Agency Pitching: 10 Ways To Stand Out And 10 Ways To Flame Out

When I read Rob Griffin's Search Insider column last week about the reality of agency pitching, my first thought was, "Amen, brother." My second thought was, "Man, I'd like to be a fly on the wall, er, cell to hear Rob debate with himself." 

After spending nearly five years in the agency world and being a part of 50+ formal RFPs, it was clear to me that the client/agency RFP process was broken. In fact, I wrote a 4,000-word manifesto back in 2009 about the problems and how to fix them before summing everything up in a Search Insider column and graphic-heavy presentation at the Search Insider Summit.



From what I've seen and heard, not much has changed over the past couple years. Until the RFP process is overhauled, clients and agencies are left doing the same old song and dance. So, if you're on the agency side of the aisle, here are 10 ways you can stand out from your competitors in a pitch -- followed by 10 sure ways to flame out and lose the business.

Stand Out:

1.  Do your homework. Know who you're meeting with and know their hot button topics. How? Discovery calls and meetings. If the client doesn't grant them, don't bother pitching.  If they aren't willing to invest in your prep, they're not going to be a good client.

2.  Show your chemistry. Make sure the team you put in the room gets along -- or at least can fake it. The client is trying to figure out what a relationship with you will be like; if the members of your team don't seem to like each other, the client figures they won't like you either.

3.  Keep an eye on the details. Proofread your material. Show up on time. Bring business cards. Do proper introductions. End on time. All these things may seem inconsequential --but, if one goes wrong, that's all anyone will remember. 

4.  Deliver insights. Go beyond the reports and the stats. Tell the client something they might not know about their customers and/or competitors.

5.  Demonstrate strong technology partnerships. In today's world, it's impossible for one company to be the best at marketing strategy and technology development. Don't try to be something you're not. When part of your offering is bolstered by the use of a third-party technology, don't hide it. Don't apologize. Say it loud. Say it proud.

6.  Communicate value. Focus on benefits, not features. Outputs, not inputs. Value, not price.

7.  Share relevant case studies. Be specific about the results you've driven for other clients in similar categories or situations.

8.  Offer a trial. Put your money where your mouth is. Set up a scenario where the client can see what it's like to work with you and the results you'll deliver. (Important note: I did not say offer a "free" trial.)

9.  Be humble. I know you know you're the smartest person in the room, but the client doesn't have to know you know. And sometimes saying, "I don't know, I'll get back to you," will score you more points that coming up with something on the fly.

10.                Burn the midnight oil before the pitch. There's nothing like the bond that forms among your pitch team when you're up all hours cranking to pull everything together. And that energy carries forward into the room.

Flame Out:

1.  Send only execs. Clients hate when agencies "sell the dream and then give the team." They can sniff the bait-and-switch from a mile away. Make sure the people the clients will be working with day in and day out are in the room.

2.  Use a templated presentation. The only thing worse than a canned deck is canned tuna fish. Make sure to customize everything that can be customized, from footers to screenshots to background colors.

3.  Neglect to show what's behind the dashboard. Every agency has a dashboard. But not every agency has something under the hood. Be ready to bare all.

4.  Data-puke. Data is meaningless without the insights they reveal and the actions they direct. Don't let the data do the talking. Unless Brent Spiner works for your agency.  

5.  Brag about managed spend. Clients don't care about how much money you help advertisers spend. They care about how much money you help advertisers make.

6.  Talk numbers. The pitch is not the place to negotiate fees. Do whatever you need to do to table that discussion. And don't ever leave a slide up on the projector at the end with pricing on it.

7.  Drop lots of buzzwords. Lord knows I love me my buzzwords. But while they may be a great way to gauge the zeitgeist at a conference, they have no place in a pitch. That piece of paper the client is marking things down on while you present? Yeah, that ain't a scorecard, it's buzzword bingo.

8.  Do pitch theater for theater's sake. I'm all for thinking outside the powerpoint box when it comes to presentations. But if you're going to do some sort of exercise or live demo or video, you better be sure it's as dummy-proof as clicking "next" on slides, because anything that can go wrong during the meeting will.

9.  Leave behind the leave-behinds. Don't expect the client to remember your key points or take good notes. Bring a hard copy of the most compelling parts of your pitch. Remember the old adage: Tell them. Tell them again. Then tell them what you just told them.

10.                Burn the midnight oil before the pitch. Some people thrive on adrenaline, others crash. Know your limits.

What's the most creative way you've seen an agency stand out in a pitch? What's the most inane thing you've seen an agency do to flame out? Share your agency pitch war story in the comments section. Feel free to say it happened to someone else if you don't want to out yourself.

2 comments about "Agency Pitching: 10 Ways To Stand Out And 10 Ways To Flame Out".
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  1. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, September 7, 2011 at 9:32 a.m.

    Whoever owns your agency or pays the bills isn't going to like this one "If they aren't willing to invest in your prep, they're not going to be a good client.". These days I don't think any companies have the luxury of turning down clients who they think may be difficult, unless they have a difficulty paying.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 7, 2011 at 9:33 a.m.

    This is excellent. One for the wall. These rules not only apply for agency presentations, but also for sales presentations (with some variations).

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