There are going to be lots of people out there who will want the exact opposite of what I want. So, agency pro, beware. I can’t claim that all these tips will help you with every potential client.
1.The order where you pitch doesn’t matter. I’ve seen agencies that always want to go first, agencies that always want to go last, and those that don’t care. I always draw the names from a hat and the order is random. I’ve hired the first agency that I saw, the last that I saw and those in between. But if you make a huge deal about getting a particular slot, that’s going to matter. Just take the slot you’re given and move on.
2. I don’t want a ton of time in the pitch explaining my own problem to me. I know what my problem is. What I need is a creative way to solve it or a new way of thinking about the problem. If you try to impress me with how much you know about my problem, I’m going to tune out. I expect that you did research and have some idea about what I’m up against. The deeper you go in explaining it to me, the more likely you are to get some nuance wrong and that wrong assumption will lie in the middle of the floor like a dead bird that just hit the window. The bad thing is that you won’t know the dead bird is there. You’ll keep going on that wrong assumption and make it worse. That won’t matter at all to me. I know that you don’t know my business as well as I do. I know going into this that there is a period of adjustment and you’ll learn as much nuance on the topic as you need. But think about who else might be in the room and doesn’t know how agencies work. If I’ve got a scientist or other technical expert in the room, they will remind me about that mistake you made for the next five years, and it will confirm all of their worst fears about how agencies are just superficial task monkeys.
I’ve seen agencies go down in flames, not because of their ideas, but because they tried to show how much they knew, and they didn’t know enough or get the nuance right. There will be clients that want assurances that you know everything about them before you get in the room. I think that’s impossible and you should run away from that business because they will be nightmare clients. But you’ve got numbers to hit, so do what you have to do.
3. There is one important caveat to number two above. When you think I’m working on the wrong problem you need to flag that. If the RFP says that my problem is visibility and you determine that my visibility is actually pretty good, but that we’ve been off message or the wrong message, then you have to push back and get me on track.
4. Go easy on the promises. If you promise me particular types of coverage or amounts of coverage or traffic or that we can turn an issue around in 90, 120, 180 days or whatever, I’ll know that you are full of it. (I could go on forever about this one, but this is starting to get long.)
5. Go easy on the metrics. Look, if someone had invented the perfect metrics for PR programs and campaigns we’d have all heard about it and this person would be richer than Bill Gates. I don’t want to spend more than 10% of my budget on measurement and if my budget is under a million, I don’t want to even spend that much. I want to put as much budget into execution as possible.
6. I covered this in the last article, but don’t bring in people that I know I’m never going to see again. Sure we might have a strategy session or two with a former Senator. Great. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot. But we all know that they aren’t going to be servicing my account on a day-to-day basis.
7. Don’t bring me a Chinese menu. I will barely be able to conceal my contempt if what you bring me isn’t a real proposal, but is instead a laundry list of tactics (even if they are clever), try to read my reaction and stitch together a strategy on the fly based on which tactics the conversation revolves around.
8. Be careful about the timeframe that you propose. I want a long-term partnership, but I don’t want that assumption right out of the gate. If it’s a big lift, we might be talking about a two or even three year engagement. But I don’t want time frames drawn outside of the timeframes in the RFP.
That’s it. Other people are going to want different things. I can’t speak to those. I’ll wrap up with some failed pitch war stories.
Once an agency came to a pitch and said, “We didn’t bring a proposal. We just brought five brains to have a conversation with you and see if we could come to a shared approach to this.” Um, yeah.
In another pitch it was clear that part of the team had never looked at the proposal, thumbing through it and clearly reading it for the first time right in front of us. Maybe they thought we didn’t notice. We definitely noticed later when the person who clearly wrote the proposal and the people who hadn’t got into an argument about the merits of the proposal.
I once had an agency just not show up for their pitch. I had another come to pitch a day early. That was wild. I had to grab five people (not reviewing the pitches at all) so that we could have a meeting and review it. The agency felt horrible, but I’m not sure what else I could have done.
Lastly, I had one agency check in with me a week before a pitch. They ran their creative idea by me and I told them it wouldn’t work. It was more expensive than my budget would allow and it wasn’t on message. They came and pitched it anyway. I had a panel of five people besides myself reviewing pitches and it went down in flames. The other panelists tore them apart after the agency left and I just shrugged. I have no idea why some people do the things they do, but I did admire their Pickett’s Charge style courage.