Ultimate Guide to Agency New Business
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How should agencies manage new business right now?

new business strategy May 10, 2020

We all recogonise that COVID-19 represents a humanitarian challenge that is unprecedented in recent times. In the UK we are 6 weeks in lockdown, although it feels like a lifetime but none of us have ever worked through anything quite like this. What we do know is that new business is always a long-term process and so agencies need to work out what seeds they can plant now that will have impact in the future? In this blog post, we are going to cover 6 key areas relating to agency new business which will help with your agency growth over the next few months.

Pause or keep going?

We know that it’s an incredibly difficult situation, most agencies we know have lost revenue and therefore need to cut costs, but you really shouldn’t be stopping entirely. You can pause, but when would a pause end? We’re not sure you can count on anything. But, the world will come back. To a new normal, but we all know that business has to move forward. 

Agencies need to be ready for when the tap goes on again. Think of this as a hibernation phase: now is the time to focus getting your new business tools and processes in ship shape, look at training and learning for your team, review old pitches and creds decks, how can they be improved upon. 

The temptation is to stop but we think scaling back is better. There remains a job to be done today. So use this time to make sure you are in the best position for when that happens. 


It goes without saying that it’s crucial to review your targeting. There’s a wealth of resources out there from McKinsey reports to Sifted, which is the FT’s innovation publication that looks at the impact of the pandemic on different sectors and subsectors. Have a review of your current database, park those sectors that really are going through turmoil at the moment unless there is a specific way you can help them.

BBH, in their report, refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the basic physiological and safety needs that people have at the moment being: connectivity, food, productivity, learning, wellbeing, exercise and home maintenance. Companies in these sectors are experiencing growth but before you go sending out mailing campaigns and targeting them, bear in mind that they too will have their own challenges. Many may be too stacked dealing with sudden increased demand to consider new agencies so think how you can be helpful to these sectors.

Consider also the impact of this pandemic in the short, medium and long-term. What will be the impact on education, for example, in the longer-term? Many predict that students will start to see less value in continuing in classroom education, more parents will now have the confidence to homeschool and may continue to do so. There are implications for all sectors, our lives will change for the definite. Think about how you can help brands prepare for the new normal.

We have created a google doc with some links to helpful resources which looks into the impact of COVID-19 on different sectors.

Nurture Relationships

This is the time to fully shake down your contact lists. You should start by making a list of those - former clients, colleagues, warm contacts, clients who have moved on, lost pitches, former industry contacts, LinkedIn contacts, warm prospects. Once you’ve got your address book together, keep it going. You will be staggered by how many people you know. 

If you haven’t already then create a database using a simple CRM programme such as Pipedrive or Hubspot and put all your contacts in there.

Then, give yourself a target to make 5 calls a day to this list if you can. You will get exponential results from keeping things constant. You don’t need to hire a new business person for this, do this yourself. Call up to offer help and support to them. This is the perfect moment to engage. You are raising profile but in the best way - by calling people just for a chat with no agenda, not to sell to them but see what they are struggling with. This is a step back from what you’d usually do in new business. Use this time to nail a deeper understanding of people’s concerns, sector issues and what changes may be happening in their sector, customer and audience behaviour after Covid-19 is over.

Be Helpful

Values such as tolerance, empathy and fairness matter now, more than they ever have. We’ve always believed in value exchange - give and get given; it’s not a new principal in business development and new business. 

This is the time to be truly helpful without asking for anything in return. Spend time to work out how you can be helpful and with what. We have seen several examp[es in our industry of people offering help and support which we have covered in this blog post. What expertise, resources and tools can you share? How can you apply the approach and thinking you are taking to existing clients to new potential clients? 

Prospecting & Pitching

You’ve probably already received several approaches from people overtly selling to you. They’re not being helpful, they’re being self-serving. These more salesy communications stand out for the wrong reasons; they don’t suit the spirit of these times. On top of this, people don’t forget a bad experience; we all know that people tell far more people when they’re had a more negative brand experience than when they’ve had a positive one.

Most immediately, this is a matter of tone and behaviour for brands and agencies alike. Brands are rethinking their campaigns making sure that any marketing activity they do is in the benefit of people and their new needs and not because they want to shift product. Agencies need to adapt their messaging so that it reflects a similar vain You will appear opportunistic and crass if you don’t and you can genuinely damage your brand by not taking the right approach. 

When you approach companies think about how you can help, add value and develop the relationship for the future. Everyone is working from home, without their team and they may welcome conversations with new people. As long as you don’t sell! It’s about making connections, adding value and finding their pain-points.

Slack Groups, webinars and informal WhatsApp groups are lifesavers at the moment to help people feel connected. Consider setting something informal up where your clients, connections and prospects can share problems, challenges, resources, and needs. 

You need to also think of the practical implications of pitching virtually - it’s now more important than ever to rehearse and practise so that you don’t talk over each other. Make sure you have the right tech set-up, think about your background and do sound checks. Unfortunately, it will be even harder to read your audience, especially if they turn off their video, Invest in training for your team that’s specifically focused on using solely your voice to pitch as you won’t be able to rely on creative props or room dressing any more. Also, think about it from the prospect’s point of view,   offer advice on how the pitch process could be run virtually, how can you streamline the pitching process and cut costs. - margins are now tight for everyone and hopefully, clients recognise that too. 

Content & thought leadership

There is a lot of content out there and a lot of noise generally. This is always the case but we’ve noticed a lot of people have a lot to say right now, and much of it is purely personal opinion and speculation. Bide your time; it’s better to offer informal help, than it is to wrap something up as a thought leadership piece that at best is a point of view. 

Before you create any content and thought leadership pieces, you need to start by doing your research. Understand what the issues are. You should go deep with this research because you are likely to have more capacity across the agency right now so be creative about unlocking that resource. Deploy and harness the brains of the agency and get your strategists and planners involved, use your creatives to design it beautifully and your copywriter to craft powerful words.

Set up those Google alerts on companies and deploy social listening. This will help define your content, which you can take out to your network and use as part of your new business campaigns. 

If you’re producing a proper insight piece, you will need to validate or demonstrate your thinking. Empirical evidence should be baked in. Never forget that clients are commercial so always validate your thinking and put it in a commercial context.

So in summary

  1. Use this time to plan and prepare

  2. Nurture existing relationships

  3. Review your targeting

  4. Be helpful all the time

  5. Consider how you prospect & pitch virtually

  6. Spend time creating content of real value


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