On Friday, June 9, McGarryBowen announced they had won American Express’ Global brand work - without a review.
Let that sink in… Without. A. Review.
The news of this win broke pre-Cannes and July 4 and received some visibility. Yet, this news deserves a deeper look, as it underscores the importance of relationships and the role they play in business development.
While I am not aware of the inner-workings of how McGarryBowen went about this win, it is widely known that they won Verizon in the exact same manner. The story goes like this:
In 2007, McGarryBowen was working with Verizon, which trimmed its agencies from 38 to eight. McGarryBowen did not make the cut to stay onboard. Rather than walking away, John McGarry kept his relationship with Verizon alive over a several year span which resulted in McGarryBowen winning this business back. What a comeback story and a testament to relationships and the importance they play.
The key theme to stress here is that relationships matter. And they matter more than we think.
I was reading “The Real Question of Consultancy vs. Agency” by Meghan McDonnell of Pile and Company, which emphasized that: “With all capabilities being equal, the relationship breaks the tie.”
It is no secret that agencies are challenged by the agency review process. It’s costly, time-consuming and a drain on everyone. The outcome is often out of the agency’s control and is predetermined in some cases. It’s close to impossible to establish a relationship during this process, as a chemistry-check meeting can only go so far.
I reached out to my network to understand how they focus their efforts towards relationships and consultant-led reviews. Findings were what one would expect, with relationship vs. consultant-led pitches being evenly split. Yet, what is surprising is that pitch/win ratio for consultant-led efforts is in the 25% range. Knowing a consultant-led pitch can take upwards of three months, that’s a large investment of time and resources when margins and staffing are already razor thin.
I specifically recall that one of the largest new business wins in the industry in 2016 was consultant-led, yet was also predated by a seed of relationship which was planted and cultivated over time. Fair to say that this relationship played no small part in the win of this account.
Today’s workweek is non-stop meetings and the eternal dream of reaching inbox zero. While we are all busy, we need to prioritize to make time for what matters; relationships.
While it is not possible to create more time, it is possible to prioritize how you spend your time, with part of that time being devoted to relationships. Read: business development is a team and relationship sport, which requires ownership and input from all senior-level stakeholders. Old clients can become new clients and all it takes is one call. Some calls will go unanswered, yet it only takes one call.
I remain convinced that if an agency were to reallocate 50% of the time it puts towards review-led pitches to relationships, that the end result would more business wins, of a more strategic nature and at a higher margin.
Agency reviews are here to stay, yet so are relationships which always run deeper. Ask yourself if you are making the most of your relationships, as it’s never too late to start.