Winning (and retaining) clients in 2009

The sky is falling. Well you’d certainly believe it if you’re reading any sort of news media these days. It seems just a few short years ago that broadcast design was all the buzz. Advancements in desktop technology saw in a wave of prosperity, both in the size of our budgets and scope of our creative. Broadcast design boutiques flourished and the marcomm eco-system remained in a happy, natural balance. We were flush with business, sitting in the soft, cozy nook between global advertising agencies and VFX/production companies.  Life was good.

A few years, a few wrinkles, and an unfriendly credit crunch later, we sit in a brand new world. But has anything fundamentally changed for our industry?

Fewer are the days of expected paid pitches and credential awarding. That 21-way unpaid RTE pitch (CNN 2003 anyone?) doesn’t seem that long ago.  Some, at the time, had even suggested that free pitches were the design industry’s raison d’etre. Was it a sign of things to come, or just another symptom of a problem quietly lying in wait?

Pitches are an expected (and in some cases, required) part of our business. They enable the buyers of brand goods to sample a bounty of flavors, each artisan hoping to win over that elusive customer after each delicious bite. If you’ve been to Costco, you’ve seen how this can turn out to be a good (or really bad) thing. Take too many samples, and you’ll feel ill to the stomach. Not to mention not being welcomed back for seconds.  Conversely, find the right flavor, and you’ll be singing your morsels gospels.

Winning business hasn’t changed much. In fact, over the last few years- creative agencies have seen a rush of challenging, profitable assignments. We now win business in new marketing categories, taking over brand stewardship roles from larger traditional agencies, suggesting that a direct-to-client model is not only viable, but preferable.

So why then are owners/CEOs of broadcast design shops showing concern about the stability of incoming work. The production pipeline is full for the next 60, but what about after?

That’s where the cracks for some creative agencies begin to show.

And so the phonebanks of 2009 have sprung anew. Design reps across the country have been feverishly “checking-in” with clients. I’ve spoken to no less than a dozen clients in the past week who say their VMs are up to 20+ messages a day with messages like

“Please let me know if there’s any projects you can send our way”.

Tomorrow, the message is similar, but no less empty

“I wanted to call and check-in and make sure you have everything you need”.

Has any rep ever had a client reply

“Thanks for calling, I was sitting around waiting for you to call because I have an approved budget on my desk and wanted to award it to you without review and discussion”

Didn’t think so.

Herein lies the unfortunate failure of some to remember that our creative offerings are not really so unique. There are no less than 20 shops capable of doing top-tier branding creative at any given time (not to mention increased competition and assignment attrition to international firms). We are in the strategic services business. Maybe there’s where part of the problem lies. And so, perhaps, the solution.

Creating value for our clients means understanding that the pitching landscape is the way it is because companies remain poorly communicated in their above the line service offerings. And so, some companies appear homogenous and undifferentiated, resulting in some impersonal multi-agency pitches.

Creativity and production quality are expected givens. And, although some clients do search reels for a particular design style or aesthetic, most routinely cite the experience working with the a particular team as a majority factor in repeat direct-award assignments. Other considerations cited include budget compatibility, category leadership, and name brand.

2009 hasn’t brought a drought of business for our industry. It offers a new opportunity for creative agencies to reconnect with clients, to not only deliver outstanding creative, but a renewed commitment to a few simple rules of good above the line service. It’s how you operate before, during, and most especially after, a production is actualized.

It’s listening instead of talking.

It’s not making promises that can’t be kept.

It’s dealing with complaints, not redirecting them.

It’s being fair and competitive with regards to budget.

It’s going above and beyond- even if there’s no immediate profit from it.

It’s training reps to speak about project strategy, production, and service differentiators, not just account names.

It’s recognizing that clients are more than projects.

It’s taking those extra steps to show you appreciate their business, regardless of size, scope, or budget.

Catalyze the experience by being mindful of these time tested business development rules. 2009 will be what you make of it.

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Denny Tu is an independent Executive Producer based in LA & London. His daily blog (http://dennytu.wordpress.com) examines the art and business of screen design & brand building. For a PDF of this article or to just say hello, drop a line at denny@dennytu.com

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5 Comments

Filed under opinion

5 responses to “Winning (and retaining) clients in 2009

  1. dyjohnston

    Really enjoyed your honest assessment and perspective. There’s something to be said about sticking to the fundamentals. Looking forward to your next piece.

  2. JMartin

    Just finished reading your other opinion article. I just signed up for the email news-feed. You’ve got another interested reader!

    JMartin
    BBC

  3. Pingback: 2009: A Single Perspective to Weather the Storm « Art & Business of Motion

  4. What a considered, measured look at the business environment. Thanks for taking the time to write it – it was a properly enjoyable read.

  5. Hi Denny,

    I have recently discovered your blog and I found it thoroughly insightful considering I have just launched my motion design business.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the great writing.

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