Fri, 20 Jan 2023 09:06:00 GMT
For over 20 years, Tim has leveraged creativity to solve business problems – first, as an advertising creative, then as an innovation consultant, and now as Chief Marketing & Innovation Officer for RPA, one of the leading independent advertising agencies in the U.S. He strives to help the agency be everything clients need it to be, before they know it’s what they need. Tim joined RPA from Hyper Island – a Swedish school and business transformation consultancy – where he helped companies (including General Mills, Target, Ikea and many more) learn to thrive in a constantly changing digital world. Before that, he was a Creative Director & Director of Creative Innovation at Saatchi & Saatchi NY, and he got his start at TBWA/Chiat/Day in Los Angeles, as a copywriter working on world-famous efforts like the Energizer Bunny and Taco Bell Chihuahua campaigns.
Tim is a frequent speaker at global events including the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, SXSW, TEDx, Advertising Week, Social Media Week, CPH Transform (Copenhagen) and many more.
LBB> What was your first sale or new-business win? (Was it a big or small job? How difficult or scary was it? What do you remember about how you felt? What lessons did you learn?)
Tim> Our first win after I joined RPA was a project for Dropbox for their business-focused offering. Relatively small compared to most of our accounts, but a great brand and product. I’d been in the industry for a long time at that point, but had never led a new-business pitch before, so I was utterly and blissfully ignorant of exactly how to go about it. That was probably a bigger strength than a weakness, to be honest. I tend to be very ambitious in the face of ambiguity.
LBB> What was the best piece of advice you got early on?
Tim> “Nobody remembers what you said. Only how they felt about what you said.”
LBB> And the worst?
Tim> “We don’t want to appear over-rehearsed for the meeting.”
LBB> How has the business of “selling” in the creative industry changed since you started?
Tim> Back in the olden days when I started (you know, the ‘90s), it was much more about keeping all the agency’s thinking close and secret — and then having a big “ta-da!” reveal of the idea. Focus on the wizard, not the man behind the curtain. Agencies wanted to blow clients away with their magical genius.
Today, it’s a much more collaborative process with the clients. Every client wants to see the man behind the curtain and the data insights that inform what the man behind the curtain is doing. We’re co-creating solutions, and our value comes from bringing outside perspectives and insights to the ideas. And to the extent that we “sell” at all, what we’re actually doing is demonstrating how the idea is going to drive their business results.
LBB> Can anyone be taught to sell or do new business or do you think it suits a certain kind of personality?
Tim> Both. I think anyone can be taught new business, but it also suits some people better than others. It requires being comfortable with thinking at a fast pace, moving in the face of ambiguity, being a good listener, understanding all aspects of marketing and all aspects of our clients’ industries (and not just whatever your individual discipline is), and you have to be a strong and compelling presenter. All of that is teachable, but it doesn’t mean everyone will be equally good at it.
LBB> What are your thoughts about the process of pitching that the industry largely runs on? (e.g., How can it be improved -–or does it need to be done away with completely? Should businesses be paid to pitch? What are your thoughts about businesses completely refusing to engage in pitching? How can businesses perform well without “giving ideas away for free”?)
Tim> Despite dealing with it all the time, I’m not a fan of the typical pitch process – and I know few people who are. The problem is that pitches don’t at all resemble what it would truly be like to work together. It’s like saying The Bachelor is a realistic way to find a good life partner. If I were a client, I’d invite an agency I was interested in to work on a paid project and see how it goes. To continue the dating metaphor, you have to actually go on a date – not a manufactured process where you go on a date with seven people simultaneously and give one of them a rose. (Or whatever happens on that show. I don’t watch it.)
LBB> How do you go about tailoring your selling approach according to the kind of person or business you’re approaching?
Tim> By understanding them as people. Companies don’t hire other companies – one group of people decides to work with another group of people. When we understand what they’re like, we understand how to adjust our approach.
LBB> New business and sales can often mean hearing “no” a lot and quite a bit of rejection -–how do you keep motivated?
Tim> I focus on learning. Win or lose, there’s a lot to be learned from our experience with every pitch. Even if we get a no, the best gift we can receive from the clients is honest and helpful feedback about where we were strong and where we could have been stronger.
LBB> The advertising and marketing industry often blurs the line between personal and professional friendships and relationships… does this make selling easier or more difficult and delicate?
Tim> The nature of our agency is on long-term relationships. When our partners know we’re in it for the long haul and we truly have their best interests at heart, then there isn’t any pressure on selling. We’re all just working to make the brand as successful as they possibly can be.
LBB> In your view, what’s the key to closing a deal?
Tim> For us, “closing a deal” usually means winning a pitch. And we do that by giving our clients the confidence that we’re the right team for them. Anything that might betray that confidence can easily cost us the pitch.
LBB> How are technology and new platforms (from platforms like Salesforce and HubSpot to video calls and social media) changing sales and new business?
Tim> There are a lot more tools and channels for communication. But for most agencies, we still have the “cobbler’s kids have no shoes” problem. We have few people or resources for marketing the agency – because most of our people are busy marketing our clients. New tools are always wonderful, but they also require a lot of time and effort to make them work. We tried HubSpot, and it’s just way too much for an organization like ours. I would have needed a larger team just to manage it.
LBB> There’s a lot of training for a lot of parts of the industry, but what are your thoughts about the training and skills development when it comes to selling and new business?
Tim> It’s actually been my experience that training for new-business skills is one of the places agencies tend to invest in more than many others. Because there’s a very clear return on that investment.
LBB> What’s your advice for anyone who’s not necessarily come up as a salesperson who’s now expected to sell or win new business as part of their role?
Tim> I don’t believe in “selling.” I believe in helping. If we’re helping our clients, and helping their customers, then everything else comes along for the ride. It’s all about providing value – not spin.