BBH CEO stresses creativity, selectivity in client relationships

Greg Andersen, CEO of BBH New York, said at the Mirren New Business Conference on April 11 that his agency had lost its last 10 pitches in a row, but added that unsuccessful pitches can serve as learning tools to improve product and revenue initiatives. He added that agencies should be more concerned with creating new revenue streams and products than with the amount of new business they sign.

Despite the string of losing pitches, the agency continues to “work to create advantages to endure over time,” Andersen said during the conference’s April 11 keynote.

“Great pitches are a moment in time. Becoming a better agency endures,” he said.

BBH has declined 35 out of 45 invitations to pitch for new business in the last year. Yet Andersen said he wasn’t concerned with how audience members might read into these numbers, since BBH has signed four new clients without pitching in that time.

“We try to grow relationships with existing clients. We want to be a different kind of creative company, with different businesses and different revenue streams,” he said. “We’re selective. We work with clients that are like-minded and help to shape our brand.”

BBH recently lost an RFP to retain the Ally Financial account. Grey New York won the business.

Andersen said agencies should only work with clients who appreciate their strengths. “We work with clients that recognize what better work is,” he said.

Associated BBH businesses, like BBH Zag, which develops new brands for BBH clients, and The Black Sheep Fund, a venture capital fund focused on launching consumer technology products, help the firm differentiate itself from other shops that focus on more traditional advertising work, said Andersen.

“Given the fluidity of the industry, we’re not sure the way the business is going,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out how we can shape our business to leverage creativity to generate more revenue. That’s the goal. Generate more revenue and not create new clients.”

Andersen also revealed the strategy behind a key 2010 client win. He said BBH won the Cadillac account last year because it “partnered with a production company [to develop a prototype].”

“We gave [Cadillac] a production budget and schedule [before we won the account],” he said. “All they had to do was sign the paper.”

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