As hard-working, client-servicing, ad agency folks, it’s not often we get the chance to step outside of our day-to-day roles and dedicate time to reflect on the state of the industry. But a few weeks ago, we did just that by representing The Many at the annual Mirren Live New Business Conference in New York. We spent two whole days away from the mothership to connect with and learn from a variety of thought leaders—from Sir Martin Sorrell, to former agency-bosses-turned-clients, to seasoned pitch consultants and leaders in the new biz world.

Session after session, a few undeniable themes kept rising to the top, impacting us enough to start lighting fires back at the homestead before we even stepped foot on the plane ride home.

We’ve distilled our learnings down in the hopes all of our peers can benefit from them as well:

Work moving in-house and the rise of project-based assignments (again!) are keeping larger, legacy agencies up at night.
This is music to our ears. The Many was born as a project-based agency during the height of the recession—this isn’t a new reality for us. This is baked into our DNA as an agency. We recognize and respect that clients need big thinking and quality work delivered at speed. Faster is the new black. As a result, agencies need to develop creative with an openness to testing and experimentation in order to drive results.

The best new business strategy hasn’t changed. Produce and promote great creative and the phone will ring.
We all know how difficult it is to go through the process gauntlet and birth a creative idea into this world, but we totally lost count of all the agencies who said they strive for “creativity that solves business problems.” Delivering work that meets client objectives, as challenging as that can be at times, is table stakes. What’s not: great work that infuses the magic of a mind-blowingly amazing idea, that’s rooted in hard data, and effectively impacts the client’s bottom line. But when the improbable is made possible it has a magnetic effect on potential clients and, more importantly, potential hires.

Build your business like you’re going to franchise it.
It’s no surprise that the advertising industry is highly personality-driven. While creative agencies never want to lose their fluidity, creativity or passion, they are often reliant on a particular person or small group of people to maintain client relationships, define strategies and conceptualize creative. With consultancies coming onto the scene – those that are masters of process, efficiency and making money along the way – a light is being shed on the inefficiencies and over-reliance of the personality anchor in the structure of creative shops. If there’s anything we can take from this side of the road, it is that creative agencies need to be efficient and rigorous in their approach to client challenges across the board so that if one person leaves, it doesn’t make waves for the client. A little attention paid to this shouldn’t result in a loss of creative spark, but more efficiency in the path to get there.

To pitch or not to pitch? Better know exactly what you value before you answer that one.
Pitching ain’t cheap. The fact that so many agencies find themselves racking up expenses in pursuit of an opportunity that just isn’t a great fit is downright absurd. Emotions aside, why is this opportunity so important to the agency? Carefully considering your values when weighing new biz bait isn’t just a necessary step, it’s imperative. The conclusions you come to will serve as a guiding light for the team when the tidal wave that is new business comes ashore.

Know your value.
For years, because of hourly rates the advertising industry has benefited from being slow—the more hours an agency spends on a given assignment or client, the more money the agency could rake in. The ugly truth is, that doesn’t necessarily mean the client is getting the best results. Mutual success should be the main motivator. Basing compensation on the value you bring to the table, not the time you spend on their business, helps align the agency’s actions to be more in sync with the client’s objectives and helps remove clients (even if they are among the reputable ones!) from determining the only path of an agency’s success.

Maggie Cadigan is Managing Director, The Many Boston, and Melissa Cabral is The Many’s Director of Strategy.

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