Packing up to move house recently, I came across a business card folder from my first job as a reporter on Marketing magazine. In between the cards for the likes of a pre-John Lewis Craig Inglis, the Chubby Grocer and other marketing directors I used to hound on a weekly basis for stories (sorry Craig), were those for the new business directors of London’s top agencies at the time. It left me feeling a bit miffed.
Not because I no longer have a business card (does anyone?) but because the gravitas of the role that I swapped sides to do, appears to have diminished along with the paper their details were printed on.
New business directors back then were not just on the front line, but also at the forefront. They knew all the agency's secrets, everything going on in the market and, to save my blushes in our Monday morning news meeting, they were the people I had on speed dial.
But there is no Campaign year ahead in new business or top 10 new business heads, we rarely feature on panels or are invited to speak, and our opinion on the industry’s big issues isn’t sought out.
No one seems to want to start their career in my profession - you either cross over from trade journalism (like I did) or an intermediary, or you’re an account manager who’s persuaded to ‘have a go’.
Quite frankly, New Business has lost its glamour.
You could argue this goes with the territory. Cut to 2am in the office with Deliveroo boxes piling up on meeting room tables, the regular cold sweats over RFI deadlines and the joys of a corrupted PowerPoint deck half an hour before the clients are due to arrive. It’s definitely not for the faint hearted.
But with hundreds more agencies than 10 years ago, a more arduous procurement process, and a drastically different media landscape, new business directors today have a much bigger and more exciting role than ever before.
Yes it is considerably more pressured, with fewer traditional new business opportunities coming into the market (activity was down nearly 40% in the first quarter of this year, according to the AAR’s new business pulse report) but new business these days is much more than just pitching. It touches every part of agency life and is a true reflection of an agency’s health.
It’s unsurprising then that the majority of successful start-ups have got a new business ‘mind’ as one of their founders – the likes of James Murphy, David Golding and Helen Calcraft, to name a few. Or that several of the industry’s most respected leaders, Sarah Golding, Camilla Harrison, Tammy Einav and Larissa Vince were once Heads of New Business.
In fact, the best new business people I have worked with, possess all the skills you find within an agency’s walls: creative, strategic, innovative, efficient and above all some of the finest account people I’ve encountered. Your clients are essentially your bosses after all.
Martin Jones, partner of pitch consultant AAR, told me recently that he couldn’t understand why agency leaders are happy to take strategic advice from their planners, creative advice from their ECDs but often don’t seek the advice of their new business team. Certainly as a discipline we really need to fight harder to be heard.
So my rallying cry to the industry is to value new business people’s opinions, invite them to speak out and elevate them within your agency management teams.
New business is about starting relationships, so let’s fall in love with it again.
Jemima is head of new business & PR at Adam & Eve/DDB and co-chair of the IPA New Business & Marketing Committee.