Point of View: New Business, Cat Davis (gyro UK)

Cat Davis, Chief Marketing Officer at gyro UK shares her experience in new business

Describe your job to us?

Cat wrangler. Cat hugger. Plate spinner. Firefighter (extinguishing the hot, smoky and smelly ones in the pitch process pronto). Fixer (whatever the question, the answer is yes – even if it starts as a no). Magician (pulling bunnies out of hats is a specialty). Orchestra conductor (but sometimes you’ve got to get in the pit and play the instruments too). Compere/showman (and warm up act to the main event). Secret agent (keeper of everybody’s secrets). Mum. Super hero.

What were you doing before and how did it lead you to your current role?

I started as a suit and worked in the UK and abroad at various agencies, including TBWA, Leo Burnett, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. I was on the pitch team of every agency I worked at. I loved it. On the frontline. Working with the top talent in the agency. The thrill of the chase. The excitement of winning. If ever there was a pitch, I was always the first person in the agency to put my hand up to work on it.

An opportunity came up client side on a national festival called ‘China Now’ in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, which provided me with a broader view on business and allowed me to see life from the other side of the fence.

New business seemed the perfect place to marry my account handling and client side experience and apply the two skills to a discipline that up to that point had largely involved me being handed a Post-It note with a message to call x from y company as there may have an opportunity for us. I’d never worn the ‘new business director’ hat. I’d had no formal training in how to do it. But I had an idea of what the ideal new business person should be. And I wanted to be that person. Grey was my first new business job. I took to it like a duck to water. The rest is history.

How has the job changed over the past few years?

The essence of what we do hasn’t really changed. But there are fewer pitches. Turnarounds are tighter. A lot more of reviews are project based. Budgets are smaller. Your competitive pitching set is much more varied. It’s much fiercer. Which makes it even more important that you stand out and deliver. At gyro we do just that.

How does gyro’s approach to finding new clients differ from other agencies?

Haha. This is like asking me to give away the keys to the magic kingdom. Good new business heads are worth their weight in gold. If I shared the secrets of how we pitch and how we go about prospecting/running new business pitches everyone would be doing it. And much as hints/tips work I’m all for the ‘practice makes perfect’ route – that’s what I did – and I wouldn’t want other people/agencies to miss out on the ‘how to prospect and win’ learning curve fun by sharing what makes gyro/me different. Sorry readers but I’m not giving away the family jewels.

Compared to other areas of advertising, there is a high percentage of women in this role. Why is that, do you think?

Funnily enough I wrote an article on this very subject a few years ago “Where are the men in new business departments?”. It was completely tongue in cheek but I thought it fit to shine a light on a gender imbalance that is probably the most skewed of any discipline in the industry. Alongside the TV production department! Yes, there are some very talented male new biz folk and male TV producers but statistically I think the girls outnumber them.

I think there’s a number of reasons for this. Historically new business folks tended to gravitate towards the role from account management – a role that typically attracts more women. And back in the day many traditionally thought of new business folk as bubbly hostesses, shop windows for the agency, great at choosing flowers, dressing the room and getting the right biscuits sorted – which is about as far from the actual job as you could possibly get, but perception lagged behind reality. Some of the men I’ve asked this question of comment that they think women are naturally more empathetic.

What’s important is those days are gone. New business is highly strategic and demands that the person doing it is fully immersed in all areas of the agency, whilst displaying a resilience and determination that not everyone is lucky enough to have. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many men working their way up through the ranks – the percentages are changing and that’s a good thing.

If I’m entering the industry and I want to move into business development, what steps should I take?

The most important skills a successful new business person needs are tenacity, passion, camaraderie, a sense of humour, optimism, enthusiasm, the skin of a rhino, resilience, persuasiveness and a passion for your agency’s business and that of your clients. A never-say-die attitude. Confidence. The ability to influence anyone and everyone and keep every plate spinning simultaneously. You need to be a self-starter. You need to be confident. It’s a bit like the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling – you need to keep your head about you. So, assuming you’ve got those boxes ticked …

Network, network, network. That doesn’t mean lunches at The Ivy (albeit those can be rather lovely). It means fishing where the fish are and if that’s a conference dedicated to procurement professionals, be there. If your ideal new business prospect is a keynote speaker at a pharmaceutical conference buy a ticket and ask the smart questions in the networking opportunities. It’s who you know in this game. Or who can introduce you to xyz. You can’t make friends over email.

Use your contacts. Get out and meet people, whether new business intermediaries, those already in new business positions whom you respect, journalists. Anyone and everyone who can help further your desire to help your ‘pitch’ and land your dream job (have I told you it’s the best role in the agency?!). Tell them you want to make the move into new business. Ask them what great looks like. Act on it. Follow up afterwards. If you say you’re going to do x – ensure you do it!

New business is a very small world. Most agencies don’t have a dedicated new business resource. Often it’s a shared role for an account handler. Competition is tough. You need to stand out.

New business heads live or die by their reputations. Start as you mean to go on. Be genuine. You can’t fake this job. Be interested and interesting. In everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Use what you learn. And protect your information sources. Respect Chinese walls. Confidential means confidential. 


To learn more, look at Cat's talent profile below:

Catherine Davis
Chief Marketing Officer gyro UK
TOPIC: New Business