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The New New Business: Why It's All about Belief with Paul James


Ardmore’s strategic business director on the fun of the challenge, the need for cultural understanding and why technology is a great enabler

The New New Business: Why It's All about Belief with Paul James

Paul has led several award-winning behaviour change campaigns across Road Safety, Skills and challenging the control of paramilitary gangs to name a few. With over 13 years’ experience in the advertising industry, Paul is quick to develop innovative, strategic solutions to briefs. He is responsible for new business, client campaign strategy and integrating new clients with Ardmore's day-to-day delivery.

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?)

Paul> In my current agency, Ardmore, I was lucky enough that my first win came within my first month! The win came from the Department of Economy’s Skills to Succeed program, which seeks to promote Apprenticeships and Academies. 

Whilst every new business pitch is challenging in different ways, as a team we were particularly buzzing because we took a massive last-minute risk - and it paid off. With the presentation prepared, we took the brave decision to change the first five minutes in the elevator enroute. The move involved putting our Media Manager on stage to tell her own heartfelt story of struggling to get a break in the world of work. 

I learned that day that it’s critical to shift from presentation to experience – a principle I really need to ensure we do more of.

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

Paul> Naturally, not all my early pitches resulted in a win. In the beginning of my new business career, we lost a pitch, with which I felt totally responsible. I then proceeded to apologise to my boss, with which he told me too never do again… He emphasised that pitching is a team effort.

This experience and the subsequent advice taught me that whilst it is critical to understand the responsibility that you have as a New Business or pitch lead, you can’t win them all, and you certainly cannot do it alone.

LBB> And the worst?

Paul> I was once about 48 hours from a creative pitch and the directors ripped up the creative and got the team to start again. The idea that won, and got to market, was basically what we threw out. Doh!

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

Paul> Brand teams are more price sensitive, and harder to convince to open their doors, undoubtedly because of covid-19. But the challenge is the fun part!

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

Paul> Both. I think anyone can learn and develop in the new business arena. However, I have certain weaknesses and inhibitions ingrained in my personality that I wish I could eradicate. The best are a blend of great networkers, strategic thinkers, opportunists and those who are somewhat extroverted. 

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?)

Paul> I wish it could be disrupted. I understand the need for a pitch but I do believe, for the most part, it could be fairer for agencies.

I’d like to see a nominal fee being offered as often as possible. I think it is a great recognition of the work and talent that goes in to delivering a pitch.

Someone once told me that he believed every creative pitch should be replaced by creative testing of the ideas submitted. Then the decision based off the outcomes of the testing. I like that idea, blended with a strategy and creative presentation so clients can decide if they see a cultural and team fit and understand the thinking and process.

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

Paul> Nothing too complicated. We relentlessly study the business, the consumer insight and the challenges to develop creative and media solutions that create change for the client’s business.

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

Paul> I sometimes look back at the work I’ve been privileged to be involved in, and the work Ardmore has done. It reminds me of the difference I and we can make, and our moral obligation to keep offering to help new, prospective clients.

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?

Paul> I think it is very delicate when doing business with a friend. But it’s a much easier context when you develop friendships from the original professional relationship.

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

Paul> It’s all about belief. The client must believe that your creative and media solution is the [only] answer to their challenge. The final close is not as important as building an inarguable case for the solutions being proposed.

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?)

Paul> Back to my previous point about belief. You must display a cultural understanding. If it is clear you don’t understand a client’s market and the culture around it, they will struggle to believe and trust you are the best solution. At best they’ll see you as a risk.

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

Paul> Technology is a great enabler. But a massive part of this business is still about human connection.

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? 

Paul> I believe it could definitely be better and tailored to the different segments within our industry. 

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?

Paul> It’s all about belief. Focus on the belief and shift the client’s perspective to believe and trust in you, your agency and your solutions. 

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ardmore, Mon, 17 Oct 2022 11:11:38 GMT