The Era of "Revenge Spending": Suresh Raj, Virtue

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Brooklyn, Etats-Unis
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Suresh Raj
Global Chief Growth Officer Virtue

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.  

My role goes beyond just bringing new clients into the agency. It is also about ensuring that we are fit for purpose. It is about building and adapting the right infrastructure within our business across all pillars—product, people, and process. In the constantly shifting cultural environment we live in, with its evolving demands on the role of brands in society and its ever-increasing demands on what CMOs need to deliver against their business needs, we have to make sure we are mapping out the right talent and continuing to innovate our product portfolio to move at the speed of business and culture. But at its core, it’s the nurturing and inspiring of a collaborative culture of new business that really inspires me.


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

Our opportunities come through a variety of avenues such as consultant relationships, proactive outreach to strategic like-minded brands, and inbound opportunities—each playing an important role in keeping the lifeblood of the agency's new business pipeline buoyant.  But we see the most fruitful opportunities with the greatest growth potential through our existing relationships, as these relationships are fundamentally built on tried and tested mutual trust.

Our greatest growth tool is our people. The brilliance of their areas of expertise—be it strategy, creative, project management, or other lines. Their combined brilliance and collaborative nature are the foundation of long-trusted relationships with our clients. We are often the trusted agency partner to CMO, CBO, and/or the marketing brand lead, as well as the in-house agency.  The process often depends on what avenue the opportunity is coming from. Depending on the path of entry, the process could involve the most relevant resources required to respond to the business challenge; and in most cases, the growth team tends to form the backbone of the opportunity, underpinning all support, while the key individuals with the best expertise form the responding team.


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

I’ve found that although there is still a combination of both project and AOR opportunities, I am seeing the most growth in a third model—the AOR roster. Agencies pitch to get onto a brand’s roster and, once there, are brought in on a steady stream of projects with varying budgets. This model allows for the more efficiency in terms of resourcing and pricing and mid to long-term projections. This works best when there is a business and cultural fit between client and agency. Such a model is ideal as well because it allows creative teams to work across a variety of opportunities, thereby keeping engagement fresh and inspired, while continuing to build loyal, long-term relationships underpinned by efficiencies. 


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

The number one thing I’ve found that clients look for is team chemistry. Often the biggest differentiator between agencies is its people, and clients want to know that they have a team they can easily work with and collaborate with—in both easier and challenging times. 

After team chemistry, confidence in strategic ability and breakthrough creativity are paramount. Delivering brand platform ideas that have longevity gives a brand a purpose and reason to exist and something for its audience to be drawn to.  Making this happen takes some serious skill. It all needs to be rooted in strong insights, research, data, and strategy. Underpinning all of this is a commitment to data and results. A great team (both client and agency), making great work together and delivering demonstrable results is a formula for success.


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

Virtue was born into a project-based environment, and because of this, during COVID we were able to easily pivot without having to make tremendous changes in how we were structured as we’re already adapted to working in a rapid and agile way. 

One of the biggest advantages that emerged during the past year was discovering we don’t have to all be in the same office yet can continue to deliver for our clients in a more efficient, cost-effective way.  

Our new business process is a well-oiled machine, and we simply continued to do everything we already do, virtually. We leaned on our digital tools in a more efficient way to ensure our teams were constantly updated on both client and new business activity.  

Having said that, in-office team camaraderie is something we’re also looking forward to. There’s something magical about being in a pitch war-room together and watching ideas spark between amazing people.


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

We saw 2020 put a pause on client optimism. After a year of hesitation with brands uncertain about how the market or consumers would react, I predict we will see a resurgence of marketing spend in Q3/Q4 this year, leading into 2022. There is already a palpable resurgence of confidence in society, and as a whole, there seems to be a real hunger to catch up on the time we’ve lost— I’m calling it “revenge spending and revenge enjoyment.” 

There will be a lot of opportunities for growth, and I think there will be a lot of focus on technology-driven solutions that improve human life, especially in health and wellness as well as because of this resurgence. There will be a lot of opportunity in consumption—particularly in the CPG and travel and tourism categories.