results. If a client came out of a PHD pitch thinking that what it had seen from us was similar to what it had seen from other agencies, we'd be very disappointed indeed.

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

Its unpredictable hours mean it is now a proper stretch to make it home in time for Champions League kick-offs. However, as a Rangers fan, I more than likely won't have to worry about that beyond December.

- How good are media agencies, generally, at marketing themselves?

Media agencies are improving how they market themselves. I'm pleased with the progress we've made in marketing PHD, though we still have work to do. It goes without saying, however, that delivering successful work for clients is the best marketing tool any agency has.

- How much do you enjoy getting involved in your network's global/international reviews?

They're exciting. Despite the size of and logistics involved in multi-territory reviews, my experiences have been very good. The old Abraham Lincoln quote, "If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six sharpening my axe", is pertinent to how a good global pitch should work. I'm lucky enough to work with a talented and experienced global team, which spends significant time creating clear parameters of process, tasks and timings before engaging the network. When you have that level of clarity, it doesn't feel that different to domestic pitching.

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