Leading figures from the world of New Business, interview each other on what it takes to be a successful New Business leader in today’s industry.
Carmen Bekker, Management Partner & European Marketing Director, JWT and Jemima Monies, Head of New Business & PR, adam&eveDDB
How did you get into new business?
Carmen: I started agency life in account management and as most account people do at some point, ran a few pitches. It was then at the pitching bug hit me and wow does pitching feel good. After a few wins and experiencing the highs and lows of new business, my CEO at the time asked me if I would like to run marketing and new business for JWT and I jumped at the chance.
Jemima: After 3 years as a reporter at Marketing magazine, I realised I wanted to be doing what I was writing about. I wrote a top 3 list of agencies I wanted to work for and I couldn’t believe my luck when I got a job as Marketing Manager at my top choice, MCBD. Suddenly I was on the other side of the fence, which was fun as it meant dealing with my old colleagues, but it was also a big eye opener into what agency life was really like. It wasn’t all glitz and glamour, which it had seemed at times, but also long days and hard work. I loved the creative culture though and it immediately felt like the right environment to be in, and still very much does.
What do you love most about it?
Carmen: Pitching is a whirlwind of creativity, energy and emotions. You work with amazing clients who give you fascinating business challenges to solve and work to produce. A pitch is a win or lose scenario – second is not good enough so the creativity, attention to detail, the effort and the energy that goes into it from the whole team is second to none. The comradery amongst the team is fantastic, you make friends for life. It is also a great way to meet lots of people from the industry, not just clients. I remember a pitch in Mumbai where there were 8 agencies staying in the same hotel. Imagine the breakfast room; everyone saying hi, then pitching against each other hours later.
Jemima: Where do I start?! That every day is different. That it touches every part of the agency and everyone in between. That it’s my job to know everything that’s going on in and outside the agency. The thrill of pitching and winning. Working with the best in the business. Being in it together - no matter what department or level you are, when you’re sat around a table eating your fourth consecutive Deliveroo dinner surrounded by mounds of brilliant creative work, there is a great sense of unity. And with my PR hat on, seeing a brilliant piece of work take off and being talked about on the tube.
What’s the most challenging thing about it?
Carmen: Knowing when to say ‘no’. New business people are generally very optimistic so it is hard for us to turn down an opportunity. It is key to your agency business to know if an opportunity does not suit you or it does not fit to your agency strategy. In my experience, clients appreciate knowing the truth and it is often a very powerful aphrodisiac that can end up being a positive for the agency and client.
Jemima: The excitement, exhilaration and energy of working on a pitch brings high emotion which, combined with lack of sleep and differing opinions, requires a thick skin and confidence to push back and/or forward – not forgetting a sense of humour.
What’s the most important skill a successful new business person needs?
Carmen: Tenacity with a healthy dose of optimism.
Jemima: The best new business people are brilliant all-rounders. From writing a marketing strategy for the year to designing a pitch book to dealing with procurement, the role requires a combination of strategic and creative skills, proactivity and reactivity, and tenacity and sensitivity. It’s ultimately the new business department’s role to carefully pull the strings behind the scenes to ensure that the best group presents the best face of the agency in every meeting.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to get on in our profession?
Carmen: If you want to work in new business then volunteer to work on any pitch team you can. If you are already in an agency, then it should be easy – new business loves volunteers. If you want to get into new business, don’t worry about starting from the bottom. We all start somewhere and in new business it is quick to rise to the top because there a so few skilled new business people in the UK. For those already in new business the key to keep progressing is to make sure you are ready for management roles. To do this you need to understand the business beyond prospecting: the current clients, the financials, the operations and talent and understand what keeps your agency successful and growing.
Jemima: We are a small pool so there is a great opportunity to move up the ladder quickly within the new business world. My advice would be to make sure you fully understand the role. It’s not just pitching. There is a whole host of stuff that comes before, after and in between, and your ‘clients' are the press and intermediaries.
What qualities/experience do you look for when hiring new business people?
Carmen: There is no one skill, instead there is a mixture of essential ingredients that make the most amazing new business people. I look for someone that can have an intelligent conversation with clients. If they can understand clients’ needs, then the rest is a little easier. After that I look for a go-getter and team player who can get a team moving in the same direction. Its important new business can deal effectively with every department in an agency, as the role is wide and varied so someone that can talk to everyone and makes friends easily is a huge asset.
Jemima: As well as being a good all-rounder, cultural fit is very important to me. New business is essentially the front door to the agency, so it’s important our new business people embody our unique culture and way of working. Oh, and you need to be a perfectionist with a very good eye for detail.
What are some of the new challenges you are facing?
Carmen: New business sees opportunities in every challenge. From ad-blocking to decoupling, the trends that lie at the heart of our industry affect new business. The key is to be prepared for them and to understand your agency position and find opportunities around that.
Jemima: As our client list grows, we find ourselves conflicted out of many new business opportunities. This means my role has expanded further into growing the agency both organically and through other divisions of the business.
Last updated 26/05/2016