DJ Sets to Pitch Decks: Publicis' Global Content Director, Bianca McLeish.

Kelcie Gene Papp
December 26, 2023

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In a little over 10 years Bianca has made her way up to Global Content Director, Business Development at one of the most coveted agencies in the world, Publicis Groupe.

LONDON - I first met Bianca when she won an industry award. Endeared by her genuine shock and humility, I got in touch to secure an interview to find out about the woman behind the award. Reading through Bianca's LinkedIn profile gives you a little insight into her zest for life but interviewing her explained everything. There is an so much we can learn from Bianca, so let's begin.

You're  actively involved in managing young business development talent; what actionable tips and advice can you offer our readers in junior BD roles?

1) Be tenacious - in everything you do. Be proactive – if you spot an opportunity, don't be afraid to let your team know and push to execute on it.

2) Be entrepreneurial – the beauty of Business Development is having the freedom to flex creatively across various briefs. By nature, BD lends itself to ripping up the rule book to stand out.

3) Take care of your wellbeing  – Business Development can often be relentless. But always remember to take a breath and to take the time out where needed. If your state of wellbeing is not in check, you cannot perform to the best of your ability. Work life balance is key – remember to take those moments when/where needed.

4) Never fear –  remember, great ideas can come from anywhere, and diversity of thought is what makes you stand out, there is no one else like you. Be confident in your ability.

5) It's a title – you can learn a tonne from those more senior and have great respect for their careers, but never fear the senior titles, remember they too started where you are today and actually, most senior people you come across will enjoy hearing your opinion – they're people just like you.

6) Get a mentor – I've been privileged to learn from some of the best brains in the business, I definitely recommend finding a mentor you respect and trust.

"It's very difficult to pick just one person to thank for my work ethic; so it has to be a powerful combination of my amazing parents, all underpinned by my Grandma. May she rest in peace" - Bianca McLeish

You started out in New Business at MediaZoo in 2013. How did this role teach you the fundamentals of New Business?

I remember starting this role fresh out of University, moving to London from Birmingham within 3 weeks of graduating with a First Class Honours degree. I wondered how on earth to top up an Oyster card (clearly a completely different transport system in Birmingham!) – then a few weeks later I was sitting in Welwyn Garden City attending my first client meeting with one of the largest retailers, Tesco. What an experience… At the time, MediaZoo were a much smaller business than they are today, so to help build and develop the business, we all got stuck in and led from a prospecting angle. From a linear and traditional perspective, the first step in a business development process is Prospecting. LinkedIn became my best friend.  I'd spend hours connecting the dots, developing top-line strategies to approach clients and finding an 'in' for my MD, whether that be a reactive piece of content or news of an M&A, Prospecting was the first fundamental learnt.

Following your role within MediaZoo, you became Group New Business Manager at Havas. In three years you won A&E Networks, Virgin Atlantic and MORE TH>N as clients, in addition to managing the development and growth of a New Business Executive and an Intern. Tell us about this time. What did you learn from any pitches which you lost?

Moving to Havas was a whole new world – my role at MediaZoo was centred around Production and Content Creation. At Havas, I was exposed to the beautiful world of Media Planning & Buying, an energising and exciting playground. Havas presented a new and fresh experience for me, this is where I indeed came into my own as a Business Developer. Developing my own management style, honing my 'BD Voice', real exposure to senior leadership, dipping my toe into operations and logistics, and towards the end of my role, being exposed to the business's creative side. I'd not had the opportunity to line manage and develop a junior talent previously, so being given a chance to develop a New Business Executive was a great stepping stone.

Being able to instil my own learnings and style into someone just as eager as I was, was something I was excited about. In addition to this, coaching an intern was very rewarding – it's great to see where they both are now! Winning my first pitch at Havas was such a fantastic experience, I'm sure I shed a tear out of joy! But you win some, you lose some. Some of the learnings from pitches lost were around the importance of client relationship development, building and galvanising a tight-knit pitch team and ultimately escalating any problem areas ahead of time.  

Your very first Director role came three years later within Publicis Media. How did you feel on the first day? And as time went on, how did this role compare to your days as a New Business Executive?

I recall the day the offer letter came through – pretty sure I called my Grandma to let her know ASAP, before even accepting. Walking into our previous Tottenham Court Road office doors was such an experience; New faces and places, new briefs, new teams, and warm welcomes. The difference now is that my role is Global/ Multi-Local vs the UK only – I'd stepped into new territory, a new chapter. I'd become so accustomed to pitching in the UK landscape, which was excellent, but to be able to flex my skills in a new battleground was and is still an experience to this day. I've had the opportunity to travel from Europe to Atlanta to New York and back – and yes, every location that I end up in, a call back home to my Grandma takes place to let her know where I am in the world!  

Bianca's Grandma in her younger years
"I recall the day the offer let came through [for my very first director role within Publicis Media]. Pretty sure I called my Grandma to let her know ASAP, before even accepting."

Regarding how the role compares to my days as an Executive, it's funny, the more senior you become, you never forget the basics of New Business. The difference now is building on the basics but through a strategic and business lens. In addition to my current role at Publicis Groupe, I spend time coaching and developing junior talent both internally and externally for a diverse set of mentorship programmes – something I encourage those with relevant experience to explore. When not doing that, I’m now (pretty much) the Resident DJ for Publicis which is fab!

Right now, with decision-makers at brands balancing their personal lives and their roles, what do you think is the most effective way to engage with them?

The key here is first to understand how a client wants to be engaged – the same way; we would understand how our own agency teams want to be engaged and understand/respect their boundaries. With our 'new normal' settling in, finding new and innovative ways of engaging clients will be a differentiator. Of course, I cannot share any killer ideas here, but my advice would be to stand out in ways outside of the ordinary.

How early on in a new business relationship should LinkedIn come into the mix?  

Many factors come into play that will determine when LinkedIn comes into the mix, or whether it is even necessary to mix. I'd approach this on a case by case basis vs one size fits all.  

How do you view the intermediary model and external New Business agencies? Any advice for other New Business Directors?

Having a strong relationship with your intermediaries is just as important as the client relationship. Intermediaries often act as the extension of the client's marketing team. They hear the clients business challenges first hand and have potentially worked with the clients on the pitch brief – the typical role of the intermediary is to ensure the smooth running of a fair pitch process. As well as the intermediary understanding the client's business, it is also crucial for them to understand the agency as they often advocate for you.

The intermediary can also be used as a brilliant sounding board for any propositions/models you're planning to roll out to market. They often see a variety of different agencies/ hear the challenges clients face day-to-day. In turn, they can provide guidance and a steer – they are there to help you places, new briefs, new teams, and warm welcomes.

The intermediary can also be used as a brilliant sounding board for any propositions/models you're planning to roll out to market. They often see a variety of different agencies/ hear the challenges clients face day-to-day. In turn, they can provide guidance and a steer – they are there to help you succeed as an agency. The advice I'd give to other New Business Directors is to ensure your intermediaries have the necessary collateral to wax lyrical about your agency.

"New Business agencies can be an excellent resource for small agencies where staff numbers are limited." - Bianca McLeish

New Business agencies can be an excellent resource for small agencies where staff numbers are limited. But any agency that chooses to go down this path should ensure the New Business agency is embedded into the heart of the agency to truly sell on your behalf – they need to live and breathe your positioning.

Do you see a change coming for how new business is currently won?

As the business landscape continues to shift and evolve, it's becoming increasingly clear that the traditional methods of winning new business are simply not enough. With new challengers entering the fray and in-housing trends on the rise, agencies must be more strategic and innovative than ever before if they hope to come out on top. One key factor in this new landscape is the need for stronger and more robust contact strategies with potential clients. Gone are the days of generic/ mildly tailored pitches – agencies must be savvy about how they approach potential clients and find ways to stand out from the crowd.

In addition, agencies must be smarter about the solutions they can offer to clients. It's not enough to simply pitch a cookie-cutter solution – instead, agencies must be able to tailor their responses to each individual client and clearly call out the unique benefits they can bring to the table. Ultimately, the principles of winning new business still stand – but with a need to be more strategic and innovative than ever before. By developing stronger contact strategies, being smarter about solutions, and tailoring responses to each individual client, agencies can position themselves for success in this new and ever-changing landscape.

Could you tell us about your latest pitch win - what do you think counted towards it?

Recently, I had the pleasure of working on a Global Luxury pitch with one of my favourite CEOs/Client Leads. What made this pitch stand out was our ability to truly understand and digest the client's brief. We didn't just respond to their needs; we were provocative and suggested additional solutions that we knew would make a difference. To win new business, it's essential to be able to read between the lines of what the client is asking for and not be afraid to push further.

As a strategic partner, it's our responsibility to have these conversations and make suggestions when and where necessary. By doing so, we can position ourselves as trusted advisors and valuable partners to our clients. Ultimately, what counted towards the success of this pitch was our ability to truly listen to the client, understand their needs and pain points, and offer creative solutions that went above and beyond their expectations. By being proactive, innovative, and strategic, we were able to differentiate ourselves from the competition and win the business.

What are two key things you think we all should consider when engaging with potential clients?

One. Be mindful of the broader business challenges clients are facing outside of the day-to-day marketing challenges. From budget restrictions to a loss in headcount to a dramatic shift in buying/ consumption habits clients have been forced to operate differently. Agencies must now flip their strategic thinking on its head to engage potential clients. Two. Think about how you can benefit and support potential clients in their day-to-day via your capabilities. In some instances, the media and marketing budgets are first to be culled in a volatile landscape – ensuring you can support and benefit the potential client will be essential.

Aside from on-the-job experience, would you recommend anything that has helped you?

Book: How To Own The Room by Viv Groskop (Mainly aimed at Women, but still applies to all – how to develop your voice and 'boss' up)  

Book: Moonshots: Creating a World of Abundance by John Schroeter & Naveen Jain (Speaks to entrepreneurialism / not thinking outside the box, but realising there is no box!)  

Book: A Gentle Reminder by Bianca Sparacino (A lovely read / listen that reminds you of those gentle things you need to hear everyday that we often forget in the midst of our busy lives)

Book: Clarity & Connection by Yung Pueblo (A mindful read that’ll help with your wellbeing and mind state – something we all need to be mindful in the landscape we operate in today)

Attend agency workshops/sessions aimed at account leaders – try not to only consume content that only speaks to business developers, broaden your mindset so it can be applied to your pitches.

You have a group of Agency Business Development Directors as an audience. What do you ask them to focus on for the short-term and the long-term?

Short-term: Develop and refine agency collateral. Long-term: Ensure your business strategy holds longevity.

Mum and Grandma, when Mum was called to the Bar

It's a slow, sunny Sunday morning in London - where are you going for breakfast and coffee/tea?

I'm a massive family person. So, I'd be off to my Dad's house in South-East London for his amazing and lavish, home-cooked breakfast where we'll catch up on the week whilst listening to Neo-Soul/ Hip Hop and relax for the rest of the day and probably play Street Fighter (yes, I'm a big gamer!).

Dad making his famous Sunday brunch

Who do you thank most for your work ethic?

Very difficult to pick just one person, so it has to be the powerful combination of my amazing parents, all underpinned by my Grandma, who has always been my foundation. May she rest in peace.

If you were not in New Business, what would you be doing?

Setup on Bali's coast, DJ'ing for an intimate group of people at the 'Enter the Vibe' festival.

Kelcie Gene Papp
Founder & Editor