Wise words from two musical Mr Ws

Mr W No1.

Pete Waterman is a clever man. I always think that I don’t like him but many of the things that he says often resonate with me. He worked with Reggae legends Lee “Scratch” Perry and Peter Tosh and he thinks that the government should invest more money into the railways – all good.

I heard him on a Radio 4 programme a couple of months ago talking about the breakthrough years of his career with his partners Stock and Aitken. To my disgust found myself tapping my feet and humming along to many of the tunes that they inflicted during the ‘80s – not good.

The most memorable thing that he said during the interview was that (apart from a wheelbarrow load of luck) a key reason for their success was that they had a clear idea of what they were looking to achieve. He said that they had a “game plan” which they stuck to refusing to allow anything to derail that.

Mr W No2.

Around the same time as the Waterman interview, I was reading an article in the Guardian about Paul Weller. Let me tell you that musically, Weller has always been much more my cup of tea than Waterman. Generally Weller is a man of far fewer words than Waterman. I saw Weller in concert a couple of years ago and he uttered no more than 5 1/2 words over a period of about 2 hours: “this one’s from way back” and “anks”.

Weller has never been afraid to take creative risks. Who in their right mind would deliberately break up one of the top bands of the day, with a massive fan base, to create a new band with a totally different sound and image? As we know, Paul Weller did with great success.

Anyway, in the interview he spoke about the importance, regardless of creative discipline, of continually moving forward creatively and not getting too comfortable: “I think if you’re a creative person, you need to go forward and search and discover” he declares.

Clearly Paul Weller has more time to search and discover than the average creative director, but in my experience, it’s an investment that normally pays off.

What I took from the two Mr Ws was that clarity of focus, a strategy and the confidence to take creative risks could be useful attributes when trying make progress in any area of the creative industry.


Add some sparkle

Day in day, day out, creative companies devote the bulk of their energy and resources to producing carefully considered and often innovative creative responses to client briefs. (Feel free to let me know if that statement is controversial in any way!).

When it comes to promoting themselves though, creative companies often resort to the mediocre. In my experience this is normally down to the fact that they are doing all of the things mentioned above, that’s what pays the bills after all.

When something does get produced to promote the agency, it’s often just a pdf to be emailed, a booklet to be posted or simply a collection of new work to put on the website.

There is of course nothing wrong with doing any of this but if you want to show the world that you are a creative company fizzing with ideas and creative vision then in my opinion, it is not good to become too reliant on this approach.

One way to see it is to pity the poor design buyer who will receive perhaps three or four approaches from agencies a day.

Just think of the joy that you could bring to their lives with a well thought through and challenging piece that doesn’t just rely on showing what you’ve done for other people but is a piece of creative that can be memorable and effective in its own right, to stand alone as a real a showcase of your skills.


Love me tender

One thing that I spend a lot of time doing is writing tender responses.

Tender documents come in a variety of forms and are usually written by procurement people who appear to have little or no creative flair. Procurement people talk their own language and have a dictionary of special jargon: RFP, PQQ, ITT, WTF? etc. Another favorite pastime is to throw seemingly irrelevant questions at you.

If you haven’t done a lot of tenders this can all be a bit daunting and it’s sometimes tempting to fight jargon with jargon or to just give up. My advice however is not to be put off but to approach tender responses with the same open-mindedness as you would any other brief.

Pity the poor procurement manager having to read through the dozens or even hundreds of responses. Make yours stand out. Take some time to understand their organisation, what they do and who they do it for. Perhaps even give them something to smile about.

Don’t fall into the trap of answering a tedious question with a tedious answer.

When you are struggling to write up a disaster recovery plan, a health and safety or data protection policy for a tender, it’s easy to forget that overall, the tender is a great opportunity to promote your company.

Like any new business activity, it’s in your best interests to do all that you can to differentiate yourself from the competition.


The unsung hero of business development

It’s clear that the primary reason for doing proactive business development is to make sure that potential clients know that your agency exists and to help them understand what you can offer ultimately to maximise your chances of winning business.

Strong credentials, great creative and good people are of course vital elements in business development. As important, in my opinion, is the database (or prospect list), the unsung hero in the world of new business perhaps.

There is no mystery to business development. Success comes from having good information about your prospects and using that to facilitate well-planned, and consistent activity.

Whether you call it a database or a prospect list, it is essential that you have a place to store the contact details of all of the organisations that you are hoping to ultimately win business from. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy or expensive, it can be as simple as an excel spreadsheet.

Alongside contact details you should keep a log of conversations with prospects, important information about them, their review process and any actions. A good database makes it quick and easy for you to see how your business development activity is going and how well leads are progressing.


When I work with agencies, we take time to research prospects and ensure that only relevant contacts make it onto the database. I don’t recommend buying lists. Some agencies tell me that their business development agency has their own database that they use for all of their clients. To me this sounds like madness, I believe that a business development agency should create a prospect database and gather intelligence on behalf of their clients on an individual basis.

Don’t get carried away

I often come across agencies that are proud to tell me that they have a huge database with thousands of prospects. I’ve seen databases with over 2000 prospects obtained from bought-in lists or where information has been added to over a number of years. For most agencies, a database of this size is just too big to manage effectively.

Critical mass

At the other extreme, many agencies have too few prospects to target making it impossible to create the critical mass needed to develop a healthy pipeline of leads.

 Up to date

People change roles all the time so the information needs also to be kept up to date to ensure that you are not wasting time and money.

My advice is that rather than being seen as a hit list of random names to be cold-called, a creative agency’s database should in fact be the repository of valuable insight and intelligence giving structure and direction to well planned and thoughtful business development activity.


A simple but effective piece of graphic design.



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