By The Malketeer
In the fast-paced and highly competitive world of advertising, agencies often find themselves trapped in the relentless pursuit of new business opportunities. Traditionally, the process of winning new clients has often been associated with the dreaded “pitch.”
However, there is a growing movement within the advertising industry that advocates for an alternative approach – one that focuses on building meaningful, lasting relationships and winning new business without the need for pitching. This approach is not only more effective but also more sustainable in the long run.
Together with my partners, I had the privilege of running a home-grown advertising agency, Bloomingdale Advertising Sdn Bhd which later came to be known as Bloomingdale Worldwide Partners for a fruitful 30 years with minimal pitching.
The Problem with Pitching
The pitching process has been a longstanding tradition in the advertising industry. Agencies spend significant time and resources crafting elaborate presentations and creative concepts to win over potential clients. While pitching can sometimes lead to new business, it comes with several inherent problems:
Resource Drain: Preparing pitches is time-consuming and expensive. Agencies often invest significant effort and creative energy into pitches that may not yield any returns and even demoralises the team.
Lack of Trust: The pitching process often fosters mistrust between agencies and potential clients. Clients may feel overwhelmed by an onslaught of competing ideas, leading to a lack of transparency and genuine partnership. Many a time, unethical clients have pre-decided on an agency and call for a pitch to satisfy procurement SOPs.
Risk of Idea Theft: Sharing creative concepts during a pitch opens the door to potential idea theft. Unethical clients may take an agency’s ideas without committing to a partnership.
Short-Term Focus: Pitching tends to prioritise short-term gains, neglecting the long-term relationships that are essential for sustained success in the advertising industry.
The Art of Winning New Business Without Pitching
Build Relationships: Rather than starting with a pitch, focus on building relationships with potential clients. Attend industry events, network, and get to know decision-makers on a personal level. Show genuine interest in their business and challenges.
I recall winning the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines business in 1990 by simply writing a welcome note to the new General Manager who was posted to Kuala Lumpur. He invited me over to his office for a cup of coffee during which time I managed to share Bloomingdale’s credentials with him. Within a month the agency team was invited over to Amsterdam for an orientation programme on KLM’s global advertising campaign!
Similarly, Automotive Corporation Malaysia (ACM) Sdn Bhd was looking for an agency in 1991 that could undertake generation of creative campaigns and media buys for their range of Isuzu vehicles but conditional upon a mandatory 90-day credit period being made available to the prospective client. We were hungry for business and in line with the adage, “beggars can’t be choosers”, we obliged and took the gamble.
Our investment paid off handsomely over the years as the client valued our relationship and the 24-hour turn around time in delivering campaign ideas, helped build a lasting mutually beneficial business relationship.
I was at the beck-and-call of the Managing Director of the DRB-Hicom Group, the late Tan Sri Yahaya Ahmad, who ensured that all of the Group’s advertising and promotional campaigns were produced and managed by our agency. To him, deliverables and deadlines mattered. The word, impossible, was an anathema.
Demonstrate Expertise: Position yourself as an expert in your field by sharing knowledge and insights. Create valuable content, give presentations, and offer free consultations. By showcasing your expertise, you build trust and credibility.
Our steadfast investment in providing our clients with a choice of alternative creative campaigns served us well as they saw value in our services.
Case Studies and Results: Share your agency’s success stories and case studies with potential clients. Highlight the results you’ve achieved for previous clients and how you can apply your expertise to their specific needs.
Bloomingdale’s successful campaign case studies with the DRB-Hicom Group helped garner new clients without having to pitch.
Collaborative Workshops: Instead of pitching, propose collaborative workshops or brainstorming sessions where you and the client can work together to address their challenges. This fosters a sense of partnership and co-creation.
Apart from advertising services, we value-added by providing the plethora of PR services at no additional cost to the client. This included pitching interviews and stories to various media platforms on behalf of our client. We worked on a formula of paid and unpaid publicity.
Ask Questions: Instead of presenting ideas, ask questions. Understand the client’s goals, pain points, and objectives. Tailor your approach to address their specific needs, showing that you are invested in their success.
Whenever a client has a successful campaign run, more often than not, the client will share the fruits of success with the agency.
Create Customised Proposals: Once you have a deep understanding of the client’s needs, create a customised proposal that outlines how your agency can solve their problems. Be specific about the strategies and tactics you will employ.
We made it known to our client that we could assist them in preparing slide decks, videos and documentations for their presentations to various government agencies at the height of the Malaysian Government’s privatisation projects during the 1990s. The agency worked closely with the client’s team on various privatisation projects including the inspection of commercial vehicles and public transportation services.
Be Patient: Winning new business without pitching takes time. Be patient and persistent. Keep nurturing the relationship, even if it doesn’t lead to an immediate contract.
Like the adage, “Trust takes years to build but seconds to destroy”, the agency persevered and it paid off.
Benefits of Winning Without Pitching
Trust and Respect: By eschewing pitching and focusing on building relationships, you create a foundation of trust and mutual respect with potential clients. In fact, our client recommended the services of our agency to their business partners as well.
Long-Term Partnerships: Winning business without pitching highlights the importance of long-term relationships, leading to more stable and profitable partnerships.
Efficient Resource Allocation: Agencies can allocate resources more efficiently by investing in relationships that have a higher likelihood of conversion, rather than in speculative pitches.
Intellectual Property Protection: By avoiding the traditional pitch, agencies can protect their intellectual property and reduce the risk of idea theft.
Sustainable Growth: The approach of winning business without pitching fosters sustainable growth by focusing on the value agencies can provide rather than the ideas they can present in a single presentation.
The art of winning new business in advertising without pitching is not only a more efficient approach but also one that fosters stronger, more enduring partnerships. By building relationships, demonstrating expertise, and focusing on long-term collaboration, agencies can shift away from the traditional pitch and work towards a more sustainable and prosperous future in the advertising industry.
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