Pitching new business: In order to Win you’ve got to get In.
July 19, 2008
Half my job is about winning new business or trying to. In my opinion, it’s a hell of a lot harder than making good ads. Pitching. Sometimes it’s fun. Other times it can bring you, and your agency, to its knees. But it’s always exciting. The following is first of several posts about my experiences, good and bad, with regard to pitching…
I watch Sports Center almost every morning while jogging on my treadmill. There’s something inspirational about it, particularly on cold, dark mornings, particularly during playoffs. The playoffs (I don’t care which sport) are what I enjoy most. It’s sport taken to the highest level. The amplifier turned up to ‘11’. Winning and losing acquire new meaning, fraught with risk, always thrilling. In morbid preparation for these all-important games, athletes like to tell themselves: It’s do or die. Loser goes home.
Playoffs are no different than agency pitches. Lose a few and you’re forgotten. Win a few and you’re exalted. Don’t get in and, well, you’re screwed. After being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, NFL football coach Jim Mora howled and swore and cried at a press conference. Promptly dismissed, he may never be hired again. Though losing in them, the also-fired Tony Dungee at least got his team (the Bucs) into the playoffs that year. Subsequently, the Indianapolis Colts –the very team, incidentally, that rid itself of Mr. Mora, quickly hired him. The rest is NFL history.
And that’s rule number 1. You absolutely, positively have got to get in to pitches. In order to survive (let alone thrive) an agency has to generate new revenues. Has to. Frankly, existing clients spend much of their time at an agency cutting back on spending, or so it seems. And then they leave! Exasperating the situation is the seemingly continuous dearth of new business activity. Paraphrasing Chief Executive David Beals of search firm Jones Lundin Beals: “There’s a lot more noise going on than business.” I take that to mean a lot of clients are window-shopping but few are opening their pocketbooks. Adding to the malaise, consider this: The average tenure of a client/agency relationship is only 3 or 4 years. And that number is only getting smaller. A while back, Revlon gave its new agency (Kirshenbaum & Bond) the boot just four months after hiring them. Like Hollywood divorces, splits happen all the time. It’s no longer even vaguely surprising.
Getting in to pitches is so critical agencies have new business departments, often comprising many individuals. At my former agency (Leo Burnett), the new business department was so big it had more than one leader. And planner. And account executive. And so on.
Getting in pitches is also vital to an agency’s reputation. Unlike the pre 2008 Chicago Cubs, you cannot suck year after year and be successful. If you’re reputation is bad the phone won’t ring. Employees will bail. Recruitment is impossible. Clients defect. Sea of pain. After all, an agency is in the business of creating image. It’s own had better be a good one. Doing great work and winning pitches are the only way an agency can improve its rep. The two are like the proverbial chicken and egg.
To be continued…