Marketing and PR is a tough market to be in, especially for full-service agencies. What’s more, the introduction of the social Web has thrown a wrench into the overall mix of the complicated world of agency life. The upside is more companies are outsourcing PR, advertising, marketing, copywriting, etc. due to internal budgetary restraints. According to The Black Book of Outsourcing report compiled by Brown-Wilson Group, outsourcing is forecast to pass the $3.5 billion mark in 2012, representing a 41 percent compound annual growth rate from $700 million in 2008 (via BtoB Marketing article by Debra Andrews). While this may be good news, it’s bad news for agencies that don’t get it. Over the course of the last eight years, I’ve interviewed dozens of agencies, from boutique, best-of-breed firms to large global firms, and have witnessed various approaches to trying to win over our account — from painful, cookie-cutter pitches to the best, most well-prepared presentations.
While an agency’s instinct is to be competitive, many fall short by not doing their due diligence and demonstrating value throughout the sales process. I want to provide a client-side perspective on key ways to win clients over. In the end, when you win the crowd (think: good PR), you’ll most likely win the client.
Get the Upper Hand on Your Client’s Business
Great news! You’ve received a call that a company wants to talk to your agency. But this is just the beginning. The first impression is everything — don’t overlook it. Rather than getting on the phone the first chance you get, gather your thoughts and have a game plan. This means the following:
- Understand who the client is, what the company does, what markets it serves, etc. This will give you some guidance for your first phone conversation.
- Send a nice note to the client when setting up your initial conversation, and send along information about your company, your success stories, a list of your clients in the same industry (to show you are more than equipped to bring expertise and knowledge of that industry to the table), and a list of questions that you would like to discuss during the call. This will give the client an understanding of how the initial call will be structured.
- Research the client’s share of voice so you can provide some insight during your introductory call and demonstrate your willingness to do your homework.
- Research their competitors – find out how they fare against the client’s current place in the market in terms of share of voice (I’ll dive into this a bit later).
Your Keys to the Kingdom
Your keys to the kingdom may lie in your comprehensive groundwork. The initial call should be used to make the introduction and showcase your agency and what sets you apart, but more importantly, to understand the client’s key objectives. What key attributes are they looking for in an agency, why did the last one fail, how is PR perceived and prioritized within the organization, what kind of value-add are they looking for, and how are they planning to support the PR efforts?
What does the client want in terms of support from an agency — drive thought leadership, raise brand awareness, provide analyst support, messaging, blogging? This will help you understand their perception of PR and whether it aligns with yours. Competitive intelligence is also key. Understanding who their competitors are is crucial to developing a magnetic plan that will win the crowd over.
It’s Show Time
After several phone conversations, now it’s time to fly your team to your client’s headquarters for the show of your life. Don’t go into it blind because you’ve had some good conversations over the phone with the person leading the search. Find out who will be there and who the decision makers are. This will give your team a chance to do some digging and background work on the key people who are going to be present at your face-to-face meeting. I’ve learned that it helps to make friends with the primary contact because he or she will be instrumental in guiding you throughout the process — telling you what to expect, who the players are, what to watch out for, and possibly even helping you structure your presentation to meet everyone’s needs.
This was the case with Lois Paul and Partners. Carol Hanko, now SVP at LP&P, established a strong relationship with me during the process and leveraged my knowledge and position to walk through the presentation before we had the face-to-face meeting. Great move! Now it’s show time. A few things to keep in mind:
- Come dressed to impress – Even though the organization might be flexible and casual, this doesn’t mean you should imitate that. Dress in your best business attire and show your client that you mean business.
- Show up early – Technology glitches can be nerve-wracking. By getting there early, you can set up and get comfortable, make your round of introductions, and have your team ready when the client’s team arrives in the boardroom.
- Put your best foot or person forward – I highly recommend your VP on the account present, but segment the key areas to showcase the team’s skills rather than having one person talk the whole time. This instills confidence and trust. Why? It’s more than likely that your VP will not always be there, so having a well-balanced team helps a great deal.
Energize Your Clients
So you’ve done the whole song and dance at the face-to-face meeting. What comes next may be the make-or-break opportunity. You should always follow up with a nice note to each member who attended the presentation.
- Call your main contact and find out what he or she thought of the presentation. This will give you an opportunity to address any reservations.
- Act like you’ve already won the account. You and your team should be looking at opportunities that might be a good fit and flagging them for your client. This means blogs, speaking, awards, media, analysts and social media. This shows leadership and true passion for the client.
- Maintain top-of-mind awareness. When you continually maintain the flow of information, contact and follow-up, your client will see this as a key differentiator. I know I did.
Walk the Walk
One-dimensional agencies will not succeed. If you think PR is about media pitching or sending out press releases, you’re dead wrong! Today, PR agencies must make a shift and adopt new channels to deliver more value to their clients. And if you can’t walk the walk, it’ll show. To set yourself apart from the competition, you have to demonstrate why you’re the leading-edge agency. This means having an established presence in social media, powerful social website, blog, success stories, multi-media, interactive pressroom, etc. Being the leader in terms of new trends and technologies can be important in guiding clients to a successful PR strategy.
If you have any other tips or suggestions, please share. I would love to hear from you.