In a highly competitive marketplace where agencies compete for nearly every dollar of new revenue, it seems incongruous that major shops such as JWT are operating without new business chiefs.
Agency leaders say, however, that the job has become more complex—given the demands of major reviews and changing nature of the shops themselves—and therefore more difficult to cast. As a result, some searches for new business talent are taking longer than expected—Saatchi & Saatchi's just-completed CMO search lasted a year—and often involve multiple recruiters.
"It's just such a hard position to fill," said Michael Zuna, New York managing director at Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, whose new CMO, Benjamin Bittman, started last week. "The Mad Men-rainmaker days—that doesn't happen anymore. It's a tough job."
Why? Because client reviews in recent years have generally become more complicated, given the expanding marketing needs of clients, the more common presence of search consultants (and their RFP-driven processes), the advent of holding company-led contests and the participation of procurement executives. At the same time, agencies generally are reinventing themselves for the digital age and how they market that to prospective clients and consultants needs to change as well. The role of a new business chief today requires a combination of strategic smarts, agility, precision and moxie.
"There are not a whole lot of people who have done this job in the past who know how to do it well now," said Avi Dan, a former new business executive at Euro RSCG, Berlin Cameron United and Saatchi who's now president of Darling in New York.
Of course, with or without a new business chief, agencies continue to pitch new accounts, with some success. JWT, for example, landed Microsoft's Office business this month, six months after picking up a new search product assignment that turned out to be Bing. The WPP Group shop has been seeking a new director of business development since February, when K.J. Weir left to become talent director at The Talent Business in New York.
The added growth from Microsoft has "allowed us to be very careful and very selective" in the new business post search, said Peter Grossman, director of client service at JWT here. "We've gotten away with [not having a new business chief]. Is it the right long-term solution? Absolutely not."
Other shops seeking new business leaders include WPP's Ogilvy & Mather and Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty. For six months, Ogilvy has been looking for either a North American or global new business chief, and BBH just launched a search following last month's exit of business development director Jason Hill.
Neither agency is using a recruiter—at least for now. Saatchi engaged several recruiting firms, including Heidrick & Struggles, after initially conducting the search itself. JWT also is using multiple headhunters, in part to find candidates with digital backgrounds and those with relevant experience who work outside the industry, according to Grossman.
Unlike the others, Ogilvy is not operating without a dedicated new business executive. Lauren Crampsie has been director of business development at the shop's New York office for several years. The agency, however, wants to enhance its approach to prospecting through the addition of what North American chairman John Seifert described as an "experienced, client-savvy, frontline leader."
The pool of qualified candidates, however, is not likely to be very deep, particularly with so many agencies searching at the same time. Some in the industry also find the new business role to be a grind and a "career cul-de-sac" because it typically doesn't lead to broader roles within an agency, said Weir, the new business chief turned headhunter.
"I wish that more people aspired to it," Weir added.