There are a few people working in the agency business who truly love the new business game. The hot pursuit. The pressure that creates diamonds, and eventually, the thrill of victory. But none among us wants to experience the agony of defeat. Nevertheless, we all do. It’s part of life and part of business life too.
When I was intently viewing MasterClass lessons from Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein last week, I noted how jazzed the gents are about new business. They speak glowingly of it in the second to last segment of their MasterClass.
Goodby says it’s a chance to remake everything, including yourself and the client.
Silverstein says, “It’s the most fun we have. It’s like Christmas every time.”
Goodby says, “Man, new business is the most important part of a company. And it’s the most important part of what you’ll contribute to a company, in many ways because there’s a new energy every time you pitch a piece of business.”
The guys are optimistic and they have every right to be—they’ve won one cherry account after the next for most of the careers.
On Other Shores, Different Scores
Pitching may be fun, at times – the rush of it; the bonding in the trenches, the togetherness of the team on the day; it can even become addictive. But like all addictions, it’s not actually good for you. Not good for your health, mental health and certainly not for your soul. If you pitch, inevitably, you win some but you lose more.
The idea that your work might not ever be real or worthwhile; the futility of it all has, in our experience, a negative effect on job satisfaction, confidence, overall well being – and – the work. This is the polar opposite of that amazing feeling of solidarity when working with a client to get to a solution – and then repeated to see their business grow.
The traditional pitch process is counterproductive in getting the best out of the relationships we all invest so much in. There’s so much waste.
Cohen is taking out the garbage. She’s also leading the charge for change. I admire her courage and her thinking. In my estimation, she is correct about the need for new approaches and a newfound respect for what we do that blossoms in return.
I also admire the San Francisco duo and am spellbound by all that they’ve accomplished and continue to do for their own agency and the industry at large. Can Cohen and Silverstein and Goodby all be right? Is new business both a rush and a bummer?
In academic terms, sure, we can all find an argument and work it over. But that’s a debate for debate’s sake. We’re pursuing an end here, an end where the agency business and the people who work in it are better off. Cohen is correct to point out “the futility of it all.” She’s correct because the environment of a new business pitch is false, the premise is wrong, and the demands are unreal.
The reality of building brands is agency and client need to slow dance. That long-term vision and pacing may not work into anyone’s jam-packed schedule. Too bad. Understand that you can move fast on several initiatives at once. You can be lean and mean. You can even sprint, as I like to do with new clients. What you can not do is snap your fingers and make customers appear. People need to be romanced, enticed, and lured to entertain an offer.
People are not machines. Buyers of products and services do not do what they’re told or even what we expect them to do based on the research. Brand building is fluid and to do it right, the teams need to flow and find the current that carries them deep into customer-filled waters.
Where does a new business pitch based on speculative work, often unpaid, enter into the equation? For Julie Cohen and her agency, it doesn’t. Clients who want her magic and her team will need to expend some energy, time, and money getting to know her. Because that’s business, not some kind of popularity party where clients play spin the bottle.