On April the 18th we will host our fifth Art of New Business event at LBi’s offices in Shoreditch. As April will mark six months since our first event, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on our journey and recount what motivated Sarah Bradley and I to set up The Art of New Business, an organisation that represents challenger thinking in the field of agency new business.
Before Sarah and I met for the first time at the Hilton Hotel at London Euston in November 2011 we both knew we shared something in common. We had read each other’s blog posts, followed each other on Twitter and read each other’s LinkedIn profiles. No one had introduced us or suggested that we should meet; we had found each other based on a shared passion, attitude and way of thinking.
We both firmly believed that the way agencies went about prospecting for new business was alienating the very clients they wanted to engage with, and as a result, an industry that was valued on the basis of its ability to help brands using its marketing and creative expertise was essentially digging its own grave.
More times than we cared to admit in our personal careers we had witnessed management at agencies pitch a big innovative idea to its clients in the morning, only to sit through an internal new business meeting in the afternoon where topics like cold calling to make meeting appointments were being discussed and approved. It seemed to us that agencies weren’t applying the advice they were giving their clients to their own marketing.
When we would question it, people would laugh and say “cobblers shoes syndrome” it’s just something “that happens in agency life”. As if that’s how it’s always been and so it will always be.
Given a brief from a client to attract more customers for their brand how many agencies would present that pitch, “we think you should buy an untargeted list of people and then cold call as many of them as you can, asking them if they want to buy your product? Or failing that, send them a mailer with a picture of your product on it with your company’s telephone number on it so they can call you”?
The answer, of course, is none I hope(!), so why do so many agencies fall into the trap of marketing themselves this way? This was just one of many questions we wanted to address.
One thing we knew no one in our industry would ever disagree on is that new business is the life blood of an agency. With over 17,000 agencies in the UK alone, each with at least one person responsible for bringing in new business, we were convinced there had to be audience open to discussing how to do new business better.
The Art of New Business was born.
Our strategy was pretty straight forward. Our aim was to:
1) Bring new business people together so they could share what they thought and felt about the role and the way they were expected to do it.
2) Find out who out there was doing things better and different and ask them to share their knowledge.
3) Ask clients for their thought on the way agencies prospected and pitched to them so we could build a case for change.
In the first instance, the best way to do this seemed to be to create a series of events in the UK for anyone charged with bringing in new business for their agency. To date we’ve held two events in Manchester and two in London with our third London event scheduled for April. We took the decision from the start that we’d share whatever learnings we took from the events using Twitter and Facebook as well as blogging and creating a community group on LinkedIn.
Even though we thought that The Art of New Business was addressing a definite need in the market (and we haven’t even mentioned the lack of focus on training, development and support for those tasked with bringing in new business for their agency), we are utterly overwhelmed by the number of new business people who have emailed and called to thank us for setting the events up, indeed, a number of high-profile new business directors in the UK and overseas have contacted us to congratulate us on starting a conversation that should have probably started quite some time ago. Your encouragement and support fuels what we are doing no end.
In addition, we could not have predicted how many authors, new business experts and industry leaders would willingly give up their evening to stand in front of the audience and share their knowledge and insight for free, their only motivation being to inspire others. A particular favourite of ours so far were the fantastic presentations on our Pecha Kucha night, videos of which can be seen here.
Lastly though, and probably the biggest surprise of all, has been the request for involvement that we have received from client-side marketers. The stories they’ve told us are of sometimes shockingly bad agency approaches, but horrible as these stories are, they serve to motivate and drive us on, because they support what Sarah and I already knew when we set out this journey – new business is at a tipping point. 10 years from now the way clients find and select agencies will have changed radically. In fact, it’s already changing.
If you want to find out how and what to do about it, sign up to be a friend of TAONB on our website and come along to our next event in London or Manchester.