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Future of New Business

Circle of Trust: Future of New Business Resides In Trust Between Client and Agency

Brand leaders need help, guidance and capability from their agency partners, says Oystercatchers MD

By Richard Robinson

One of my favourite scenes in Meet the Fockers is a moment of dialogue between Jack (Robert de Niro) and Greg (Ben Stiller) where they discuss ‘the Circle of Trust’. For the purpose of this piece imagine de Niro is playing the role of CMO and Stiller plays the Agency new business lead.

• Jack: “We’re talking about you here Greg. If I can’t trust you then I have no choice but to put you outside the Circle of Trust. And once you’re out you’re out, there’s no coming back. Tell me the truth”.

• Greg: [dramatic pause, mumbling inaudibly] “I don’t know what we’re talking about here Jack”.

Without knowing it the writers Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg created the perfect metaphor for the new business dance of 2023; a world where two parties ultimately want the same thing, a world built on unconditional trust, but too often where client & agency talk at cross-purposes or sometimes don’t even talk at all.

When I ask marketing leaders, the people in the reverential position of being senior enough to ask for help, what they most want from their agency partners three things repeatedly come to the fore:

• Help to understand today’s market dynamics.

• Guidance to find the right path through to tangible action.

• Capability to upskill their plans with the best tools & services.

They’re asking for something more human, visceral and valuable for their brand and career than big ideas and killer insights. The need for a partner inside their Circle of Trust, who, to quote the CMO of one of the largest brands in the UK “I can put in front of the CEO without looking like a pillock”. Help, Guidance and Capability, human traits for human beings striving to find a way to solve some of the biggest economic challenges of a generation through the power of commercial creativity.

The economic dimension is the key to mastery in pitching in 2023, because at the root of every brief is an economic need. Within this we know, thanks to the Advertising Association & WARC, that by the end of 2022 Adspend had risen 42 per cent since 2011 to £34.7bn with anticipated growth of 3.9 per cent in 2023 to £36.2bn. In parallel preliminary budgeting in the IPA’s excellent quarterly Bellwether’s points to strong growth in 2023/2024 with financial prospects of agencies, despite remaining subdued at an industry and company-wide level, turning less negative.

Brand Leaders need the Help, Guidance and Capability to invest wisely, knowing where the biggest ROI will come from in terms of long & short term brand building, channel selection, over-arching idea & individual execution – as well as meeting the bigger, more holistic economic and strategic needs of their company which run straight through the CMO to the CEO & CFO & ultimately the shareholders and customer. Through this lens pitching in 2023 will see business as usual slip effortlessly into business unusual, with the need to master the new norm of everyday economic instability a key driver for agency chief and new business leader alike.

Pitching in 2023, especially when an intermediary like Oystercatchers is involved, will see widening scope, growing channels, and greater rigour. In parallel everyone involved in UK PLC should heed the warning of Tamara Daltroff, Director General of the European Association of Communication Agencies, when she says “the UK should expect a migration of briefs from Britain to mainland Europe, with an acceleration of brands looking to Paris, Amsterdam, Milan and Berlin to find the talent who will maximise their spend when they might previously have come to London”. In a global economy of brands, media and customers Britain needs to earn it’s right to a seat at the table.

Looking ahead to how pitch in 2023 there are six important considerations if you want to win.

1. Focus on the long and the short of it

We’re in an economic crisis, and CFOs understand better than at any time previously cutting budget isn’t necessarily the best course of action to survive. The work of Ritson, Binet, Field et al in demonstrating and proving “the long and the short of it” is finally cutting through, and it’s no different when it comes to pitching. Mark Ritson sagely warns agencies this doesn’t mean a wholesale switch from one to the other but a reweighting when he says “There’s a very clear sense of larger companies questioning their potential over-investment in shorter term tactical fare and returning to a broader, longer term brand building focus. Good agencies need to refresh their offer around mass marketing, fame, brand building and the long of it”. Balancing, reweighting, and demonstrating how your idea will deliver the long and the short of it in 2023 will become the hallmark of the agencies who succeed and thrive.

2. Be digital don’t do digital

The biggest digital transformation of the pandemic was the digital transformation of people; what we previously, nostalgically, called 24-7 or ‘aways on’ has morphed to become the 168-hour, never-off economy. People consume content and purchase products whenever and however they like, thinking, acting and buying in real-time. Agencies authentically living the real lives of the customer, disintermediating time & touches to deliver competitive advantage will win more pitches in 2023 by delivering deeper, richer customer connections & ultimately more compelling work for their clients.

3. Bend time to make time

The greatest anachronism of our time is the way we approach time, slavishly clinging to the legacy rules of work-time first created by retailers in the 18th century. The customer, the person we ultimately serve, dispensed with the fixed rules of 9x5x5 more than a decade ago. Retailers, manufacturers, publishers, entertainers quickly followed suit, moving to more flexible working hours, harnessing the global economy to bend time across timezones & deliver two or three shifts of work either virtually or physically in one twenty-four hour block of time. Time is a necessity to win pitches, and the time you need can be right there in 2023, but only if you step forward and make it work for you.

4. Be all in or all out

Years ago I asked Suki Thompson, Oystercatchers’ Co-Founder who was going to win a pitch we were working on. She said it was a complex question with a simple answer – “whoever most wants to win the pitch is most likely to win the pitch”. The phrase sounds throw-away, almost glib but it’s utterly excoriating and true when applied to pitching agencies. Nine times out of ten you can feel who’s going to win before the first word is spoken or the first board presented. You know without the need for verbal cues. And in a year where pitches will become bigger and more complex, the question to ask yourself before every pitch is whether this is the pitch you most want to win. Is it the best use your time, resources and money, or will the best decision you make all year be to not pitch this time round. There is no half and half in 2023, this is the year of being all in or all out.

5. Be brilliant at the basics, then go above and beyond

Demonstrating your strategic leadership, creative excellence, digital mastery and operational discipline are nothing more than table-stakes in the biggest pitches, most especially when an intermediary is involved. These are necessary skills but fully known to the client (and lets face it, the reason you’re already in the room), so use your time wisely to take a bigger position starting with how much you care. How can you elevate your pitch to demonstrate your brilliance in helping the CMO understand today’s market dynamics, guiding them to find the right path to action & upskilling their ability to influence customer behaviour through the best adtech, channels & campaigns. 2023 is the year to look up and become trusted for more than just the work, taking a lead from the likes of Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association, who suggests considering highly complementary areas for improving ROI such as “looking at measuring and managing the carbon emissions that come from the production and media choices made”.

6. Embrace Old Business as the new New Business

I’ve long argued something needs to be done to balance out the heroin-hit of new business pitching with the daily rhythmic vibe of old business. The former brings fame, glory, money and promotion but it can just as easily bring failure, rejection & broken dreams. Conversely the latter can be nurtured, grown and, given time, become the long term barometer of agency health & viability. I’d like to see 2023 be the year when Old Business, and the incremental New Business derived from it, get its dues in the industry with the same level of energy, proactivity and celebration when an account is retained, grown or upscaled.

So, go forth with confidence, decide if you’re all in or all out before every pitch in 2023. Consider the Help, Guidance and Capability you will bring to your new and old business, and above all else write your own script for the perfect Circle of Trust with your clients taking inspiration from Greg Focker’s eventual coup de grâce to Jack Byrnes “You know what, you don't have a patent on the circle, Jack. We’re starting our own Circle of Trust”.


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