Little Black Books
It’s been 5 months since launching Hub Digital Networks and amazingly we have already need to recruit (no agencies please!). It’s especially scary recruiting staff for your own company; you have to get it right. Many media sales jobs I see advertised place huge importance in finding someone with a ‘little black book’ of contacts, but is that really the answer or is it just an outdated, default request?
Media once had a notorious reputation, so I’m told. Deals were done in the pub, and forgotten the next morning. Annual conferences were held in exotic locations; jollies were five star experiences, all with no expense spared. Media owners played top trumps with expense budgets and their staff happily supplied the good times. They did all this because, once upon a time, it was all about ‘who you know’.
But I can’t talk from first-hand experience; I rely on the numerous tales handed down by some of the colleagues I have worked with over the years. You see, by the time I started working on Agency Sales at Titan, things had started to change. Austerity had arrived. Just my luck!
Titan (an American company) had taken over Maiden Outdoor and immediately imposed a strict a no drinking policy, at least not during working hours. It didn’t go down particularly well with Titan (nee Maiden) staff. I remember widespread concern that agencies wouldn’t want to see us anymore; we wouldn’t be fun enough. Instead of the usual event in Barcelona, the first proper media sales conference I went to was at a hotel in Croydon.
Many of the successful sales people I observed around me, at Titan and at other media owners, were a bit older than me and had a huge network of contacts, most of which had been built up socially over a number of years. Long lunches and daily trips to the pub did wonders for networking and a lot of people reaped the rewards when it came to the 9-5. They could call in favours, or move to a new job and immediately call up their old pals to rekindle business and personal relationships.
But things began to change. I first noticed it when the credit crunch hit in 2008. All of a sudden jobs weren’t quite as safe anymore. It wasn’t a smart move to be the one with the biggest expenses or the one arriving back the latest from lunch, if bothering to go back to the office at all. The large salary once justified by your ‘little black book’ now made you a more likely candidate for redundancy. The favours began to dry up, and to make matters worse, the class of 2008 was lying in wait to step into people’s shoes.
A phrase you started to hear a lot more was ‘I’m so busy’. As people left jobs, voluntarily or not, they often weren’t replaced. People were, and still are, under a lot more pressure and have much bigger workloads. Advertisers now want to know exactly where every pound has been spent and what it has achieved, and rightly so. It is virtually impossible for the old school to ‘win’ business from friends based upon on old allegiances forged on a past jolly; everything has to be judged on its own merit and most agency folk don’t have the time to waste on unnecessary meetings. Agencies have stopped meeting up with salespeople just for a ‘catch up’, as the chances are that these objective-free meetings would not serve a useful purpose.
And like everything else in media these days, address books have also become fragmented. People change jobs so frequently nowadays that it’s not uncommon to deal with three or four different people on one account in the space of a year or so. People get promoted or leave for another role – it’s a merry-go-round. I frequently have to go back to basics, pick up the phone and pitch to people I have never spoken to before. If I didn’t my business would go under. It’s not glamorous and it can be demoralising but it has to be done. Of course, I do have some long-standing contacts that I trust and value, and I do attempt to stay in touch, but I can’t rely on them to spend money with me because they like me.
So, in this climate, what is the real value of knowing loads of people? Chances are they are probably in a different role, or lacking the influence on your business that they once did. You’re probably selling or doing something quite different to the time when you dealt with them before. The size of someone’s ‘little black book’ shouldn’t be confused with having relevant experience. But for me, when I hear someone boasting about their contacts I just hear ‘huge expense bill’, not ‘star sales person’. Sure, have bags of experience and know loads of people but make sure you still have the desire to go and find new business. Let’s see who comes my way…