When you work for an agency, nothing is more time-consuming and stress-inducing than the big pitch. When you’re on the client side, nothing is more time-consuming and stress-inducing than the big pitch. You may think the onus is on the agency to win the account, but just as much pressure is on the client to not make a million-dollar mistake on the wrong firm.
In all the anxious moments, it’s amazing how both sides can forget some of the small things that make a big difference when you’re trying to be—or find—the One.
Before the Pitch
Clients Your instinct will be to cast a very wide net, but there’s likely only a handful of firms qualified to handle your project at a price you can afford. Through a little research, some digging around your department’s network of contacts and consulting with other companies, you can get a pretty good idea of who is capable of stepping up to the plate. This will be a lengthy process, and every additional agency in the mix will add to that.
Speaking of time, resist the urge to make ridiculous schedules that you can’t keep. Little is more frustrating for an agency team than pulling a week of late nights to answer a 50-item RFP in a week—and then waiting a month for an answer. That’s not sending a great signal to your potential partner. While it is your right as a client to set the deadlines, it’s also their right not to work with you.
Agencies Before you build that slide that shows all your office locations, perhaps you should go out and purchase the product you’re going to advertise or rent a car from the company you’re going to do direct marketing for. Not only will it make for a more informed conversation, it will demonstrate a level of commitment to your potential client. It’s worth the money.
And remember what they taught you in school: Read the instructions. Many clients will have very specific requests about response format, page length, or number of copies to print out. Follow them. As idiosyncratic as they may seem, they’re a client request, and if you can’t handle details now, will you be able to later?
During the Pitch
Clients Don’t try to run the presentation gauntlet. It’s tempting to line up a full day’s worth of pitches, but you’d be doing the presenters and yourselves a disservice. Unless you moonlight as a casting director, you won’t have the attention span for a litany of two-hour pitches. You’ll be giving that last presenter yawns and vapid questions, but you won’t be giving them much of a shot.
And it sounds obvious, but be a good host. Make sure the pitch team has driving directions, security clearance at the front entrance, a projector. Less time spent searching the cubicles for an adapter cord means more time for the important stuff.
Agencies Bring everything you need, even if they say they have it. Making 12 people huddle around a laptop for a Powerpoint presentation may bring you closer to the client, but it probably won’t bring you closer to the account.
Also, make sure to show up with the people who will be working on the account. It’s tempting to bring in your firm’s senior level closer. I once watched the charismatic CEO of a noted ad firm work the room like a pro. But did I ever see her again? Of course not. Smart companies will want to meet the people they’ll be dealing with every day.
After the Pitch
Clients Please don’t play hurry up and wait….again. Chances are you’ll know off the bat which groups are in the running. Be nice and let candidates who have no shot know it. Budgets are being set and staffs are being hired (or let go) based on your decision. If Agency X is not an option, don’t let them twist in the wind while you negotiate with Company Y.
Agencies Never debrief until you’re far from the client facility. You just got out of the pitch presentation. You think it went well, but couldn’t believe the stupid questions you were getting from that one director. You’re so annoyed that you just have to tell your colleague on the way to the bathroom. Don’t do it! The people walking those halls and using those toilets work for your prospective client. They may even work for that director. Hold it until you’re on the plane. (Unless they’re an airline, in which case, wait until you get home.)
Finally, don’t just go back to your office and wait for the phone to ring. Chances are the client had some questions during your presentation that could use a more thorough answer. Let them know you care enough to follow up.
That first meeting is more than a pitch; it’s the start of something bigger. Agencies need to seal the deal, but clients ought to make sure that what may be a long, productive relationship starts off on the right foot.