Magnus Manske Magnus Manske

Never believe there isn't a budget, says David Mansfield, visiting professor at Cass Business School, you just have to find it!

Back in the nineties, a media salesman from a TV company was watching Jaguar win the 24hour Le Mans race. Although not a huge fan of the sport, as a guest he’d been grateful for the invitation. Much to his surprise, he found the whole event captivating and the experience stayed with him long after he returned to the UK.

A few months later he was in the offices of JWT trying to win new business from the advertising agency. After discussing the active campaigns, he enquired after their client, Jaguar, noting how they’d triumphed in France a few months before.

The JWT executive was less than interested. ‘To be honest they don’t really do much advertising and certainly not on TV. Anyway, there’s no budget for consumer advertising, they’re really concentrating on their dealer network.’ The salesman tried his best, but the JWT guy was keen to get to lunch.

Our salesman remembered the glory of the race. What a proud moment for Jaguar owners and the all-important dealer network. And then he came up with a compelling idea to unlock money from the apparently non-existent budget.

As the advertising agency was likely to be less than helpful, he contacted the marketing director of Jaguar and tried to secure an appointment on the basis that he had a special idea. The director wanted a written approach before agreeing to meet, but our man explained that he needed just 30 minutes to demonstrate higame- changingng idea. Part cynical, part intrigued, the marketing director fixed the meeting. He thought it would probably come to nothing but other than time there wasn’t much to lose.

When the advertising agency discovered their client was being directly approached, they were less than pleased. They made it clear again to the salesman that TV advertising was absolutely not on the agenda. There was no interest from their point of view. And anyway, as they’d already made clear, no budget. As their executive said ‘If you want to waste your time on a 200 mile round trip to Coventry, that’s your problem.’

The salesman wasn’t put off. He believed his idea was compelling and that presented in the right way a budget would be found. Prior to the meeting he’d asked the guys in production to make a three minute advertisement for Jaguar featuring footage from their 24 Le Mans winning race. The voiceover extolled the virtues of Jaguar, using the messages they were using in their current trade advertising. He created a mini version of News At Ten and placed the advertisement as the only one in the centre break.

Armed with his video he waited for the marketing director to enter the meeting room. It was a cordial, but business like start. It was clear the director wanted to get to the point quickly, but the salesman wasn’t about to be rushed. They discussed Jaguar’s marketing plan, the key messages and the dealers’ need to feel supported.

The salesman set the scene. He said his idea worked at two levels. A high impact one-off TV feature, which would be a much talked about event by Jaguar owners and potential buyers. It would be pre-marketed to the dealer network as a sign of great confidence and commitment, helping them sell more cars. This was unique, because no one company had ever had exclusivity in the centre break of News at Ten.

Then he played the video. The director was non-committal, ‘show me again’. The salesman played it a second time and waited. The director turned to him, stretched his arms out as if to embrace the screen and said “This is Jaguar.”

The salesman and the director discussed budgets and timings. The director said there was no budget for the opportunity, but the idea was so strong that it couldn’t be passed by, or risked being sold in a similar way to a competitor.

Not surprisingly, the agency quickly fell into line and the advertisement ran to great applause from customers, dealers and the media. The agency collected an industry award for ‘their’ great idea and the media salesman had no trouble seeing their clients in the future!

What can we learn from this short story?

Studying what a company is trying to achieve is key. If you want to significantly improve your chances, understand their priorities. It’s about their needs not about yours.

Budgets are a management tool, usually set annually. For many they provide a barrier to flexible thinking. People hide behind ‘there’s no budget.’ In truth there is always a budget for a great idea.

Middlemen and gatekeepers are not always your friend. Upsetting them is unwise, but occasionally you need to go around them, or over them. Do this wisely.

Identify the decision maker and present the reason for meeting as a compelling and unique event. Our salesman’s goal was to sell the director advertising space. If he’d said that at the outset the meeting would never had taken place.

David Mansfield, is the founder of The Drive Partnership and visiting professor at Cass Business School