OPINION: One wrong move and vital new clients are easily lost

New-business departments are important in giving a good first impression of an agency argues John Pummell, but to do a good job they need proper resources

New-business departments are important in giving a good first impression

of an agency argues John Pummell, but to do a good job they need proper


It’s a common criticism of companies that some of them are like inverted

pyramids: large and cumbersome structures supported by just a few frail

assets, or, in the case of service companies, shoulders.

Yet this sort of structure seems to exist so often at agencies where one

finds a small and under-resourced new-business department (often just

one person) acting both as the main engine of growth, and as the

company’s first point of contact, and therefore its public face, to

prospective clients.

That this can produce problems was one of the points made abundantly

clear by the two-part investigation ‘Who Gives Good Service?’ (Campaign,

23 February and 1 March) in which a number of agencies appeared to be

woefully inadequate when it came to responding to a client inquiry.

That the client seemed rather, well, fishy, may have had something to do

with this. But there are serious conclusions to be drawn, nonetheless.

The main one is perhaps that, in new-business terms, you usually get

only one chance.

It’s no good cocking things up and then hoping that an approach along

the lines of ‘we didn’t actually mean that and here’s somebody important

who can say what we really intended’ will work.

Once clients have steeled themselves to spend some money or change

agencies their tolerance level rapidly falls.

So, apart from resourcing new business properly, either internally or

externally, what can agencies and other marketing services companies do?

Paramount is the need to determine exactly what the agency offers. If

you simply do advertising, say so; if the agency offers an ‘integrated’

service or elements of this, such as direct marketing or sponsorship,

say so too. Whatever you do, don’t try to fudge the issue.

Once you have defined what the agency stands for, ensure that this

message is broadcast to the relevant audiences - clients, journalists,

suppliers and more.

Thirdly, don’t be afraid to buy in new-business services, such as cold

calling and consultancy, and others that have an impact on new business,

such as PR and direct marketing, from out of house.

Outsourcing isn’t just fashionable these days, it’s also often cheaper

and certainly more effective than over-burdening an already stretched

new-business department.

What the articles did make crystal clear is that new-business

performance plays a disproportionate, even excessive, part in the

impression agencies create among a large segment of the client


Agencies, on the other hand, usually regard new-business as just a

mechanism for getting clients through the door before the business of

impressing the client actually gets underway.

The reason for this is simply that, for most of the time, clients aren’t

really that interested in what agencies are doing. They will certainly

scan the trade press to find out who’s doing what and is up to what, not

least to find out what their competitors are doing.

They won’t actually switch into active mode until a change or new

appointment is on the horizon, and this is the point where all those

painstakingly created good impressions can be obliterated in one phone

call or response to a fax.

So, most of all, agencies should make sure their new-business operation

is properly resourced, not just with people, but with appropriate

literature and a response mechanism that ensures someone relevant and

knowledgeable always gets back to a client whatever time of the day or

week it is.

Finally, as a footnote, company searches are quick and cheap and they

save a lot of that valuable new-business time and effort.


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