By Ron Owens
As a seasoned advertising professional, I have prepared and participated in many new business presentations, and luckily, I have been fortunate to have been on many advertising and public relations contract award-winning teams. During many years in this business, I have learned and experienced a lot in this exciting industry when it comes to account service, meeting client expectations, retaining, nurturing and growing client business, and soliciting and winning new business. When it comes to the latter, I find that the preparation of the new business presentation to be a key element in the pursuit / solicitation of new business. What I would like to share with you are some of my observations, “lessons-learned”, and “do’s & don’t’s”, I have learned and experienced. By no means, are these tips paramount to winning new business, but some may help you in your new business efforts. Or at least, I hope so.
DON’T TRY to be different.
Most ad agencies today claim to be in the broad category of full-service advertising agencies, but despite the proliferation of agencies in our area, it seems to me that too many of them are trying to be “different.” It also seems to me that people are the biggest differentiating factor between agencies. What your people and the agency have done and the way they are perceived by your prospects (i.e., the chemistry) makes much more of a difference. Especially a phony one. I believe that it is better to be yourself (collectively) & see how the chemistry works. Bottom line – don’t try to be different. You already are.
DON’T ASSUME your prospect knows your business.
In the initial meeting stages leading to the presentation, you often find yourself dealing with some advertising-wise people…advertising manager, product manager. Remember, however, to identify the “decision-maker. Those people frequently are not advertising-wise. They may be operations people…the CEO, contracting people. They also may be far removed from, and very naïve about, advertising as a service. This seems to be true in industrial companies than consumer companies. Don’t assume your decision-makers know what focus groups or mechanicals are. Commonplace terminology to you, but maybe not for them. You have only yourself to blame if a decision-maker says he or she doesn’t like cartoons if you do not tell that person how to interpret a storyboard before you present it to him or her. Take your time. Be thorough. Think about how very little you know about your prospect’s business, even after you’re done your homework. Your prospect knows even less about yours.
DON’T talk too much about yourself.
It’s a basic rule of selling to shift from product features to buyer benefits as soon as possible in a sales presentation.
PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTH
DON’T work in the dark.
If you believe that face-to-face selling is the best kind there is, and if you believe that chemistry is one of the strongest elements you can have working in your favor, then why would you want to turn out the lights and watch a screen for up to 25 minutes without a word being exchanged? It doesn’t make sense to me, but I’ve seen it happen. More than once. You want to show your work? That’s par for the course. But pace it. Show a few spots. Bring the lights back up and talk to your prospects. Then show some more.
DON’T show another agency’s creative.
This sounds pretty basic I know, but now and then it happens. And when it does, it usually backfires. Even if the work you show was done by one of your current employees while working for another agency, DON’T show another agency’s creative. It’s OK for your employee to have that work on his or her reel or in the employee’s book. It is not OK for you.
DON’T show your creative if it’s over five years old.
The only exception I can think of to this rule would be vintage classic campaigns to show. So, if it’s not current, don’t show it.
LOOKING FOR NEGATIVES
DON’T show creative you’re done for former clients.
I’ve seen a number of very good agencies disqualified by prospective clients because of an inadequate answer to the question, “If your work for client X was so good, how come they now have another agency?”
DON’T present creative recommendations.
I should probably say resist presenting creative recommendations. Because when the prospect asks for them, it’s very hard to say no. Still, regardless of whether or not you are compensated for your work, resist doing it at this stage. I say this because of my experience the creative will be “wrong” more often than it will be “right.” The reason is that only the prospect knows what is right and wrong, and he or she won’t tell. So, you usually have to fly blind and take your chances of creating the “right” campaign. If you are ever forced to show creative recommendations, try to get an agreement on, or make disclaimers about, the following elements beforehand:
- Product positioning
- Executional style
Try to get a “pretend agreement” on these points. Get an understanding that you may want to change of these elements later, once you get to know the market better, but for purposes of the presentation, you’ll all agree to them. That way at least you won’t get knocked out of the box because the president wanted to see a funny TV commercial or something comparable.
DON’T leave your prospect empty-handed.
Have a hand-out. Don’t make your prospect take notes. Chemistry is important so don’t give your prospect something else to do when he or she could be relating to your people. It’s usually best if your hand-out outlines what you have to say, in the order in which it is presented. You should tell your prospect that you have a hand-out, but don’t give it to him, her or them until your presentation is finished. Otherwise, you will lose your prospect’s attention while he, she or they are following you through the hand-out.
DON’T give up.
Even if you don’t win the business, follow-up in six months, a year. Client personnel move around just like agency people and situations change. So, stay in touch.
Ron Owens is President of Ron Owens & Associates, a marketing consultancy specializing in market development, branding, diversity, equity and inclusion. Ron was Co-founder / Principal, LMO Advertising; VP, TMP Worldwide; Director, Worldwide Advertising & PR, Pitney Bowes, a Fortune 500 Company; & VP, Bozell Worldwide. He also served as Governor, 4A’s; Vice Chair, AAF; Committee Chair, ANA and Past President, Ad Club, Metropolitan Washington, DC. Ron can be reached via Ronowens221@yahoo.com