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PR Mama Gets Schooled

Rainmaker, Patron Saint of New Business

Rainmaker, Patron Saint of New Business (via comicvine)

A month ago our agency didn’t advance past the first round of a very big search for a retailer you’ve heard of. And though I’ve already blogged about how it was for the best and yada yada, truth is — we should’ve made it at least into the semi-finals. Something didn’t work, and as the person responsible for this stuff, I didn’t have a clear sense of what to fix for next time. So I was delighted when my boss decided to invest in some new business training for us.  

We’ve historically been a pretty insular crew (this happens when you’ve been around and doing well for 31 years). But things are different now and without laundry-listing why (because I’m guessing you and I live in the same economy, with the same land grabs going on across all marketing disciplines, with the same pressures to protect the top-line and manage the bottom-line, etc…), let’s just say getting an objective third party to talk to us was a good idea.

Enter Select Resources International, a consultancy who handle agency searches for Fortune 200 companies and see presentations from countless agencies every year, from boutiques to the global big boys. I got a lot out of my day with SRI Senior Partner Dan Orsborn, a great guy who’s known our agency for some time and has seen us in a number of pitches. In his affable way, he made me realize that we’re kind of …just like…everyone else.  Oh, we’re good (we are, really!) but ouch — it’s not coming across as powerfully as it could in pitches.  Eye. Opener.  

Herewith, five humbling things I learned from Dan:

#1  Four words not to use.  

  • Smart
  • Strategic
  • Passionate
  • Creative

Everybody uses these words. Everyone. It’s kind of like, don’t say you’re funny? Remember that one?  Much better to demonstrate through your response to their brief that you are smart, strategic, passionate and creative.  

#2  Rethink your reels. Good chance you’re presenting to marketing people who — guess what — see presentations from every marketing discipline, not just PR. And unfortunately, advertising agencies are light years ahead of PR shops in the quality of their reels.  I know, I know. Apples and oranges.  Ad agencies have commercial directors and copywriters and producers at their disposal — true.  Still — you want to win this pitch?  Rethink your sizzle reel.

#3  We all look the same.  Most humbling moment of the training: Dan spreads about 25 documents across the table, agency responses to Requests for Proposals (RFPs, for those who don’t know) including some from DeVries. RFP responses are crucial — step one in any search, the document that determines whether you’ll get invited to a “chemistry check” second round. Seeing our carefully crafted, neatly bound documents in the pile with all the others, I realized how very, very similar agencies look.  What will you do to make your RFP response stand out?

#4  The pitch is not about you.  Sounds counter-intuitive but really — it’s not.  All the client prospect wants to talk about/hear about is THEM. Yes, of course, you need to present your capabilities and case studies but boy you better make sure you’re putting that through the filter of the client’s brief as overtly as possible. They’ll be seeing lots of agencies in the course of their search — don’t make them connect the dots as to why you’re the right agency for them.  

#5  One person can kill it.  Oy, this is tough. Pitches have been lost because one person on a team of many did not click with the client.  This happens for any number of reasons — the senior person who greedily dominates the Q&A. The CEO who comes across like an “empty suit” or worse, a “clownish master-of-ceremonies.” (I did not make that up, nor am I referring to my boss — in case you’re reading, Jim.) The creative who can’t channel their brilliance and ends up alienating the client team.  Am still noodling through how to deal with this. For now, I’ll make sure we’re casting the pitch team correctly — consider personalities as well as expertise and be willing to tell the suits to stay home (easier said than done.) Build in way more rehearsal time than you think you need (we are terrible at this, I admit) so you can anticipate client questions and decide in advance who will field — hopefully engaging all levels on the team in the responses. And have the guts to sit a colleague down and give them candid feedback if they need it — and invite others to do the same for you.  I’ve developed a reputation as a good presenter, but I have my off days and I probably need to invite my team’s feedback way more frequently.  Are you doing the same?

So there you go.  I hesitate to hit “publish post” because then you’ll know my secrets and will start beating us in pitches.

Or will you?  Just wait till you see the revamped DeVries Sizzle Reel — oh, sorry, gotta run. Ridley Scott’s on the line…

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  1. May 3, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Great post…I’m new on the blogging scene but if you get a chance maybe you can take a look and give me some feedback and thoughts.

  2. May 9, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Okie dokie. As a blogger who talks almost exclusively to 23 year old hotties who will no doubt marry out of PR; I’m startled to hear that there is so much work involved.

    I just figured y’all were like, “listen up megastore. We know your product sucks, you know your product sucks, but if you want we can take some frumpy girls from flyover states and turn them into the next hawt property online. Additionally we won’t have to pay them because houses there cost about $45 a month and most of them will be excited to get a trip each year.”

    But now I see there’s much more thought given to the process than that.

    *sigh* yet one MORE line of work I’m not qualified to do.

    • ssmirnov
      May 11, 2009 at 11:53 am

      Why Gottlieb, thanks for dropping by! PRMama thanks you for your patronage. And speaking as a PR person who is neither 23 nor a hottie, thank you for acknowledging that indeed thought goes in to what we do!

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