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
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
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.