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The New New Business: Catching the Pitching Bug with Emily Doskow



Leo Burnett Chicago CMO on making decisions early, getting everyone on the train and going full speed ahead

The New New Business: Catching the Pitching Bug with Emily Doskow

Since joining Leo Burnett Chicago, Emily Doskow has certainly built impressive new business momentum heading into 2023. This year, Emily has lead Leo Burnett Chicago to a near-perfect new business win rate with over 10 net new accounts added to the agency’s roster.   

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?)

Emily> My first new business pitch was when I was an intern at JWT after college. I helped with the most menial tasks behind the scenes of the “huge show.” I covered a wall of the conference room with sketches from a focus group exercise. I ordered dinners. I sherpa’d boards from the mount room to the pitch room. But most of all I watched, listened and absorbed. And I loved it! I’d caught the bug. (Not gambling, pitching!) 

It was the best of the best talent, operating at the top of their game. Everyone was all in. Ambition. Competitive spirit. Real camaraderie. I’ve never really left new business from that point.

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

Emily> “Make decisions early. Get everyone on the train and go full speed ahead.” 

When you’re working on an account, you’re constantly looking for the right solution. But when you’re pitching, it’s not very likely that what you pitch will be exactly right. Instead, showing how you think, how you interact as a team, how you have enthusiasm for what you do – that’s what you’re selling. 

It’s easy to get bogged down in every detail – crafting and recrafting every page of the deck and scripting every part. But to win, you have to focus on what could really impact the decision and be willing to let the rest go. 

LBB> And the worst?

Emily> “It’s not about the performance in the room, it’s all about the politics behind the scenes.” 

I’m not naïve enough to think that politics don’t matter. But I’m not interested in playing games to win. We are offering our talent. If that is not valued, then we’re not building a partnership. Of course, building relationships is incredibly important, but its purpose is to build mutual respect and trust, not back-door deals.

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

Emily> Unfortunately, 20 years after I started, I’m not sure it has; and it needs to. Our competitive nature and love of creativity has resulted in us doing months’ worth of work in a few weeks’ time and doing it for free. Clients have come to expect a full suite of spec work when they should be expecting a taste. It burns our best creative talent and pushes us all to our limits. We’ve got to work together to improve “the way it’s always been done.” 

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

Emily> Sure, you can teach anyone who’s willing to learn, but it takes a certain kind of personality to thrive in new business. When I’m looking to recruit for the new business team, I’m looking for a jack of all trades – a unicorn. Someone who’s as much strategist as they are designer as they are storyteller. To succeed, in my opinion, you need to love working out problems without many of your questions answered, making up the process as you go, constantly trying different approaches, and constantly learning new industries.  

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?)

Emily> The way into a new agency-client relationship needs to be drastically reimagined. Today’s pitch model is costly and inefficient (on both sides) and is well known for leading to undue stress and mental health issues. Pitching doesn’t need to be done away with completely, but we need to work together as an industry to do better. There have been several initiatives (e.g., Pitch Positive Pledge) that have started the conversation, which I applaud. 

We haven’t gone as far as to refuse to pitch but we prioritize collaboration and creativity and are highly selective about what, when and how we do it. Personally, I’d like to see more pitches include a light RFI to narrow the playing field. Then follow that with a small team dinner. Not a formulaic creds meeting, but a break-bread-together, talk-like-real-humans conversation. If that doesn’t give you a sense of each other, then no board room will. 

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

Emily> We do our research. We live into the brand. We ask to work in their stories, ask to speak to references, tour their facilities, talk to their scientists/engineers. And we make sure everyone on the team does it – not just a token few. Then it’s authentic when we are all in. 

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

Emily> I exercise a fair amount of discernment in this role and am intent on a high conversion rate. Rejection is a part of the business and motivation is critical. It’s important to me that when we pitch, it doesn’t feel like an extra burden to those involved. It should feel exciting.

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?

Emily> Easier. We know each other, we trust each other, which means we can talk frankly and openly.  

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

Emily> People. Matching the right personalities, creative thinking and experience to the right clients, working styles and needs. When done right, it all clicks. The energy is palpable, and clients need to feel that.

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

Emily> We’re doing a lot more remotely than we used to, especially at the early stages of prospecting and pitching. We’re tracking a lot more of our outreach and are collaborating with our sister agencies within Publicis Groupe.

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? 

Emily> I think the best training is to experience it. I was fortunate to be able to be “in the room where the magic happens” so early on in my career– most of the time early on as tech/backup support, but I was able to absorb it all. It can be challenging. Agencies are typically very selective about who and how many people we bring in to the meet the client, and that everyone has a clear role. 

Now more engagements are taking place over with video and recordings, making it possible for more younger talent to watch and learn. I always encourage people to raise their hands to work on new business. You won’t always know what’s going on – it’s moving so fast and it’s messy – but be present and jump in when you see something that needs doing.

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?

Emily> Build a tight crew of high-energy, fast-thinking humans who aren’t scared of a little chaos and thrive in a bit of competition. Believe in what you’re selling. Have fun.

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Leo Burnett Chicago , Mon, 19 Dec 2022 17:32:08 GMT