Collaboration is Key: Brittni Hutchins, Venables Bell + Partners

For the latest installment in our New Business and Growth series, we spoke with Brittni Hutchins, Head of Growth & Marketing at VB+P San Francisco.

par Carol Mason , AdForum (NYC)

Venables Bell + Partners
Publicité/Communication intégrée
San Francisco, Etats-Unis
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Brittni Hutchins
Head of Growth & Marketing Venables Bell + Partners

How would you define your role, is it simply about bringing new clients into the agency or is it more nuanced? Please tell us about your responsibilities.

At a high level, my job is to drive overall growth for the agency as well as build and oversee the VB+P brand. Bringing new clients into the agency is a part of this role, but the key is to bring in the ‘right ones’. We pursue partnerships where we can become deeply embedded members of our clients’ team, organization and process, and ultimately provide innovative creative solutions that deliver outsized impact on their behalf. With these partnership priorities firmly in place, we also look for organic growth opportunities within existing partnerships.


Where does most new business come from, where does the process tend to begin?

The origin of new business opportunities vary. We’re fortunate to have a steady stream of opportunities come through consultants, although recently we’ve also had a number of leads come from clients looking for direct-to-project engagements. Regardless, the process always starts at the first email or call as we gather more information, assess the opportunity, and start building a relationship right out of the gate.


It seems that many clients are moving towards project work rather than the old AOR model. How, if at all, has that changed how you approach the opportunity and pitch?

Our focus is always on the brand opportunity and how we can drive success with the client; not whether the pitch is AOR or project-based.

We’ve found that the majority of clients investing time in a formal pitch process for a short-term project are actually looking for a long-term partner. The initial project gives them the opportunity to ensure it’s the right fit before making a larger commitment. We have also seen several clients forgo the pitch process, and award projects solely based on team chemistry and previous work and/or case studies (which of course is refreshing). We experience that this too can lead to longer-term engagements.

Ultimately, I think it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to project work. If it’s an exciting assignment and there is strong alignment between the agency and teams, the initial project may very well turn into a much bigger commitment down the road.


In your opinion, what are the key things a client looks for in a pitch presentation, aside from the work?

I think that clients are looking for a number of things beyond the work. A partner who truly listens, is collaborative in their approach and invests the time and energy to clearly understand the client’s business and challenges, even in the midst of short pitch timelines. Also, an agency partner that can effectively assimilate the information they are given, and provide fresh insights, perspectives and a strong POV on the best way forward.

Team chemistry is also key, as well as assurances that the agency has the breadth and depth of expertise and capabilities that will help take the brand to the next level.


How did you adapt your process during COVID? Were there any advantages that emerged?

It’s hard to remember the process pre-COVID at this point! From an internal standpoint however, and without the luxury of having hallway catch ups or desk walk-bys, we’ve brought the core team into the fold earlier and more often throughout the process. We’ve kept meetings smaller and moved to a workshop-style approach to ramp up collaboration and ensure that no one feels like they are solving challenges on their own from home. The pandemic has also significantly changed our approach to hiring. It’s been very freeing and helpful to look for great talent without the confines of a specific location.

We’ve also shifted how we engage and get to know potential clients. We’ve had to find new ways to build relationships without the typical connections that happen during office tours, or lunches together around the pitch meetings. We’ve always appreciated as much time together as possible during a pitch process, and these moments have been more important than ever during the pandemic. We’ve actively looked for opportunities for the clients to get to know our broader team (rather than just core presenters), and for collaborative sessions with clients so that we can all get a true feel for what a partnership might be like.

Overall, these changes have been positive ones for us, and we’ll continue to integrate them as we soon move to a hybrid (home/office) work approach.


What are your predictions for agency growth in 2021, where do you see opportunity?

We see a lot of potential for our growth in 2021 and beyond. Our existing clients (like many clients out there) are looking to increase their marketing spend overall, and project clients are also seeking long-term engagements as they see tangible results from our work together. What is perhaps most exciting is that there is a new stream of clients who seem to be realizing the importance of having a strong brand in order to break through, create advocates, and ultimately deliver for their business. We’ve been thrilled to have new clients come to us based on the work we’ve done with brands like Audi, Intel, Chipotle and Reebok, and who want us to help them crystalize the foundation of their brand and manage how it manifests across consumer touchpoints. It feels like this is a moment where our expertise in agency building and stewarding brands, and our independence (which allows us to be highly flexible and to work seamlessly with the various partners in their ecosystem) is especially relevant right now.