We all know that creative people have a great disdain for the money-grubbing process of persuading consumers to actually buy things. But I was shocked to learn the ad agency new-business team isn't very proficient at selling the agency to clients.
The main problem is that agency people don't care a great deal about learning the arcane details of clients' businesses. Ask account people about results from the various operations of a client company and they're likely to draw a blank. In addition, agency account-management executives identify more closely with marketing than with sales (which they feel is a little beneath their exalted status) so they don't want to give the impression that they are hawkers of the goods and services they represent.
This mind-set results in the impression that the new-business people don't understand the client's business when they go into pitches-or, worse yet, that they don't want to take the time to understand it.
And, more importantly, they don't enjoy getting into the messy job of negotiating a fee for their agency's services. They go into such negotiations with the idea that they are counseling their clients, and that trying to get a fair buck for their services is somehow unprofessional.
At last month's American Association of Advertising Agencies conference in New Orleans, DDB Worldwide Exec VP Cleve Langton, the worldwide director of business development at the Omnicom Group agency network, said account people across the agency industry need to have a better command of a client's business at all levels (and their understanding must go beyond advertising).
"A successful account person is able to talk to the client on his or her own level," Cleve told me.
He also believes that "professionalism and a willingness to sell are not mutually exclusive. Account people tend to think of selling as unprofessional, and that's just not true."
What's happening, Cleve said, is that more and more clients are calling in procurement officers to negotiate contracts, and agency people have to realize contract negotiations are "a regular part of client-agency relationships." Or, I gather, they will get eaten alive.
Mr. Langton surveyed the major agency search consultants to help form his views, and he's given seminars on new business in 26 countries and to 28 Omnicom companies. "There is an amazing uniformity of opinion around the world" on what agencies need to do to improve their new-business batting averages, he told the 4A's session. All agencies have to do to win is show that they care.
"You win if you care about clients," said consultant David Maister at the 4A's meeting. But, he asked, how many agency people bother to read every issue of their client's main trade magazine? Instead, their attitude is: "We'll bring in a new client who we'll ignore just as much as the other ones."
Mr. Maister contended that "most agency management are net destroyers of energy, excitement and enthusiasm. They misunderstand their basic job-which is to make other people successful."