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The New New Business: Why Dan Brown Is Telling Clients What They Need to Hear


Wavemaker's chief strategy officer, global growth on being the digital guy, unleashing your hidden talent and why pitch magic always rears its head when you least expect it

The New New Business: Why Dan Brown Is Telling Clients What They Need to Hear

Out of Dan’s 16 years in the industry, 14 have been with WPP. Has been fortunate enough to live and learn in across many markets (London, Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles). He has led client servicing and strategy for brands at a local, regional and global level. Working with the world’s most innovative entertainment brands (EA, Universal Music, Playstation), CPG icons (Coca-Cola, P&G, AB-InBev) and leading ecomm/retailers (Tesco, EA D2C, PlayStation D2C, American Eagle, North Face). 

Dan joined Wavemaker in December 2019 as lead strategist for global new business. He has helped cement Wavemaker’s pedigree as the place disruptive brands go to scale. Notable new economy new business wins for the agency - Bumble, Square, Zwift, Coinbase. 

Dan believes passionately about bringing solutions to clients that pull from academic research, diverse category experience, belief and a healthy dose of scepticism.  

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?)

Dan> The most meaningful pitch experience in my early years was on an advertising course with the NABS UK organisation (Fast Forward). There were lots of competitive young guns from all corners of the industry (creative, media, digital, publisher) thrown into teams having never met each other, each were given a mentor (we had the brilliant calming presence of Gary Sharpen), a brief (Government road safety THINK!), and a pitch date (The pitch itself was in front of about 150 people, with each judge representing one of the letters in every big ad agency acronym in town). 

At this stage in my career, I was the ‘digital guy’ who would have two slides and five mins at the end of every client presentation. I was a naïve tactician. When it came to pitching, I was so out of my comfort zone. 

Halfway through the process we had a 30 min chemistry meeting with the client. We went in with a strong insight she really liked, but it was the conversation around it that mattered. You could see her eyes lighting up as we talked.      

Before we knew it, the pitch was a few days away and we had nothing on paper. Earlier on in the course Jeremy Bullmore presented a session with a sharpie, acetate and a projector. I can still remember it now. We channelled our inner Bullmore & decided to ditch PowerPoint for the pitch, we were going to do this using our voice alone. I was also chosen as a presenter.

To say I was anxious would be an understatement, I didn’t sleep a wink. My brain was fizzing with fear and excitement. Mainly fear. 

In the morning I felt like I’d just walked out of Fabric, and our pitch was 7pm that evening. After several hatchet job run throughs, we finally had a breakthrough about 30 mins before showtime. 

As each person took their turn to present, you could feel the connection and generous staging set for the next presenter. Fear turned into hunger, hunger to be a part of this brilliant story unravelling in front of me and to the audience. We knew we’d delivered a bit of magic and walked off chests out and a sense of pride. 

We won. 

Big Lessons learned that still stick with me:

1. A small dedicated multi-disciplined team win pitches. Don’t let the number of zeros after a dollar sign may you think otherwise.

2. Its not about being right in a tissue / chemistry session.

3. One highly experienced ‘guide’ is all you need. These people are hard to come by.

4. Pitch magic often rears its head when you least expect it. Chasing it becomes addictive. 

5. Don’t be a prisoner to PowerPoint

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

Dan> Tell clients what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

LBB> And the worst?

Dan> “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. This can be effective for short term gains but tends to play out badly in the long run. Competence endures.

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

Dan> The fundamentals of what makes a successful pitch have not changed. A memorable story, a point of view that stirs, and people they would like to work with. The one big change is the lesser reliance on the pitch day itself. Pitches used to be like a blockbuster movie, now they resemble a Netflix series with a cliff hanger final episode. 

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

Dan> I’m a firm believer that everyone can sell, everyone is selling in some form every day without realising it. Research has proven that the most effective salespeople tend to be ambiverts, someone who falls somewhere in the middle of introversion and extroversion. Not that pitches are more than one big meeting, there is something for every type of personality type along the process. On a part-time basis anyone can contribute to new business.  

New Business Full Time? I think you need certain traits. These people tend to have a little more competitiveness, grit, resourcefulness, and kook than the average. 

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?)

Dan> In any given year about 75% of the pitches we take part in are fair, well-orchestrated, and true to the ambition they laid out at the offset. Sadly, there are still brands that treat the media industry with a lack of empathy, and at times, duplicity. Brand X (almost always a large global brand with significant investment in non-biddable inventory) will begin a process outlining their media ambition, the priority on talent, strategy, product, and competitive media trading terms. As the process develops it becomes clear that the lesser priority at the offset (media trading and payment terms) becomes the dominant factor in their appointment decision. It sometimes feels like a ruse. 

At this point of illumination, often towards the end of an intense and costly process, the amount of sacrifice from the people in all agencies taking part is extraordinary. People miss weddings, birthdays, work weekends and late nights in dedication to their teammates in hopes of working with Brand X. It’s gut wrenching for the industries best talent to discover it was all for nothing. This practice has been fairly persistent over the last 20 years. A coming together of Advertiser and Agency Bodies could solve this by stipulating media trading and payment terms take place prior to any further requests. Refreshingly, a couple of big advertisers embraced this approach in 2022, hopefully a sign of things to come. 

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

Dan> In almost every pitch now we’re communicating to a mix of engineers, deep channel specialists, operations and generalists. Now that pitches are more than one big meeting, we’re able to use different channels and formats to personalise to different audience needs. On one end of the spectrum might be an immersive session of live video call demonstration of our products and their technical integrations, on the other, we’ve produced assets that are more emotive and resemble a TV show. 

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

Dan> Rejection in New Business can hurt as a consequence of completely immersing yourself in the advertiser’s business, a sense of attachment emerges. It’s especially hard in the early years.

It’s important to view rejection as temporary not permanent, and external not personal. If you’re competitive, surrounded by bright people, and naturally curious, you’ll always have that burning desire to sink your teeth into the next RFP.

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?

Dan> Often this is a big positive for the industry. The fact our lives can intertwine more naturally gives people confidence to be themselves with colleagues or with clients. I think a lot of us take this for granted. 

LBB> In your view what’s the key to closing a deal?

Dan> Keep the core talent engaged with the client until the end, don’t disappear after the pitch, and be consistent with your message, even if it means saying no to something.

LBB> How important is cultural understanding when it comes to selling internationally? (And if you have particular experience on this front, what advice do you have?)

Dan> On a global pitch, sometimes local culture gets superseded by the global brand values. But there will always be local market differences that you must attune to. I’ve worked in Latin America, Europe and US, and it’s the soft skills that need adapting most versus the work. It can take months, sometimes years, to fully understand local culture enough to adapt selling techniques, it’s a slow burn. If you don’t have that privilege do your homework, talk to people that have, and listen. It’s often the invisible stuff that counts. 

LBB> How is technology and new platforms (from platforms like Salesforce and Hubspot to video calls to social media) changing sales and new business? 

Dan> Social media is such a rich canvas to bring the personalities of our talent to life, this has become increasingly important as more pitches become remote. I think the biggest benefit to video calls is its democratised the stakeholders / personality types that can be involved in a pitch (both advertiser and agency side). Some people feel more comfortable presenting from their own home with a few written prompts next to their screen, it’s been liberating for them. CRM is an important tool for engaging existing clients, but also for prospecting. We’re getting good at tailoring our thought leadership content to specific audiences in our database.

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? 

Dan> I’ve heard people in agencies say “I don’t work in sales”, or squirm when they hear the word. There’s a weird reticence to it, which is why I think there isn’t as much training or appetite to learn techniques of persuasion and influence. Whether you have ‘new business’ in your title or not, you are selling. You are selling every day. Be it an idea, hiring talent, a new research methodology, a new team structure or selling yourself for a job. If we accept selling is something we all do every day, we’ll be able to close the gap on capabilities and training. 

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?

Dan> You sell every day, you probably don’t even realise it. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be effective at selling. There’s a hidden talent inside everyone waiting to be unleashed. Give new business a go and you might just find it.


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Wavemaker UK, Wed, 04 Jan 2023 13:07:08 GMT