Alex Bogusky, partner in Crispin Porter Bogusky, cultivates what he calls a “Zen Buddhist” attitude about new business wins and losses. Scratch the word “losses,” though, because he claims to have never lost a pitch. His rationale (or rationalization): When a client chooses another agency instead of his “it was meant to be” and is not a loss at all. Moreover, he’s proud to have never learned anything from his mistakes.

Droga5 founder David Droga declares with confidence that his agency, which is named after the laundry markings in his boarding school underpants, won’t pursue any new business that requires spec creative concepts – unless the prospective client ponies up a pitch fee. Still, clients seek them out at least as much as they seek clients.

Michael Goldberg, EVP and chief marketing officer at Zimmerman, prides himself on working for the “Glengarry Glen Ross” of big agencies. He boasts of bringing juice and has an incredible pitch close rate to show for it. For him and his CEO, any loss is a weakness and deserving of excruciating dissection, collective culpability and self-flagellation.

In style, philosophy, attitude and business practices they couldn’t be more different. Yet all of them are top dogs at storied and successful agencies, and all were featured speakers at the 2010 Mirren new business conference in early April.

My takeaway from these three presentations, as well as much of the other largely stellar content and networking at the conference is this: There is no silver bullet when it comes to agency new business development. No one set of tools, sure-fire process, perfect elevator pitch or precisely curated Rolodex.

I’ve long understood that pursuing and acquiring new clients is a process that is as distinctive – even to the point of eccentricity – as the specific agencies engaged in the process. At least that’s what I thought was true. Attending Mirren helped turn my assumptions into convictions.

Affirmed is my belief in these fundamentals to successful new business development, principles that apply to agencies of all sizes and service sets:

  • Vision (or maybe being on a mission) for what the agency can, should and will be, as opposed to allowing the organization to become whatever work it can get
  • Affirmative leadership that means what it says and says what it means, especially in its desire for revenue growth
  • A spirited internal cultural that embraces the new, relishes a challenge and collaborates to win fresh opportunities
  • Accountability not only for new business results but also for supporting new business efforts
  • Process and resources scaled to meet new business objectives consistently over time, not just when its convenient

A final thought: If there was indeed a unified approach to new business development, let’s say the convergence of the three speakers cited here, it could become known as the Zen Underpants Juice manifesto. And who would want that?

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