Driven's Nick Brookes explains how to win new business in 2020's Northern Agency Guide

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

The Managing Partner of one of the UK's most successful agencies at winning new business has shared the way his agency does it.

This piece was originally published in 2020's Northern Agency Guide - to see full agency profiles, in-depth data and more, order your copy.


I think I’m safe in saying that you are probably reading this because of the headline that preceded it. Maybe you were driven to do so by its relevance - new business matters to you, so anything you can learn that might improve your chances of success is worth a look.

Or maybe you felt compelled to read on, simply because of the boldness of the claim - who are these “cocky folk” claiming to be better than anyone else at probably one of the most difficult parts of what we do? Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Either way, it got your attention. And that’s a start.

The claim that underpins this is actually based on a truth - and an independent one at that. Driven were recently ranked top of Campaign’s New Business League Table (thanks for letting me mention that!).

Clearly, if this were self-proclaimed, that wouldn’t be good. It would say all the wrong things about us. But the fact that it is a recent independent statement makes what we have to say a lot more credible and therefore worth listening to.

And that’s important. Now we’ve always had a good pipeline of new business, but when this fact first came to light, it did generate quite a bit of additional interest in what we were doing.

More people wanted to talk to us. And that’s significant. Some wanted to know what we had changed in order to create what appeared to be a step change. Had we found a “secret formula”? If so, could we share it with the world? (I may have over-dramatised the language here, but the sentiment was true).

When it came to the answers, I’m afraid there was very little room for any added drama. Of course we hadn’t found a secret formula - as if there was ever going to be one.

And even if we had, no we wouldn’t share it - it wouldn’t be much of a secret if we did! No, the real answers behind our success were pretty much hidden in plain sight.

First, we were doing better work that was getting the attention of more clients. And that’s a start.

Second, our work was delivering strong business effects that were being endorsed by others.

And that’s important, to both clients directly and to agencies making recommendations to their clients. Any kind of change has an element of risk attached to it. Proven experience and accountability are a great way of helping to minimise those risks.

Third, as a result of all this, our inbound calls and referrals increased. We were having better conversations because we were starting from a better place. That’s significant - as was our approach to pitching. We started to stick more closely to what we were really good at.

I know that sounds like such an obvious thing to do - but it’s not something agencies always do, much to their detriment.

There can be a real temptation to go for everything - particularly in leaner times. But pitch lead times are getting shorter. If you have to spend a disproportionate amount of time learning to do what it is you are supposed to be doing in the first place, you’ll get found out and most likely lose.

Learning new things is part of the lifeblood of any agency, but there’s a time and place for everything. We still did this recently (I’m not saying we’re perfect) - and guess what, we lost. When we stopped doing this, we started winning more. More than anyone else it seems.