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The New New Business: Being in a People Business with Pat Rowley

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
Droga5's head of business development on the need for good dialogue and transparency, being yourself and pitching it like you mean it

Pat has spent almost nine years with Droga5. He’s a strategic business leader, highly motivated to help ambitious brands achieve meaningful growth - through fostering collaborative partnerships and driving purposeful, effective work. Pat has experience over a wide range of categories for leading global brands in the US, Australia/New Zealand, and Asia. He’s been recognised for over 30 major effectiveness and creative awards at the shows that matter most (EFFIES, Cannes, D&AD), and has a proven track record in successfully contributing to Droga5’s revenue goals by leading new business wins from pitch strategy through to deal execution.

LBB> What was your first sale or new business win? (Was it a big or small job? How difficult or scary was it? What do you remember about how you felt? What lessons did you learn?)

Pat> Early in my career as an account executive, I supported our CEO in a pitch to the CMO of New Zealand’s largest fashion retailer, selling the company on making the leap into digital and an exciting new platform called Facebook. It was the early days (and I’m not sure how I ended up in the room), but it was inspiring to witness first hand how, in a new-business capacity, you can have real influence and impact on client business at scale.

LBB> What was the best piece of advice you got early on?

Pat> ‘The brief is not always the brief.’ It’s not an excuse to go rogue or ignore the client’s needs. But it’s an opportunity to look at the business problem differently than they may have anticipated. And you can solve it in ways that are unexpected, add value, are more efficient or drive a bigger impact for the client’s business.

LBB>  And the worst?

Pat> ‘Coffee’s for closers.’ Over the years, it’s become pretty clear to me that coffee is in fact for everyone, and while it can help the process, there’s no hard evidence to suggest that it will have a material impact on your win rate.

LBB> How has the business of ‘selling’ in the creative industry changed since you started?

Pat> Obviously, the shift to remote working challenged how we build chemistry with new clients and how we create theatre in the pitch itself. On the plus side, it’s probably forced us all to focus even more squarely on our product, and how to effectively communicate even under challenging conditions.  

LBB> Can anyone be taught to sell or do new business or do you think it suits a certain kind of personality?

Pat> Coming from someone who made the switch to new business (from account management), learning how to sell is definitely possible, but it does suit a certain type. You have to be highly entrepreneurial and enjoy diving into brand-new strategic challenges and creative opportunities while being comfortable with a bit of chaos. Some people get agitated about that; others get energised by it.

LBB> What are your thoughts about the process of pitching that the industry largely runs on? 

Pat> There are definitely alternatives for clients to find their perfect agency partner that don’t require the full-spec work rodeo. Many of our successful relationships are examples of that approach, and, of course, it’s our preference. But we do love a good pitch as long as there’s a strong brief, a fair process, the right amount of time and commercial transparency, among other factors. On any pitch, we’re going to invest significantly more than a typical pitch fee will cover, but it’s always appreciated. We do not give away ownership of our ideas in a pitch.

LBB> How do you go about tailoring your selling approach according to the kind of person or business you’re approaching?

Pat> We actually keep it pretty consistent for the most part, as we know our style and trust our process and our people to deliver. Of course, there’s nuance based on the audience, and we’re very thoughtful about casting people on our team with the right alchemy and client fit. When it comes to what we sell - our product - that’s where we get very tailored and bespoke based on each client’s unique needs.

LBB> New business and sales can often mean hearing ‘no’ a lot and quite a bit of rejection - how do you keep motivated?

Pat> Losing sucks, but the wins make up for it, as well as knowing that there’s always another opportunity on the table or around the corner. We also say no a lot ourselves, too—sometimes there’s just not a fit, and that’s fine. Also, wine. Lots of wine.

LBB> The advertising and marketing industry often blurs the line between personal and professional friendships and relationships… does this make selling easier or more difficult and delicate?

Pat> It’s absolutely a people business, so the relationships do need to be navigated alongside the needs of the business and other stakeholders…all part of the gig!

LBB> In your view, what's the key to closing a deal?

Pat> Good dialogue and transparency on both sides. We’ll usually find a way forward if we can get to both of those things.

LBB> How important is cultural understanding when it comes to selling internationally? (And if you have particular experience on this front, what advice do you have?)

Pat> Massively important. There’s always a human decision-maker on the other side of the table, so you have to put yourself in their shoes and understand their values and needs. We’re lucky at Droga5 to have the backing of Accenture in every corner of the world, which gives us tremendous insight and understanding of cultural dynamics globally.

LBB> How is technology and new platforms (from platforms like Salesforce and Hubspot to video calls to social media) changing sales and new business?

Pat> New tools and technology can be great, but, at the end of the day, agency new business is still fundamentally a people business. And what we’re selling is the application of human creativity to solve human business problems. Even with all the new toys, we don’t think the humanity aspect is going away any time soon.

LBB> There’s a lot of training for a lot of parts of the industry, but what’s your thoughts about the training and skills development when it comes to selling and new business?

Pat> As part of Accenture, we have access to a huge amount of resources, tools and training. From a broader industry perspective, it would be great to see more out there.

LBB> What’s your advice for anyone who’s not necessarily come up as a salesperson who’s now expected to sell or win new business as part of their role?

Pat> Be yourself, listen hard, pitch like you mean it, and have fun doing it.