Nineteen Secrets

Since the 1960s, Mike Drexler and Steve Fajen have participated in (as agency executives) or shepherded (as search consultants) hundreds of new business presentations. Here are nineteen elements every agency should include in their pitch and every client should look for during the finals of an agency review.

1. Pick your fights carefully: Like a heavyweight contender, select your battles carefully so you are standing in the last round. Don’t get sidetracked and waste enormous time and effort on contests you can’t win. Size up the prospect and your agency for fit. Size up your competitors as well if you can.

2. Field a winning team: Make sure that the people you present to the prospect are actually going to work on their business. Make sure they work well and present well together as a team and that it shows. The client wants to like the people they hire. Help them out with likeable people. If you are lucky enough to have one or two charismatic speakers (unlikely) showcase them. Prospects talk about that after they leave you.

3. CEO in charge: The agency CEO should be in charge of the meeting and take an active role in at least introducing the team and fielding some questions. The prospect must feel that they like the agency leader and that at any time they can reach out to him or her to affect change in a positive way. The agency CEO MUST directly engage the prospect’s highest ranking member and let them know during a break or at the end how much they want the business and that they will take a personal interest.

4. Rehearse and rehearse again: Once is usually not enough. But make sure you rehearse at the very least once. Usually this is where you iron out the kinks. The second time you rehearse, someone will play with their material. Let them get it out of their system during rehearsal. After the second time… you are ready.

5. Treat the prospect as special: Meet the prospect at the elevator, if not downstairs. Have their logos generously displayed inviting them into your home. Make them want to come back and make it their second home.

6. Have a mantra: Agencies that capture their identity with a phrase almost always stand out. Of course the mantra has to accurately reflect who your agency really is in a provable way.

7. Be unique: Stop them early and often with elements that set your agency apart from other agencies. Make sure to relate these elements directly to their business, demonstrating how they will help grow revenue for them. Tell stories. People love stories and remember them.

8. Be relevant: Don’t throw in the kitchen sink because you might think something is missing. You will bore the audience. Just because you have it doesn’t mean they need it. Focus on what you think they need.

9. Understand their category: Even if you haven’t had prior experience in the category, do enough research before you present to understand their business and their competition. Focus on business outcomes by thinking about smart strategies and innovative ideas. Not marketing or media outputs.

10. Choreograph your show: Don’t kid yourself. This is theater. Prospects first and foremost want to know your agency really can help them grow and solve their problems, but they want the meeting to fly by. Believe me they will have sat through at least one other presentation that dragged.

11. Have a process: Build the process of how you work as an agency into the flow of the presentation. Take them on a journey, with a roadmap. At the end of the show (and it is a show) they should feel they had an experience, but that they were never lost.

12. Show BIG IDEAS: That’s why clients go to agencies. Demonstrate your creativity by being bold. As long as you have a sound rationale, the prospect will forgive being slightly off the mark. They will however celebrate and talk about your ideas if they are sound and breakthrough.

13. Tell them something they didn’t know: Actually, tell them several things they didn’t know. Surprises are seductive. They engage prospects and show that you cared enough about their business to find something out that they didn’t know before. They are likely to believe that you will do this again and again as their agency.

14. Strut your stuff: Show your resources, especially if they help to set you apart from competitors. Use these resources to prove the points you are making in the presentation. Demonstrate how they have helped other clients and include a testimonial or two from present clients.

15. Leave plenty of time for questions: This is where you really bond with the prospect. Make sure you leave at least a half-hour, preferably more for Q and A. Deliberately present some material that you know will cause them to ask questions. Even if they ask questions throughout the presentation, still leave time.

16. Give direct answers, but: When you answer a prospect always say yes or no and then back it up with evidence. Don’t beat around the bush. However, leave one question unanswered and tell the head of the prospect organization you will get back to them with an answer by tomorrow morning. It will give you an opportunity to engage them once more in an informal way.

17. Make a rational bid: have a strong rationale for your staffing and compensation bid. Make it as simple as possible and understandable. Demonstrate how it will allow the agency to service the prospect in a best-in-class manner.

18. Follow-up: Thank the prospect participants for their time and participation. Send them a substantive message of value based on what you learned during the meeting.

19. Cross your fingers.