business development

Is now a good time to speak?

In the same way there’s rarely a time when a flat tyre wouldn’t be inconvenient, it’s rarely true that “now is a good time to speak” when an agency cold calls.

Like most marketers, I’ve taken hundreds, if not thousands, of introductory calls. I respect the individuals who do this as it’s a tough gig, and I’ve often thought about what works and what doesn’t in my experience.


  • Read from a script. Don’t even have a script. Unless you’ve got Robert de Niro working your contact list, it’ll come across inauthentic and unconvincing.
  • Have the same play for every target. Delivering award-winning DM work for a midlands council won’t strike much of a chord with software retailers.
  • Be too chummy (“hello mate, how was your weekend”) or too flattering (“I know you’re a busy executive”)
  • Ask open-ended, over-familiar questions, “what are your strategic objectives for the next 12 months?”. They’re not going to tell you (and they might not even know themselves).


  • Get to the point. A polite, expedient manner acknowledges that the client’s time is valuable, but so is yours. That makes you worth listening to.
  • Know the brand and its issues. This means more than a quick Google, but a real think about what the client will be worrying about and why your agency is specifically, demonstrably suited to help – “we’ve seen this situation before and we were able to…”
  • Have an opinion. It’s OK to challenge and show confidence – just build on it and end up with a way forward not a dead end disagreement.
  • Be persistent. Much as I hesitate to say this, it is true that calling back time and time again works. Just do it with a touch of humour a tone that says it’d be simply criminal if we didn’t at least hear each other out
  • Have some work to present. There is nothing more powerful than already having work you want to show. “Don’t think us presumptive, but we’ve mocked up a campaign idea for you. Just give us 10 minutes any time this week and we’ll show it to you, no strings attached.”

Dealing with the downturn

The end-of-year pundits are united in their gloom: 2008 has been awful, but 2009 is going to be worse.

Given this prognosis, it’s only natural for marketers to bury their heads in Doctor Who specials and hope it all goes away, the consequences of declining sales, job insecurity and disappearing clients being all too close for festive comfort.

We can’t control what curve balls might come our way next year, but we can give ourselves a better chance of dealing with them by taking the initiative and getting onto the front foot.

For individuals, this means taking the time to build that LinkedIn profile, writing articles for the trade press and keeping your skills up to date – before you have to. Would you still get your job if you applied for it today?

Brand managers need to move first in assuring FDs and MDs that they’re all over contract terms, have uncovered low-cost routes to market and found smart headcount savings before the budget review email arrives. Get a reputation for being someone who is both a real customer champion and commercially sanguine.

Agencies must show clients they’re thinking about value before being asked. Volunteer new terms, recommend a move to payment-by-results and find new savings. It’s coming anyway, so present yourself as the good guys who ‘get it’ rather than being an overhead that’s long overdue for cutting.

Whatever your role, you can actively decide to give yourself the best chance in 2009. Good luck.