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The New New Business: Staying Connected with Oli Richards


Above+Beyond's chief marketing officer on 'pitch theatre', celebrating the wins properly and why good new business people are enablers

The New New Business: Staying Connected with Oli Richards

Oli’s career has spanned over 15 years, working with some of the world’s top brands and agencies, to pitch and create campaigns in Sports, Entertainment and Culture.

He’s worked in marketing, new business and growth roles, across multiple disciplines - including events, sports marketing, creative, media and brand strategy. For agencies including Engine, Synergy, Dentsu and mcgarrybowen.

From a client perspective, he's helped United Airlines promote its unrivaled service to the US, Coca-Cola to showcase its ground-breaking Rugby World Cup 2015 sponsorship internally, Canterbury to bring their brand to life for rugby players across the UK and worked closely with the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS F1 Team to bring their fans closer to the team they love.

Now working at The Beyond Collective, he is responsible for marketing and new business across Above+Beyond (creative), Yonder (media) and Frontier (brand strategy) - maintaining the group’s already solid reputation and helping win new clients both domestically and globally.

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?)

Oli> Innocent Drinks – way way back in the heady days of 2010… I was working for a small indie experiential agency at the time called ITCH, and it was a huge moment for us. The project was to launch their latest ‘HUNGRY’ cookbook, so I made a very stressed pitch team (and most of the agency) cook every single recipe from the book – which was then played back to the clients on pitch day (with the crudely shot videos and pictures of badly cooked veggie curries). 

When I think about the polished ‘pitch theatre’ that’s part of and parcel of the job these days, it does make me smile that we all bundled into the kitchens in our flat shares and just got stuck in. The client felt our passion for the brand and most importantly that we had great chemistry as a team – that was a huge learning for me which I’ve carried ever since. 

LBB> What was the best piece of advice you got early on? 

Oli> It’s not about you… Good new business people are enablers. Think of yourself as the casting director, not centre stage. You are only as good as the people you’re casting, so get to know what makes them tick, be clear on what they are (or aren’t) right for, and own the strategy for winning the pitch, rather than trying to jump in and shape the work. 

LBB> And the worst?

Oli> It’s a numbers game… Because it’s not. Selling agencies is not the same as selling pens. Clients aren’t sitting and waiting for you call, so you need to spend your time creating quality engagements – not chucking mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. Confident, modern, agencies invest in their brand, showcase their best work and have a strategy. 

LBB> How has the business of ‘selling’ in the creative industry changed since you started?

Oli> The fundamentals have been the same for a long time. At the core of the job is understanding the challenges clients are facing and working out what combination of people / capabilities / tools you have at your disposal to help unlock that. 

The biggest changes have been in the tactics you use to get in front of new clients. Direct approaches (like cold calling and emails) have been replaced with LinkedIn and the dark arts of paid search and SEO. Yet tactics are only effective if you’re saying something prospective clients care about…

LBB> Can anyone be taught to sell or do new business or do you think it suits a  certain kind of personality?

Oli> It’s definitely a job that suits a certain type of personality, but what I would say, is that the job varies hugely depending on the agency. Larger agencies tend to rely on new business people to marshal pitches / new leads – so it’s much more akin to a project manager. Smaller agencies it’s a mixture of everything and you’ll likely be client facing. It’s definitely more than just sales. 

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 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?)

Oli> For me, the pitching question is about proportionality. I don’t think any agency in town will complain about pitching when the size of the prize matches the level of effort required to win. And at their best, pitching brings teams together unlike anything else agencies do. 

Sadly though, I do think agencies default to YES too much and the process is often wildly out of sync with the prize at the end. So at their worst, pitches are too frequent, land on the same people and lead to burn out. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel though, the IPA’s Pitch Positive Pledge felt like the tide starting to turn, and we’ve certainly seen a huge increase in the number of clients paying pitch fees over the last 12 months which is huge. 

Yes we can have the circular conversation about other industries who don’t give away their ideas for free, but I think as long as we are operating in an oversupplied market, there will always be someone willing to give ideas away for free to get ahead. The best we can hope for IMHO, is that we all learn to say no a little bit more.

LBB> How do you go about tailoring your selling approach according to the kind of person or business you’re approaching?

Oli> For me, consultative selling is all about understanding challenges. Don’t go headlong into your creds or case studies before you’ve had a conversation or at least put yourself in the client’s shoes. If there’s not a benefit to the client in there, it’s probably not going to land or it’ll just blend into the background with all the other noise (!)

LBB> New business and sales can often mean hearing ‘no’ a lot and quite a bit of rejection - how do you keep motivated?

Oli> Annoyingly, you tend to lose a lot more than you win. So celebrate the wins properly. And come together as a team after a loss and reflect / learn.

LBB> There’s a lot of training for a lot of parts of the industry, but what’s your thoughts about the training and skills development when it comes to selling and new business? 

Oli> There are two places I’d always recommend people looking for good training on new business.

The first is the AAR’s New Business Apprenticeship. It’s the best foundation for anyone starting out and a brilliant opportunity to meet others at the same stage of their career. It’s also fronted by the brilliant Martin Jones, who’s been there and done it.

The second is the IPA’s Advanced New Business course. This is aimed at those who are looking to step up front new business director to CMO / CGO level. You get access to some incredible speakers and learn some of the less tangible skills needed to step into a more strategic new business role. 

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?

Oli> Learn from those around you who have been there and done it. And if those people aren’t in your existing organisation, reach out to others. The new business community is one of the most open I’ve ever been a part of, so don’t be afraid to connect. It can be a lonely role if you go it alone. 


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Above+Beyond, Wed, 01 Feb 2023 17:03:28 GMT