Jamal Al Mawed is the regional account director at DABO & Co
“The ‘new business’ pitch – a time to roll out your senior management, shiny suits, flashy PowerPoint presentations and grand speeches about why you deserve to win the account.
‘Previous experience’ has become such a deciding factor in so many new business pitches that it would be ludicrous to ignore it. But why do decision-makers still obsess so much over this detail? It’s easy to see the attraction: if the agency has worked in the sector then they know it and are ‘tried-and-tested’, so there’s theoretically a much shorter bedding-in period.
It’s a logical train of thought, but I beg to differ. The basic skill-sets of these professions translate across any industry, so it makes more sense to first see if you are confident in those skills before you look for their previous experience.
The agency’s ‘knowledge’ of the industry can in some circumstances actually be a red herring. So many industries overlap and bleed into others in modern business that it is difficult to ascertain what constitutes useful and relevant knowledge. Also, ‘knowledge’ can be irrelevant depending on how that industry relates to your specific business. If I am handling a low-cost jewellery brand then I am doing a very different job with a very different strategy than I would if I was handling a luxury brand. They are both in the same industry, but is my experience in one directly relevant to the other?
From a more pragmatic point of view, when an agency says it has previous experience related to your field, then it means that they no longer handle that client. It’s quite possible that they may not have done a very good job of handling it or it wouldn’t be a previous client, it would be a current one.
What companies need to start looking for in pitches is track record, not experience. Rather than looking for experience handling similar clients/sectors, they should be looking at the agency’s track record in handling its existing clients – are they happy? Do they get special attention? Do they get creative ideas? Is the team fresh and motivated?
When Wayne Rooney played for Everton as a 16- year-old in 2002, he didn’t have any ‘experience’ – in fact he’d hardly played a handful of first-team games. He did, however, have a track record of scoring at every level of his development, from school to youth teams to Everton reserves. Sure enough, he scored a last-minute goal that ended a 30-match unbeaten run for Arsenal.
There are a lot of Rooneys in the industry that may never get their chance unless clients start to widen their perspective and stop the vicious circle of ‘previous experience’.”