Win before you even get in the room

Recently I spoke at The Drum’s Pitch Perfect Day and went in with the sole objective of challenging current agency behaviour and thinking around new business.

I challenged agencies to step up their game to win before they even walk into the pitch room. Here’s the short version of the points I landed, I hope they help. [If you would like to read the extended version please head on over to Medium to read that].

Agencies are brands too…FACT! Think about M&C Saatchi, BBH and Lucky Generals and you’ll understand immediately what I am getting at.

With over 22k agencies in the UK you MUST think and act like a brand to stand out. Howard Schulz (CEO Starbucks) once said “The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart.” We think agencies are no different.

Most agencies were originally built on the passions, ambitions and beliefs of one or two founders and that’s where your brand story needs to start. It’s what makes you different than anyone else out there, you just need to know how to dig deep enough to find it.

The most successful agency brands know who they are, what their tone of voice is and their story and messaging is always consistent, unable to be replicated and authentic.

So, if you want to attract the brands you want to work with, then look to client brands for inspiration. Understand your audience. Profile them beyond demographics to mind-set, motivations, the challenges they face and what they care about.

So where do you start? You “Start with Why” (Simon Sinek), with purpose.

Lately I’ve read articles slating ‘purpose’ in marketing, and it’s really pissed me off. Why is ‘purpose’ getting such a bad rap?” Here are my conclusions:

You can’t ‘make up’, ‘adopt’ or ‘shoe-horn in’ true ‘purpose’. We all know what happened to Pepsi trying to do that with the latest Kylie Jenner debacle…utter disaster.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘purpose’ as: “The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”. So, when you look at the Pepsi/Jenner campaign, it’s obvious they didn’t have a clue what ‘purpose’ actually meant.

The science behind buyer behaviour tells us humans buy emotionally first and post rationalise with logic afterwards. Purpose must come from the heart and be authentic or else it will fail miserably.

Emotions drive decision-making, which Dale Carnegie knew all too well: “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion." Which means your purpose must be emotional, real, authentic and built from your ‘why’ and that purpose comes from the reason why your agency was started in the first place.

“But isn’t all of this ‘why’ and ‘purpose’ stuff just a bit fluffy for agencies. Why does it really matter?” Here’s why it’s important and powerful:

  1. It’s differentiating. Stop going on about how cool your creative is or how fab your people are, because everyone else is saying this shit too.
  2. With true purpose, comes true passion. Show you care about something important to you and clients will find that attractive
  3. In 2015 EY Beacon Institute along with Harvard Business Review compiled an analytic services report called ‘The Business Case for Purpose'. It was based on a survey of global business executives to find out the input true purpose has, upon the ability of brands to grow, innovate and transform. Here are just a couple of points that what we found within that report:
    - “85% of those interviewed said that they are more likely to recommend a company with strong purpose to others”
    - “81% said that purpose-driven companies deliver better products/services”
    - “80% of organisations with a shared purpose will have greater customer loyalty”
    - “You can’t just adopt it (purpose), it has to be driven operationally and in-depth by the CEO and the top leadership team…”
    - “Organisations do better when everyone is rowing in the same direction.” One senior manager in North America told us. “A well-integrated, shared purpose casts that direction. Without the shared purpose, organisations tend to run in circles, never making forward progress, but always rehashing the same discussions.”
    - “… Purpose-driven companies make more money, have more engaged employees and more loyal customers, and are even better at innovation and transformational change. It seems to be easier to win the game when you care about the game.” Michael Beer, Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School and a director of the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership.

In conclusion, purpose not only matters, it’s vital to the growth of your agency. But how do you get to the point where you can articulate your agency’s true purpose?

Transparency is currently a huge issue for our industry and must be addressed. Clients are seeking agencies that are being true to who they are, but are also being brave enough to be vulnerable (transparent).

Brene Brown (research professor, University of Houston) and has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame. She says, “engagement can only happen where vulnerability exists”, and that “Courage, from the Latin word ‘cour’ means heart (it’s what’s missing in a lot of agency propositions by the way) and that the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart”. She then goes on to talk about the power of courage “The courage to be imperfect, let ourselves be seen, let us be vulnerable”.

So, based on this philosophy, this is what we advise:

  • Be brave enough to be true to who you are. If you’re not clients will disconnect. You can’t just create the words; the behaviour of your team must reflect what you are saying
  • Stop TALKING about being authentic, BE authentic
  • It’s OK to not appeal to everyone. It’s more than OK to polarise and put the people off you didn’t want to work with anyway
  • Stop looking at your competition constantly. Lead don’t follow
  • Be brave enough to tell your story as founders. Your past is NOT irrelevant, it matters

Let’s stop chasing and start attracting.

Utilise your B2B marketing ecosystem/channels as effectively and efficiently as possible. Land the right message in the right places…consistently.

Just think Don Draper, the reason clients wanted him in a room was that he was full of ideas. People and brands wanted to be in a room with him and he was engaging, because he knew what he was talking about and didn’t shy away from providing his opinion.

So, if you want to build an attractive brand reputation, attract the kinds of clients you want to work with then you need to get yourselves out there and standing up for what you believe it (that’s where your ‘purpose’ is invaluable).

Client’s tell us they want their agencies to stop being so reactive. Come on agencies, give your client’s the competitive edge and step up. It’s time to put a stake in the ground and stand up for what you care about and believe in via insightful thought leadership, events, communications.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done, but to win before you get in the room it’s vital. But, you don’t have to do it alone. New business is a culture, not a job title or a department…FACT! But, what do we mean by a new business culture?

I was once told by a colleague, that should have known better, when I challenged him on having excluded from the pitch team’s daily get-together again, that “new business is just administration, isn’t it?” As you can imagine he was very quickly pulled up on that belief and categorically set straight on that misconception.

One of the big reasons for an agencies successful growth is that new business isn’t just a department, or a person, it’s a culture that runs throughout the whole agency. Here are some thoughts that should help you kick-start the development of a new business culture:

  • New business shouldn’t just be a function or a department
  • Everything we’ve been talking about today falls into ‘new business culture’. It’s ultimately what will help you win before getting into the room
  • Make sure every bit of your agency’s messaging and behaviour evokes emotion (aim for polarisation) and you want them to think “I’ve got a good feeling about this agency” and if you’re putting out your story and polarising, then you will attract the right prospects
  • Act like a brand, (see my previous four points) that will ensure your entire agency is working as one unit towards winning hearts and minds of client brands before you even get in the room. It’s true touch-point planning for agencies at its best – win before you even get there
  • Everyone should be involved. The whole agency should understand the vision, what their part is in the mission and what you stand for
  • Get everyone involved in contributing their opinions, stepping up for speaking opportunities, becoming your advocates, getting involved in pitches

So, that’s what you need to do to win before you get into the pitch room. It won’t take five minutes and it’s not going to be fixed by racing straight to lead generation (although we value this when it’s done right). Hopefully this has given you some food for thought, I know the people in the room on The Drum’s Pitch Perfect Day certainly thought so.

Good luck and #BringOnTheBrave