A recent article asked where all the male new-business people were. I took it as lighthearted, but is there something in this?

Cat Davis’ recent Campaign article asked why men are so unusual in agency newbiz roles. I read it as a tongue-in-cheek take on the welcome recent focus on gender equality. But is there something in it?

Many flavours of new-business success

Some of the best new-business people I’ve ever known have been women. They probably still are. There was my inspirational boss at RAPP, Mel Collins, the brilliant Camilla Harrison, now CEO at Anomaly, and of course Oystercatcher’s Suki Thompson, not to mention the likes of Helen Weisinger, Laura Holme and Nina Jasinski.

Unsurprisingly, there’s an equally long list of high-profile men – including Richard Morris (now a founder of Whistlejacket), Will Hamilton, Mark Robinson, Paul Vallois and the shy and retiring Peter Cowie.

Interestingly, even this tiny sample shows the variation in new-business people, from strategic to salesy, quietly determined to full-on force of nature. It still flummoxes me why job specs vary so little.

The role of empathy

Despite the variety, one common feature does stand out – empathy. So maybe – maybe! – that gives women a natural advantage? But as a father to two daughters, I’m far too modern and right-on to generalise, man.

And anyway, as my list shows, clearly the ladies don’t have a monopoly on empathy – in fact, the wonderful Kevin Allen proves that on his own.

The secret of new-business?

Putting lighthearted gender nonsense to one side, when it comes to agency growth, if proving expertise is the aim, then empathy might be the closest thing we have to a ‘secret sauce’.

Pitching, hiring teams, creating propositions, the art and science of qualification – they all thrive on empathy. Even at a granular level, when a client calls with a pitch result, we know by their intake of breath whether it’s a yes or a no.

And when you ring a prospect, backing-off after a terse ‘hello’ usually earns an agreed time to speak. That’s if your email carpet-bombing – a terminal lack of empathy – hasn’t already shut the door. As Dan Bolger, MoneySuperMarket’s Head of Marketing Operations, told me:

“Ultimately, through the spam, we build a mental picture of companies we wouldn’t work with rather than ones we would”

New-business as a service

Empathy drives expertise, creates chemistry and informs fit. So if winning business, great work and long-term relationships reflect a clear match between client problems and agency skills, then perhaps we should reframe ‘new-business’?

Suddenly calling us ‘Chief Diagnostic Officers’ is obviously a bit wanky, but agencies should definitely dial-back their self-serving motives and make their entire customer experience more client-led. New-business should be about helping the right clients to buy, instead of chasing anything that moves.

Less bullshit, more problems nailed. That’s a good outcome in anyone’s book – regardless of gender.

Image girlybingo