I started helping creative people get paid in 2005. Back then, I worked for a small music industry design studio. With hindsight, I’m amazed at how successful my business development tactics were. There’s no way I could get away with that kind of biz dev behaviour these days.
Creative business development is governed by the same trends as the rest of our industry. It evolves over time, in accordance with technological and cultural advancements.
Back in 2005, social media had just become a thing and my major business development strategy was to MySpace bands offering to design their album covers. We all know how hard it is to ‘@’ a celeb these days, but believe me, back then it was open season on musicians. Most managed their own profiles and I had a ‘sleb stalker’s wet dream of an inbox.
Using social media to develop business today is infinitely more nuanced. That open line to design buyers offers a world of opportunity. But it won’t knock long if you’re using that line to blast out relentless sales messages. With the same channels open to everyone, what we say and how we say it gathers precedence. Hence the rise of biz dev executives changing their job title to Content Executive and replacing newsletters with ‘Brand Insight Journals.’
Back then, riding roughshod over data protection, I absorbed email addresses, building a list of almost every industry exec in the free world. On paper this was a ‘newsletter.’ In reality, it was spam. Very regular, very obnoxious spam. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. You only need to take a look at the Twitter feed of spammy companies to understand how damaging this kind of activity could be to a modern day agency.
I don’t want to to sound like Old Grandma Design, but back in the day, business development was personal. We used to to make, and answer phone calls. It was quite possible to telephone a major label product manager, tell them you adored their latest signing and be awarded a full campaign in the same phone call.
Ten years later, everything is more complex. Cold calling, spamming and flat out begging for work is frowned upon. We labour these days under a strange form of modesty. We sell service, collaboration and exceeding audience needs as though we’re chairing a self help group.
We’ve replaced phone calls with a steady churn of content (yes, I understand the irony here) hoping to deliver something worth reading into the lap of someone looking to buy. Biz dev is a strange form of courtship. We all need work but nobody wants to come out and directly say so.
Some designers do need help finding a buyer, but even the greatest salesperson will struggle to sell an inferior product. The only constant between 2005 and 2015 has been the quality of the portfolio I’ve been tasked with selling.
New clients want to be associated with recognisable, successful projects. They want examples of good ideas, well executed and they want assurances the work they buy will be a similar quality. As designers, business owners and developers, we must work together to deliver this reassurance in a buying cycle drowning in uncertainty.