My Business Development Trick Interview
I have a business development trick I use when working with my ad agency clients. It’s my easiest and yet most beneficial trick. After some highly intelligent blabbing, I point “my” agencies to a set of benchmark agencies that are directly relevant to my customized business development plan recommendations. These benchmark agencies are perfect examples of how to fine-tune an agency positioning, how to enunciate the positioning, how to do thought leadership, how to be concise, how to actually run a ‘sales’ program that delivers new clients and how to build a website that gets read… as in, not quickly passed by.
One of those benchmark agencies has been London’s LONDON Advertising.
I’ll play the trick for you if you chat me up… and hire me. In the meantime, here is an interview I did with Michael Mosynski the CEO of LONDON Advertising that’s inside my book on winning more ad agency pitches… The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book. Win More Pitches.
I suspect that there will be some ideas in here, Michael will help you create an agency story (note his simple sales pitch) that drives interest, how to beat mega agencies to win big accounts, how to build interpersonal chemistry and how to win the pitch. Oh, and how to create a simple agency website that sells the agency. Maybe one of the greatest tricks of all.
The LONDON Advertising Interview
Michael Mosynski is CEO of LONDON Advertising. He launched the agency seven years ago as a global agency built for today’s marketplace. The agency’s clients include Boots No7, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Ketel One, W&O Travel, and Wegwood.
Prior to starting LONDON, Michael was the CEO of M&C Saatchi Hong Kong, Middle East, and London’s IS. Prior to joining M&C Saatchi, he held a range of senior positions at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide. We worked together in London.
PL: LONDON Advertising is positioned as an international, yet very nimble one-office agency that that delivers “One Brilliant Idea that can work in any media, anywhere in the world.” Why does this positioning generate interest from multinational clients?
Michael: Clients tend to see their communication challenges as highly complex. When these need to be addressed across different markets, languages, and cultures, these challenges are magnified in their minds to the power of 10.
LONDON’s promise to develop “One Brilliant Idea” that works everywhere is ‘Marketing Nirvana’, although sometimes clients think it is too good to be true, so then our challenge is to prove it is possible.
We do that by showing numerous case studies where we have done it for a diverse range of businesses. It is the simplicity we bring that is so appealing to clients.
We can also point to the very clear benefits of achieving simplicity as we can prove it delivers the highest possible ROI for our clients in their sector.
Michael: Although as a recent start-up we are not well known in the client community (the truth is few agencies are), our positioning was something we had successfully communicated to the industry pitch consultants.
I was in my car taking my kids to the country for the start of the summer holidays when I got a call from Suki Thompson who runs the UK’s leading agency search consultancy, The Oystercatchers.
Suki asked if LONDON had any experience in women’s beauty products, launching brands in Finland, and developing social media–led campaigns. As we had none of the requisite experience, I of course replied “yes” and then asked if I could call her back once I had reached my destination. Whilst driving for the next hour, I racked my brain and remembered that a very experienced strategic planner we work with regularly had previously worked at P&G where she led the global relaunch of Oil of Ulay. I called her and checked if she was free to work with us on this pitch and enquired if, on the off-chance, she also had any experience of working in Finland. As it turned out, she had just come back from Helsinki where she had conducted a series of focus groups to help an international insurance company develop its entry strategy for the market. So I rang back Suki, who on the basis of this experience, put us on the Boots list.
PL: What was the pitch scenario? Did it start with an RFP, and did you get to meet the client ahead of the pitch?
Michael: We were sent an outline brief of the challenge ahead of a credentials/ chemistry meeting with the client which, in the too oft-used phrase used in new business, ‘went well’. And this time it actually had.
As our planner had a unique range of experience as a market researcher, marketing client, agency strategic planner, and management consultant at McKinsey, we asked if she could have a follow up meeting with the Brand Manager.
This enabled us to deepen our relationship and make sure the client understood the level of experience we could apply to their brief as well as get a better understanding of what they were looking for. This was invaluable on both counts.
One of the advantages of our business model is we can bring in the right resource at a very senior level for a client based on their needs rather than who happens to be in the agency.
The strategic planner’s daily rate is three times that of a typical agency planner, but she is worth every penny. Our model also means that the client benefits from that experience and is not paying the agency to learn at their expense. And from an agency perspective, it means we get to the right solution, first time, more often than other agencies. This saves us, and the client, time and money.
PL: What was the pitch for?
Michael: The pitch was to test market the launch of Alliance Boots No7 Brand for the first time as a stand-alone FMCG product.
Previously No7 had only been sold in markets that had a Boots retail presence. As Alliance Boots was owned by a VC, it was strategically important for them to demonstrate that the company had assets it could grow outside of opening more retail stores in the UK.
PL: Where were the other agencies you pitched against?
Michael: At the outset, the client was unsure if they needed a Finnish or a UK-based agency. They felt the former could provide more local insight, but the latter could create a campaign idea that could then be rolled-out to other markets.
Having got under the skin of the client’s requirements, we worked out that what we needed was local insight into the attitudes of Finnish women and the beauty market, integrated communications planning advice, and an in-depth knowledge of Finnish social media.
As we were not a ‘JWT Worldwide’, we did not have to use ‘JWT Helsinki’ and were therefore free to evaluate the best candidate from five specific Finns we identified through our talent network. We selected the person who best met our criteria, and he was brilliant.
Our approach gave the client the best of both world’s and so they ultimately felt comfortable working with LONDON – an agency in London.
PL: What worked in your pitch?
Michael: Without telling the client, we paid for our Finnish comms planner/ social media guru to fly to London to work with us on our pitch. As we had developed it in partnership, it felt very natural and a good fit when we presented it.
How many times does a client attend an international pitch with a network agency to see the team members introducing themselves and handing over interagency business cards to each other in front of the client?
The campaign we developed for Finland was very innovative and resulted in the highest ad recall of any ad in Finland despite having a tiny budget. Based on this success, we were appointed agency of record for the No7 Brand globally, and our work has since run on every continent.
PL: Was the pitch run by the client or the pitch consultant? If a consul- tant is involved, do you change the way you work?
Michael: This pitch was kicked off by a consultant but not run by them. We tend to work in the same way in any case to get to the right answer. Some consultants are, to be frank, better than others, and you have to
understand they also have an agenda – to give the client a range of campaigns that cover different aspects of the brief, so one must be careful not to always take their feedback at face value.
PL: Did it make you nervous to go up against network agencies? Some small agencies might think that they are just a spoiler with no chance of winning. Why did you think LONDON had a chance of winning this account?
Michael: We relish big challenges, so feeling nervous is not a sensation we are familiar with.
There is the point though to only enter pitches when you have a reason- able chance of winning them.
I would admit in hindsight, we have too often agreed to participate in pitches where the client would not have considered in a million years a non-network agency. However this issue is usually resolved at the creds or chemistry stages.
I believe it is quite legitimate for a consultant to offer the client a choice of our approach to see if the client would consider a new way to developing global campaigns. So whilst we don’t win them all, it is an advantage to get on pitch lists most agencies could only dream about, by being positioned as the wild card.
When my business partner, Alan Jarvie, and I set up M&C Saatchi in Hong Kong, we were asked to pitch for HSBC across Asia in our first year when we only had six people. The other four agencies were all established network agencies with over 250 staff. The HK ad industry thought we had no chance going after such an established client.
We were known by HSBC as “the wild card that came up trumps”, and when our win was announced, it made it onto the front page of The Times 8,000 miles away and led to a 15 minute feature about our small agency that ran on CNBC globally.
Our schadenfreude in HK was also rather delightful.
Following our appointment, we ended up recommending that the bank rebrand globally under the HSBC name, and we made their first global TV campaign which was one of the biggest achievements of our careers. Not bad for a small agency.
I was once told that the failure of most new companies is that they think ‘too small’ so we have never let size be an issue.
When we wanted to grow our digital capability at LONDON, we set up our own digital talent competition with a £100,000 prize and set ourselves the goal of getting the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to launch it. He kindly obliged to do so from Downing Street.
PL: Network agencies make a very big deal about the geographic breadth of their network and its global reach. Do you think that having an office in every country is a 1980’s concept that isn’t as valuable in 2014?
Michael: In the past, to develop a global campaign, clients needed a global network agency, so the fact we can do this today from one office is appealing to clients who don’t need ‘boots on the ground’ in ‘67 countries’. (Do you remember when every agency creds started with a slide showing a map of the world and the line ‘We are everywhere you are?’)
We set up LONDON to be a global agency from day one and were able to do so with a blank sheet of paper. As all the agency networks were created before the advent of the Internet, they have a legacy infrastructure they can’t change to compete with our proposition.
We applied the benefits of the Internet to how we organize the back-end processes of creating and delivering global campaigns. We have a virtual network of strategic planners and local language copywriters covering over 150 markets. And of course today, all the work can be supplied digitally, so you no longer need an office in Jakarta to create and supply an ad to a local paper – or a Facebook campaign in Helsinki.
Our model is best demonstrated by our pitch for the campaign to support Fox International’s largest global launch of a new show, “The Walking Dead.” We had to pitch against agencies in the US, Brazil, South Africa, and Italy. Our winning idea, ‘Stay in’, ran in 135 markets in 36 countries.
Michael: Last year we were approached by the CEO of the legacy luxury Swiss watch brand, H. Moser. Currently H. Moser is a relatively small brand but one with big ambitions to grow 500% in next five years.
The agency task was to define the brand and execute it across all communications. We were able to convince the client that rather than holding a competitive pitch, we alone would do the work, and if they liked what we developed, we would get the business.
The client agreed, and we treated it internally as a competitive pitch, generating initially 19 different campaigns, which we condensed down to 5 strategic/creative areas and presented these to the client in a ‘tissue session’.
From their feedback, we developed a final recommendation and prepared a full-on pitch that made the argument that to do justice to their ambition, they needed to create a brand asset that differentiated them in the watch market and would enable them to cut-through a category where every ad features a large photograph of a watch showing the hands at ’10 to 2’.
We flipped the fact there were few H. Moser watches into a positive with our One Brilliant Idea of ‘Very Rare’. The launch ad summarized the campaign:
“H. Moser watches. So rare they don’t even appear in H. Moser watch advertisements.”
The client loved the idea and appointed us on the basis of our ‘one agency pitch’. The campaign has since run in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, French, German and Italian. And we have integrated ‘Very Rare’ into their website, videos, brochures, online, events, merchandise,
sponsorships, endorsements, trade campaign, and point-of-sale.
PL: How can smaller agencies compete with network agencies?
Michael: “Know thyself and to thine own self be true.” Don’t try to compensate for perceived weaknesses, but play to your strengths and flip the decision-making process. Turn your weakness into an advantage – whether that is as a specialist, by being more nimble, or whatever.
PL: Do you have a secret sauce that you can share?
Michael: We have a clear, unique positioning combined with unparalleled international experience that is difficult to replicate. My creative partner and I have worked together for 21 years having set up and run businesses for the Saatchis in London, Hong Kong, New York, and The Middle East.
We can point to the fact that despite all the challenges of the pitch process, the work we have presented in pitches for all our major clients has actually run – including the ‘He’s a Fan’ campaign for Mandarin Oriental which is now entering its 15th year unchanged – apart from three new celebrities each year who, unusually, we do not pay to take part.
PL: Do you have a pitch story that still enters your nightmares?
Michael: We were shortlisted for a very significant pitch where the chemistry meeting went brilliantly based on some great insight into the audience that the marketing team loved. We went to the next meeting where we met the CEO with whom we shared our ‘brilliant’ thinking. His reply was that the part of the client brief which inspired our thinking was a load of ‘tosh’ and that by implication, we were idiots for swallowing it. He then proceeded to provide a detailed picture portrait about who the real audience was.
As he was the CEO, we took him to be the key decision-maker, and whilst our final presentation knocked the ball out of the park with him, we lost the pitch. We had not met the owner until the day of the pitch, and he agreed with the marketing team, not the CEO.
The lessons from this were three-fold:
- Make sure you really understand who are the decision-makers and what influences them
- Take your own medicine (see the earlier mention of, “…to thine own self be true”)
- Stick to your principles and don’t be swayed by the size of the prize (easier to say…)
Truth be told, we had agreed with the marketing team, but having lost other pitches for doing what we believed was the right thing, we did not want to let this ‘biggy’ get away. Doh!
PL: My discussions with clients, search consultants, and agency leaders continuously point to the importance of client-agency “chemistry” in agency selection. Do you have any techniques that you use to try to build chemistry?
Michael: As above (again), my advice is “…to thine own self be true.” In fact, have that message tattooed in reverse on your forehead so yousee it in the mirror every morning before heading off to the office. It is like applying for a job or going on a date – don’t act out what you think the client wants you to be, otherwise you will end up in an unhappy relationship.
The reason chemistry is so important is that:
- people buy from people
- people buy emotionally and then justify their decision rationally
My key tip for pitching is something I read recently that is so obvious that perhaps it is forgotten too easily. When preparing any presentation, don’t start with what you want to communicate – whether it is your agency proposition or your client’s objectives etc. Plan every presentation by thinking about the audience in the room. Know them and make sure you engage with them as people.
And that means winning their hearts first – but don’t forget to give them the reasons that they can tell their boss why they appointed you.
PL: In your experience, are their any glaring pitch mistakes that agency’s make?
(See ‘their’ above – sorry Peter, but yours was a gift to make my point, so please don’t change it in the final galleys!)
The reason why typos are so glaring, is apart from impacting on the client’s confidence in your attention to detail (“gosh if they can’t get it right in their pitch to us will they run typos in our ads?”) is that the reader then ignores the point you were attempting to make as all they see is the error.
On a more strategic level, the biggest mistake that agencies make in pitches is falling into the trap of giving away our product for free and then attempting to get paid by our inefficiency in producing bits of cardboard.
Clients’ approach to remuneration tends to discourage agencies that have small teams who can do the work quickly and efficiently. At LONDON we try to get round this by being entrepreneurial in how we work with clients by having both a performance-related pay element and a licensing deal to our IP that guarantees us a minimum level of income for developing their long-term One Brilliant Idea irrespective of how much cardboard manipulation we carry out.
But to be frank, it is hard as we are still operating in a competitive context where our agency peers have already pulled their pants down whilst simultaneously raising the white flag.
The good news is there is clearly a great future in writing books advising the rest of the advertising industry on what to do…