So you just got the call from the potential client, or worse, the loser-merchant handling the pitch for them. Your agency didn't win, "but thank you for participating." As if this was a ring toss at a carnival. Throughout the process you fried your staff, lived in 5-Hour Energy increments, ticked off your spouse... yet again, spent more money than you should have and destroyed internal relationships; just face it, you're a loser.
Well seriously, you didn't win, so what else would I call you? You ask the client why you didn't win, but like the cold sting of the last episode of "Lost," there are no real answers, no honest evaluation of your suckage that could help you improve -- just more questions, and the dry tasteless meal of platitudes the client dishes out to try and get you to participate next time it wants a dog to beat.
You blew the pitch, and you might have done it before even agreeing to participate. Here's where things went wrong, and how to keep from suffering the same fate next time.
1. Stop! Think. Then ignore that thought, and think of something else
You get the RFP. You're excited. You tell everyone in your agency, "We've been invited to pitch blah-blah-blah." And then like the controlled chaos of FEMA, you start to formulate a plan -- the wrong plan. I know, it's ego-gratifying. The head of new business is trying to save his job and show his worth. The financial books have been bleeding red ink for months. You are holding on by a thread, and none of the employees of your agency understand just how difficult and precarious every agency is from going under. You think, "This is going to be the client we win that gets our agency to break through!" Stop. Rewind. Think. Then ignore that thought, and think of something else.
The first job of your agency is to protect the agency. It is not to pitch clients. It is not to do award-winning creative. It's definitely not to win this piece of business, nor even serve your current clients, and it is not to have your ego stroked like a little puppy. It is to protect the assets you have, and help build new ones. These assets do not include the great process you have (which no one likely follows), the (misplaced) belief that your agency is special, or those overpriced Aeron chairs. Your assets are your people, end of story. Without them your agency is nonexistent. And sadly, the fields of the advertising battlefield are littered with the desiccated corpses of agencies that thought otherwise.
If you need to win this particular piece of pitch business, in order to stay in business, you are likely already dying and this last-ditch effort won't help much. You should have pared back your staff to be more lean and accurately assessed your business to trim the fat. Agencies often do not keep their best people -- they get rid of those who were servicing lost clients. But just because a client is staying with you, and is easy to service, doesn't mean that its account team is better than the teams servicing former business.
Downturns are great for our industry. They give us an opportunity to clean house. Is that cruel? Yes. But it's less cruel than humoring the incompetent at your agency. Look at your agency staff and assess their capabilities and talents, independent of which clients they serve. You want to keep that rare combination of talent and positive attitude that works well with others, and lose that group of malcontents whose arrogant bravado is due to the luck of the client draw. How do you accomplish this? Ask your most trusted team members for their input on who is not pulling their weight, and then restructure for long-term success. This will position your agency to win more business.
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