Bring Your Agency’s A-Game to New Business Presentations

Robert Udowitz

The agency search was down to four finalists. Each had provided stellar written responses during the proposal phase, and seemed ready to take the stage. Sure, there would be just one winner, but we all wanted this to be an even horse race, with equal odds for each of the finalist agencies.

However, by the end of the presentations, three of the four firms barely managed to get to the finish line, and stumbled off the track, looking as if they belonged anywhere but in the finals of a PR agency search.

Indeed, those three finalists distinguished themselves more for what they didn’t bring to a finals competition than for delivering the professional, well-oiled presentations we wanted our client to witness.

Let us provide the post-mortem.

Agency One was a large multinational. Its proposal was so well thought out, even cerebral, that our client thought it would be a favorite in the final round.  For the presentation Agency One chose to bring an SVP and VP, in addition to a senior colleague from Europe. The colleague and division he represented were not in the original proposal or even the agency website. During the presentation it was clear he was there solely to up-sell our client on a brand new, and largely untested, offering. The result? Instant elimination.

Agency Two was a reputable mid-sized firm. From the start of the presentation it was clear the team was thrown together for the presentation, and that most of the team members were largely unfamiliar with the contents of the agency’s proposal.  Needless to say, they  were not all on the same page. Not only did they talk on top of each other but they kept staring at their leader to be certain they were responding correctly. One member of the team spoke with a confidence that reeked more of bravado than knowledge. Done and over. Next.

Agency Three was a specialized multinational agency with excellent experience in the type of work our client required. Unfortunately, none of that emerged during the presentation. Despite our client’s well-articulated requirements for specific global markets, Agency Three did not properly demonstrate that it could—or would—effectively communicate with overseas offices, the media in the region or even with the agency’s would-be client.

Agency Four, which won the competition, was a localized multinational, meaning it had been a reputable local agency that was successfully acquired and integrated into a global firm. Its team was in-sync from the beginning. Team members displayed depth and research to support why they were best suited for our client’s work. The team was conversational, yet well-oiled, making the chemistry with our client palpable. Criticisms leveled at Agency Four’s  written response were efficiently addressed and corrected. Even the team’s attention to detail was punctuated by the presence of the agency’s IT support person, who came for the presentation and brought a speaker system to ensure the audio could be heard and would not malfunction.

It seemed as if Agencies One, Two and Three simply put their all into their proposals and had nothing more to bring to the table, and set themselves up to fail. To boost the success for firms vying for business we recommend the following tips.

Play to win. This is it. You made it to the final round, and now have to ensure the time, money and effort pay off. The odds of winning are mathematically against you unless you go all-out to prove to the client that you want and deserve this business. Bring your A-Game and pull no punches. This means go beyond the boundaries of what has been asked of you. Come armed with research, media plans, original video and answers for every possible question. And, please rehearse the presentation until it’s airtight.

Handouts and enlargements are critical. Bring copies of your presentation, supplemental handouts (e.g, timelines, budgets) or poster board-sized visuals of your plan. It’s simply too late to provide your PowerPoint via email as a thank you and follow-up later that day. If it’s not in our client’s hands for the post-presentation discussion it’s your loss when we can’t refer to a slide we need to review.

Chemistry counts. The dynamic among your team members is just as important as the rapport you need to (quickly) establish with the potential client. Don’t walk into the conference room intent on connecting your laptop. Spend two minutes BSing with the client about how much you appreciate the opportunity. Create a conversational tone. This is often one of the most relevant questions our clients ask themselves: Can I work with these folks?

What would you add to the list?

Robert Udowitz is principal of RFP Associates and senior counselor at Gould+Partners. He can be reached at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @rudowitz

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