I wasn't always a Digital Strategy Advisor... no, before all the glam and faux internet fame (kidding) I was an Adman...in fact for most of my advertising career I was deeply involved with or responsible for business development.
I spent most of my days and unfortunately many of my nights in "pitch mode." And no, it's not like it is on AMC's The Pitch (it's worse).
And like many in the ad world -- I wrongly thought that if I and my pitch-mates could just be the Don... as in Don Draper -- the silver tongued devil that could cause clients to swoon our agency would win far more than we'd lose.
And I now know... I was wrong....very wrong.
NOTE THIS UPDATE TO POST: This post is actually an extension of my thoughts that I began over at Advertising Age -- you can see those thoughts (The 7 Deadly Sins Ad Agencies Make When Pitching New Business) over there. And yes, they edited my title... as you can see, I like mine better ;-)
What Do Clients Look For In Ad Agencies?
How did I come to this epiphany? Through the value of first hand experience. One of my clients asked me to set aside my digital advisory role and play pitch advisor for not one but two ad agency rfps.
They needed to hire a new creative agency and a new web agency. I was asked to advise on both RFPs and sit in on the final pitches and subsequent selection discussions.
Wow! Was that an eye opener.
What do clients look for? What were the things that helped one agency rise above the rest?
- They want you to talk about them.
- They want you to care deeply about them, their brand, their goals. It needs to feel personal.
- They want you to get along. They have enough intracompany turmoil to deal with -- they don't want to add your internal squabbles to their plate.
- They want you to be an explorer not just an expert.
- They want you to craft a custom solution vs presenting a canned product.
What Can Agencies Do To Stand Out in an RFP?
Ok, so everything from here on in is totally my opinion and many of the points below could be considered idiosyncrasies of mine vs truth... you decide and if any client types are reading this... PLEASE CHIME IN!
First, don't tell me how much fun you had working on this RFP. Or for that matter how much fun you are to work with... it doesn't make you stand out -- everyone tells the client how much fun they had or what a fun idea this is... etc. It's not unique and it's not relevant.
Second, drop the "we like to have conversations vs presentations" line. Again, you're not the only one saying it. Also, no one means (or meant) it. Agencies would say that and then proceed to spend the next 40 minutes presenting from a Power Point. If you're using a Power Point then folks, by DEFINITION you're giving a presentation.
If you really want to have a conversation with a client, turn the damn computer projector off, sit down at the table and have a real conversation without bullet points, notes, slides, etc. Now THAT would be unique.
Third, please just give direct answers to direct questions. I once asked a client why they hired me... the lead partner (it was a law firm) said -- "you were the only person that gave direct answers to direct questions even when the answer wasn't necessarily in your best interest."
And yes, I'm speaking to you account guy types... for the most part the creative types can sometimes be too direct ;-) but seriously... there is an overabundance of BS in the world and a serious lack of honesty -- be unique, be honest. Sure, it may cost you occasionally -- but based on what I experienced -- you'll win far more than you lose.
Fourth, make a case, don't give an opinion. When you leave the room and the client starts dissecting your presentation it won't matter what you thought, only what you proved. Remember, while this is a pitch to you, it's the client's life. It's not your money on the line... it's theirs and they'll make the decision accordingly.
Fifth an final thought... make them lean forward. Out of the nine presentations I watched only two or three were truly memorable and excited me about the possibilities. Only two or three were given by passionate, energetic people that made me WANT to listen. Guess what... two of the three agencies won and the third one was a close second. Coincidence? Me thinks not.
Oh and one more thing... if you're going last (which I know all agency folks want to be the last to pitch) you better bring it folks. And by bring it -- I mean bring your best, most engaging folks to pitch because by the end, the client is awfully tired and just wants to go get a cocktail. So if you're not going to make them want to lean forward, well you've likely lost before you started.
So to you agency pitchmen and women -- I wish you the best of luck and I hope this post helps you win more than you lose.