By David MacGregor
New business is the life blood of an agency - or at least a measure of its hunger and ability to persuade clients to join their roster.
1. A glamour client will always have many suitors.
You know how it works - it's natural selection, right? The best looking girl will have the most guys in hot pursuit. Amongst them will be the best looking guys and jocks. Some brands are desirable for more than their budgets - they have a history of doing great work or their products are on-trend. What does that mean for your agency? - You're not jock or rock-star, you don't have a trust account or the best family connections. I wish I had better news for you, but I think they best thing to do is to walk away. Even if you did somehow manage to hook a glamour account the chances are they will always be flirting with rivals, distracted and judging you not on your merits but on what they are missing out on. With these clients you're really not missing out on much other than superficiality and neurosis.
2. Don't wait to be invited to pitch for an account.
Be proactive and don't assume that ads are the answer to everything. Find a category that is interesting to you and develop a deep intelligence about it. Know who the movers and shakers are and how influence is interconnected. Become a part of the conversation - make yourself useful.
Also think about developing solutions for client that are proprietary to you. When I cofounded BrandWorld we developed Family Health Diary without being asked to by a client (even though it solved our client's problem - many brands, not much money). The intellectual property remained with our firm and it became a media platform used by almost every brand in the healthcare category at one time or another. We owned the monopoly on the brand, so client's couldn't buy it from anyone else.
3. Don't assume an account won't move.
Actually, never assume anything. As with most things in life, being there when a client feels they need to make a shift is vital. It may be your interaction with them that prompts the desire for change - it may be dumb luck. But if you want to win an account then open up a channel with the brand today. They will move at some stage - count on it.
Dig the well before you need the water.
There is a trend towards brands having a portfolio of creative and communications suppliers - get your firm on the roster and secure territory from there. Sometimes it's not the 'account' that moves - but the budget might.
4. Invest in a pitch but know when to draw the line.
Pitching for business is like buying a house in an overheated market. If you don't buy well in the first instance you are never going to make a profit. Over-investing in new business doesn't make sense. If you are a brand owner reading this you also have a responsibility to guide the firms competing for your business with clear expectations. If you say 'no finished visuals or speculative tvcs' then stick to it. An agency that can't take direction will make a poor partner. It might seem like the exact opposite but an agency that overcommits is also going to be a needy pain in the ass when they present ideas in the future. Start as you mean to go on. Don't step outside of your management style for the sake of a pitch. The first few months of dating are quite different to married life.
Agencies invited to pitch should also think twice if the terms of the pitch are onerous or favour the client too much. A client that wants you to jump through hoops and perform unnatural acts to win their business?…let's just say some clients are better off with someone else.
5. Don't let your new business drive alienate your existing clients.
Nothing annoys existing clients more than being made to feel unloved or neglected while their agency is out hob-nobbing in the trade press with their latest acquisition. It's kind of like seeing your bank's advertising on TV telling you how special you are (if you are thinking of changing banks) while charging you exorbitant fees and giving you nothing special in return.
This phenomenon probably keeps the cycle of new business churning - a revolving door…Just remember it's more profitable to expand your businesses profits by providing more services to existing, happy customers.
In this case we didn't - you win some you lose some.
The Superbowl advertising is almost as famous as the sporting spectacle - though outside of the US it's the ads hands-down. Every year big brands line up to spend millions of dollars out-doing other brands with lavish, spectacular and sometimes downright spectacularly stupid commercials. But, hey - it's a party, let's not get too serious - it's only advertising.
This commercial is a slot stopper - take the whole break with an epic concept: Pretty girl (and a large production crew) abducts a guy from a bar with the promise of beer…a surefire winner. Doesn't every guy in the demographic fantasise that this would happen to them? Beer, promise of sex, fame, beer, pocket squares…
Let's take a closer look at that.
The talent in the ad seems like a nice enough guy. A kind of happy, friendly, slightly overweight fellow - he'll never be confused with the Old Spice guy ('the man your man could smell like…'). He has been plucked straight from the target audience. His adventure is probably a projection of the focus-group research transcripts - 'so, what would be your fantasy night out?"
"Anything can happen?"
"Anything at all - the city is yours to have at as you will…"
"Well I meet a girl in a bar…she's got a short little sparkly dress - and it's blue. Blue like, I know, like a Bud Light bottle. Can I say that? Bud Light?"
"You can say anything you want, this is your fantasy."
"Ok, so, this girl, she's kind of cute, homecoming queen cute and she asks me if I'm 'up for it'?. Well, hell yeya I'm up for it. So we get into this stretch limo…gotta be a Hummer…nothing fancy like a Lincoln Towncar…it's a party limo - in back there's a DJ and it's filled with girls, every one of them as pretty as the girl in the bar. And the Bud Light is flowing…Man, just when I think it doesn't get better than this - they take me to a department store and buy me a jacket. A jacket with a pocket square. Not just any pocket square…A blue pocket square…You can tell I'm getting the five star treatment - the store assistant is Minka Kelly, you know THE Minka Kelly - played Jackie O in The Butler…Jackie O knows style my man…"
"Yeah man, blue, Bud Light Blue…back into the limo…looking good with ma lay-dayz…we arrive at a club, not just any club. In the elevator there are these beautiful twins - the whole place is packed with twins. Don Cheadle gets in the elevator with his llama - I'm not talking Tibetan monks here - I'm talkin' llama - as in the dude is packin' pachyderm. I'm in a lift with Don Cheadle, his llama, twins in lamé and the doors open. You won't believe what happens next…"
"I am suspending disbelief, this is your fantasy…"
I look up and there is Arnold Schwarzenegger - when he said 'I'll be baaack' he meant it - but he's wearing a long blonde wig and tennis shorts and he wants to play table tennis. I'm a little bit afraid. But at least he's not wearing a blue sparkly cocktail dress to go with the wig - 'cause that would be strange. We play, I win…the walls fall away and I'm in an arena with a stage and lights and OMG - I can't believe it - one minute I'm playing ping pong with THE sickest Republican and the next I'm up there on stage with New Republic…"
"How do you spell that?…"
"No one is going to believe this I think to myself, so I get my iPhone out and make a selfie with the band…"
"Oh, they're a band. ¬Actually, come to think of it wasn't Arnold in a movie called Twins?" I see what you did there
You can see why the guy is in a bar by himself to begin with - having a quiet with the 'the perfect beer for whatever happens'. Hardly plausible. I mean…Don Cheadle…really?
The size of your business or budget is not a reliable indicator of its ability to have an impact.
Mosquitos, compared to, say, Great White sharks are ruthlessly efficient killers. They may not be predators at the top of the food chain but are responsible for more human deaths throughout history than any other living creature - it passes on infectious diseases like Malaria, West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever and Yellow Fever as well as parasites like roundworms. All of which should be taken very seriously.
While we are contemplating bugs, bear in mind that ants have bigger brains than humans (relative to their mass), have a better sense of smell than dogs and can lift 50 times their body weight. A queen ant will only mate once in her life, but can keep the sperm within her body alive to produce 300,000,000 more ants over a period of 15 years. Ants are superhuman, for all their miniscule size.
In business today small firms can accomplish more with less than ever before in history. Technology has seen to that. The entire hive of human activity spanning the globe can potentially be reached in an instant by a single tweet. 140 characters of instant messaging that travels faster than the blast of pheromones that alert the soldier of an ant colony to outsider threats.
Big businesses with large budgets can be ignored as easily as anyone else - or worse, can become the target to be chipped away by sniping from more agile upstarts and other competitors.
Big budgets often have a waste factor built in. Some organisations still quaintly allocate marketing budgets based on a percentage increase over the year before. If last year's budget wasn't exhausted then this year's will remain the same or will be reduced. It's obvious that off-loading the cash will be a priority for a manager whose personal and professional prestige is measured by the size of their budget.
For the rest of us extracting every molecule of value is essential - sometimes to growth, sometimes to beating rivals to the punch and, sometimes, to survival.
What can we learn from bugs?
1. Occupy a niche
You can't be all things to all people. Some ants colonise deserts, some adapt to the forest floor and, within colonies some ants are adept in the nursery and others are ferocious soldier ants (you don't want to be bitten by a bullet ant - its sting is said to be the most painful on earth of any insect). It might seem attractive to chase every 'opportunity' that comes your way or just to add another social media platform to your repertoire - but these acitivities sap energy and blur your focus.
2. Communicate relentlessly
As organisations grow they lose touch - not just with their customers, but with employees and suppliers. In some cases with the wider community. Ants and bees continuously communicate. Where is the honey? Is there a threat? Their biological programming - the stored institutional knowledge of being a bee - is in their DNA and communicated without dramatic variation every moment of the nest or hive's existence. Businesses that share information efficiently are going to perform much better than those that hoard knowledge and data in silos - from personal to divisional. Small businesses and brands enjoy the power of unmediated media to communicate with their audiences and stakeholders. Let customers decide what is most important to them - for you it is more important to be accessible and available. The communication doesn't have to be earth-shaking or charismatic. It just has to be useful, interesting and timely.
3. Keep you antennae up
The flip side to the communication story is that it is a two-way process. Use social media to be alert to what is happening in your domain. Sometimes you'll hear a cry for help - or a warning signal. Read the blogs of your competitors and read the comments of their customers. Early detection can be a heck of a lot cheaper than remedial action later.
Small things matter - and not just to small organisations and brands. If you doubt that, then consider the statistically improbable fate of Robbert Wedderburn, credited with the co-creation of the generalised linear model of statistical probability, who was bitten by a small spider and died from anaphylactic shock. Perhaps we can examine the importance of big data another time?
Breaking Bad is probably one of the most talked-about television shows ever. Maybe in the olden-days people talked about shows like the final episode of M.A.S.H. but we'll never know because there are no blogs, or tweets, no Facebook links to clips or mash-ups on YouTube to prove it.
With the proliferation of media and explosion of user-generated content on free social platforms it gets harder for legacy media to deliver content that is compelling, especially when it is covering ground so ably canvassed by blogs, FB posts etc.
Charlie Brooker is a British media commentator and satirist whose take on television criticism is the best since Clive James went off the boil over 20 years ago. He may be the last gasp of the genre (which in New Zealand included Eating Media Lunch). This segment cleverly reframes criticism and social insight and it's funny…not content to be commentary it becomes shareable content in its own right.
Watch the whole show on YouTube
This ad doesn't have a headline. Unless you count 'To Dad' featured in the illustration - which is otherwise just a somewhat banal product shot. It flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Well the conventions of copy-based story telling anyway. I suppose that's one of the things that makes the ad intriguing and attention grabbing - that and the fact that it ran in the week preceding Father's Day in the English sunday colour supplements and many of the readers would have had the nagging thought "I really must do something about a Father's Day gift." in the back of their minds.
The eloquently written copy tugs ever so gently at the heart strings. Its author, the renowned English creative David Abbott says he penned it as if it was a not to his own father. It wasn't the only time he featured in the first person in an ad for his clients - he also showed himself lying prone beneath a Volvo, hanging from a crane above him (If the welding isn't strong enough the car will fall on the writer). What an understated showman he was.
Every paragraph begins with the word 'Because…', probably because the gift of a bottle of Chivas is a little lavish (not in absolute terms, but the positioning of the blended whiskey was that it was better than it is in truth) - and so it needed a little justification. It also mirrors the most popular poem in the English poetic repertoire by Rudyard Kipling - though this time from father to son…If. That is a sentimental cultural connection I am sure wasn't lost on the readers of The Times or Guardian.
It is a masterful ad - never once mentioning the brand by name. Never once espousing its virtues; no 'lovingly blended by 80 year old Scottish virgins…'. No reason or logic. And yet there they are: 50 good reasons to bestow Chivas Regal on your father - who, as a Times reader himself, will wonder why you foisted scorched almonds from the gas station on him yet again.
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.