When we were elected joint chairs of the IPA’s New Business group, against a backdrop of Brexit uncertainty, client in-housing and margin squeezing, we knew we had a job on our hands. And a vital one at that.
So after convening the group of leading new-business heads from all parts of the agency business – media and creative, independent and network agencies – we agreed upon our shared vision. Using IPA president Nigel Vaz’s "Re-imagine" agenda, we set out to assert and promote the importance of new business in partnering for clients' growth.
That was then. And this is now.
Little did any of us know the impact Covid-19 would have on every single aspect of our waking lives and business. Particularly new business – a role that has, up until now, relied on the face to face, the chemistry, the psychology, the personal relationships.
So now, in the (masked) face of the coronavirus outbreak, we must demonstrate our value and our worth to clients to help us weather this storm and win together.
Here’s how we think this can be done from afar:
Ten tips for remote new business
1. Show empathy
Companies that are pretending that nothing is wrong – or are at least trying to maintain a sense of "business as usual" – are coming across as tone deaf. Showing some compassion for the issues your potential client may be facing can only be of benefit; it shows an emotional awareness of the situation and what this means for them. Make the first sentence of any contact be about them, not you.
2. Make a connection
Procuring a new agency is still all about people and relationships, so always turn your video on for virtual meetings. In times like this, having as much face-to-face time as possible is important. With just audio you can’t gauge reactions or read the room to see if they need more or less information from you. Non-verbal cues are vital. This also helps you to all connect as a team and get some sort of sense of what it might be like to work together.
3. Communicate expectations
This is an opportunity to evolve the pitch process and trial remote working if your company hasn’t already. Use this chance to adopt new tech and ways of working with a new team – just make sure you clearly communicate what your approach will be for the pitch so everyone is aware and knows what to expect. The same applies to the meetings themselves: explain how you propose hosting the call to keep order and avoid everyone speaking over one another.
Send over all relevant details, including the link to log-in, and invite the client to have a two-minute test call with you so they can get familiar with it. Also send over a PDF of the presentation, as well as any videos that tend not to work as well remotely, so you can carry on over the phone if the visual communications go down.
5. Keep it to the point
To keep virtual meetings focused and constructive, share pre-reads in advance to skip long introductions and recapping material. Always rehearse as you would for a normal client meeting.
6. Test, test and re-test
Whether you’re using Zoom, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting or any other technology, make sure you do at least two to three run-throughs because you’ll need to iron out things such as timings, talking over each other and passing the virtual clicker. Offer to use the tech that the client is most comfortable using.
7. Be yourself
You’re in your own home. Being relaxed is fine; you can be your most authentic. If your kids, dogs or housemates come into shot, no problem. Use it as an opportunity for banter. It’s as important as ever to build rapport and demonstrate your real personality.
8. Encourage live engagement
Reading a room while presenting can be hard enough, but trying to do so while your screen is split between your pitch slides and tiny thumbnails of everyone is nigh-on impossible. Factor in exercises that prompt open discussion and feedback throughout the meeting to ensure both parties have the chance to interact and engage with the material being shown.
9. Wash up
As you would normally after a pitch, make sure you wash up, assessing what worked and what can be improved on. With everything that’s going on, it’s easy to be distracted or caught up in something else, so do it promptly via video call and possibly with a well earned drink in hand.
10. Stay in touch
After the pitch, stay in touch with your prospective client and share regular learnings that might help their business, especially in times like this. Stay up to date with what’s happening in their industry. This is a practical way to show how pro-active you would be on their business if you worked with them.
This is not the time to hold back, bury our heads or play a game of wait and see. We all need to be proactive, take individual and collective responsibility, support each other, adapt to the changes and keep the conversation alive online, sharing both light-hearted anecdotes and addressing the more direct questions. This can only help to strengthen our relationships, both within our teams and with our clients, to create some of the best work during some of the worst times.
Pedro Martins is chief growth officer at Total Media and co-chair of the IPA’s New Business Group and Laura Vipond is managing partner at Karmarama.