Leading figures from the world of new business, interview each other on what it takes to be a successful leader in today’s industry.
This week we hear from Larissa Vince, Chief Growth Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi London and Cat Davis, Chief Growth Officer for UK and Europe, Cheil.
How did you get into new business?
Larissa: I’ve had anything but a traditional route in to this job! I started my career as a journalist, ending up as deputy editor on Campaign. When I left, Robert Senior asked me if I’d be interested in a PR role across Saatchi & Saatchi and Fallon, and I did that for a year or so before being asked to run new business, marketing and PR at Saatchi & Saatchi. I now lead the agency’s focus on growth, which also includes agency partnerships, acquisitions and addition of services.
Cat: I started as a suit and worked in the UK and abroad at various agencies, including TBWA, Leo Burnett, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. An opportunity came up client side on a national festival called ‘China Now’ in the run up to the Beijing Olympics, which provided me with a broader view on business and allowed me to see life from the other side of the fence. New business seemed the perfect place to marry my account handling and client side experience and apply the two skills to a discipline that up to that point had largely involved me being handed a Post-It note with a message to call x from y company as they may have an opportunity for us.
What do you love most about it?
Larissa: I’m addicted to the variety, and to the adrenaline rush caused by the up and down nature of what we do. You can lurch from triumph to disaster and back again in the space of a day, and you have to be the kind of person who likes that excitement to succeed.
Cat: The thrill of the chase. Every day is different and it’s never boring. It’s also great to be able to combine my experience of working both agency and client side to ensure that we come up with the right solution for a prospect’s needs. It was also fantastic to be involved in helping with the turnaround success of Grey – and I’m incredibly proud of the 68 wins we achieved there and being part of the new reinvigorated management team at Cheil, where we’re planning to do the same.
What’s the most challenging thing about it?
Larissa: For a control freak like myself, understanding that you can only control so much. There’s no point worrying about the rest of it.
Cat: The biggest challenge anyone who wants to work in new business will find is the number of plates that you have to spin. But that’s also what makes it such an interesting and fulfilling career. Whether it’s liaising with the intermediaries, finding out the answers to obscure – but essential questions in RFIs and PQQs – or creating case studies, agency films, keeping in contact with clients and procurement and ensuring that every part of the process counts as an agency ‘win’, it’s a job that means you need to be switched on at all times.
What’s the most important skill a successful new business person needs?
Larissa: The ability to influence; externally of course, but also internally. Externally, you need to be able to change perceptions about the agency, answer difficult questions, and think on your feet. Internally, you have to be the person who brings a team together, keeps them focused on winning, and on what’s really important to the potential client.
Cat: Tenacity, a sense of humour, the skin of a rhino and a passion for your agency’s business and that of your clients. It’s a bit like the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling – you need to keep your head about you.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to get on in our profession?
Larissa: Listen, ask questions, and be interested, whether you’re talking to your CEO, your receptionist, a new business consultant or a client. Take in what you hear and use it. Remember that there’s nothing worse at a dinner party than sitting next to someone who just talks about themselves all night. Don’t be that person or that agency.
Cat: Build as wide a network as possible, talk to the intermediaries and others who do the role and find out whether you are right for it – it’s not a job for the feint hearted but the sense of reward can be enormous. Be prepared for the odd knockback but develop an unshakeable belief and confidence in yourself and a strong desire to win. It’s also crucial that you are passionate about the industry and the people around you.
What qualities/experience do you look for when hiring new business people?
Larissa: I look for people with complementary skills to mine, and to those of the rest of the team. But generally, fantastic organisation, charm, and writing skills are key, as are enthusiasm and boundless energy.
Cat: All of the above but also a spirit of entrepreneurialism and a commitment to excellence and the ability to think laterally and in a way that our competitors and clients might find unexpected. A sense of humour also helps!
What are some of the new challenges you are facing?
Larissa: I’m not sure the essence of what we do has changed that much – though the market has got more competitive, for sure. And the diversification in services we offer now means that, as the experts on everything about our agencies, there’s a lot more for us to get our heads around.
Cat: Every day is different – and I thrive on that. What’s particularly rewarding at the moment is being on Cheil’s transformational journey and seeing the results of how our new management team and new approach are starting to pay off.
Last updated 26/05/2016