The Alliance of Independent Agencies continues to bring you ‘Rollin’ With The Pitches’ – a series profiling its members and those bearing the weight of winning new work.
New business. Adland’s greatest juxtaposition. Clandestinely whispered, yet boomed from the hilltops. Lifeblood of the agency, but vampiric drain. Terrifying and tantalising in equal measures.
The Alliance of Independent Agencies brings you ‘Rollin’ With The Pitches’ – a series profiling its members and those bearing the weight of winning new work. Alliance of Independent Agencies interviews give a candid view from one of the most pressurised gigs in the industry, with insight and anecdotes from inside the war rooms and across the pitch tables.
In the community spirit, we invite readers to submit their own questions for future interviews. Plus after bearing their heart, each interviewee will kindly make themselves available for private musings.
Q> What’s your role, and how long have you worked in new business?
Chris> I am the chief strategy officer at Impero and have spent 20 something years in the industry always with a big focus on new business. Recently we have been on our A-game, having been nominated twice for Campaign’s Independent Creative Agency of the Year and just won Campaign’s Global Integrated Agency of the Year in 2022. Much of my role evolves growing our client’s business which in-turn grows our own business.
Q> What’s the most novel way you’ve engaged a potential client?
Chris> I have seen lots of crazy ways agencies have tried to grab a potential client’s attention. My favourite example is from about 20 years ago was from an agency that was courting our client. They sent a ransom note to the client saying give us the work or the dog will get it. It was very tongue-in-cheek and made the client smile. They shared it with us and for me it was a penny drop moment, there is always someone trying to court your client. If you’re not on your A-game, always adding value and always pushing the brand forward, there is another agency out there wanting your lunch. The truth is there is a real glut of creative agencies and for the vast majority, while they think they do something different they are often a carbon copy of their competition. Finding and bottling your agency’s secret sauce is a craft skill that is often confused with sales tactics to win new business. The way I personally engage clients is quite simple. I ask questions and really listen to the answers. So often agencies are so focused on getting through their list of predefined questions they are failing to have a conversation and follow where that might lead them. Consultative selling is often not taught in agencies and should be cornerstone skill.
Q> How have you learnt to deal with the failure? What would you recommend to those struggling with the pressure?
Chris> Failure is hard. It’s costly for the agency, bad for morale, and takes your best people away from client-paying work. The trick is to pitch for work you can win. Agencies are sometimes so desperate for revenue, they forget the opportunity costs that every pitch has. Last year we won eight new clients but we probably turned down around 10 new potential clients. Even clients that wanted to work with us! Those ones particularly hurt. When it comes to failure I have lost my fair share of pitches. Often the biggest learning is around how well the process worked. This usually comes down to focus and communication, and whether a team was used to working together, or not. New business pitches are like a team sport. You need to practice a lot together, and need 100% focus when you are playing. If your mind is on something else you will often get blind-sided.
Q> What the best piece of new business advice you’ve ever been given?
Chris> The best bit of new business advice I got was from the founder of Tullo Marshall Warren. Paul Tullo and I were pitching for a large account. I was quite nervous and was getting my words muddled during practice. He then imparted some advice that I still use today: write a script of what you are going to say, write it long hand, practice it out-loud and then put it in the bin. If you lose your flow during the pitch, your mind will find the script and you can pick up where you left off.
Today, for me, this means writing long-hand decks. 100-slide pitch decks are not uncommon. It’s then a case of making sure everybody knows the long scripted narrative. Next is the job of editing it down to just a few slides. The 100 slides were just to get the script sorted. I often see pitch decks that need rewriting as they think the 100-slide deck is the client deck. When pitching you must be willing to ditch every slide you wrote at the beginning to get to the best pitch story. People are often too precious over slides as they assume it gives them a role in the room just because they wrote them. Just focus on the most impactful pitch narrative, which means you might need to kill every slide anyone wrote up until that point.
Q> What’s been your biggest disaster?
Chris> We were pitching for the 118 118 account. The two 118 Characters were already in existence and we were building on that idea. The pitch was not going well. Too many ideas, not enough of a central red thread. The client was losing interest and we were getting challenging questions. We had planned some pitch theatre, but it was too late to stop it. Just when the mood could not get any worse, two of our creatives burst into the room dressed as the 118 characters and mimed out a terrible role play. It was the worst sort of cringeworthy pitch theatre. I learnt my lesson that a great idea and good deck beats pitch theatre every time.