Major-league pitchers

Some PR firms are blessed with their own prolific and creative rainmakers.

Some PR firms are blessed with their own prolific and creative rainmakers.

Bonnie Goodman

General manager, Hill & Knowlton, Los Angeles

Bonnie Goodman isn't above using theatrics to win a new account. "Partially it's a throwback to my frustrated days as a stage actress," she jokes.

Two years ago, when she was pitching for a tire company's California business, she decorated a conference room to look like an off-road venue - complete with dirt and rocks. She then showed a video of her team off-roading, talking to them via a mock satellite connection before they popped up in the room, covered in road dust. Several years back, she put on an originally written play for another potential client.

While Goodman's shows help her cut through the presentation clutter clients so often see, they also serve a much more important function, she says - to show clients that she and her firm understand what their businesses are all about.

"It wasn't just theatrics for the sake of the moment; it was to [show] we got it," she says.

Goodman has been GM of H&K's Los Angeles and Sacramento offices for three years. For about five years before that, she was head of business development. She's spent 23 years at H&K, starting in LA as a switchboard operator after walking away from work in broadcasting. Even in those days she strove to be noticed, wearing different hats to work each day to get attention.

These days Goodman is getting noticed by clients. "I have a very, very candid relationship with her and the ability to talk very openly," says Bob McAdam, VP of corporate affairs at Wal-Mart, a client for the past year. Goodman was able to win the account for H&K because "we liked the sensitivity they had to our business," McAdam says. Wal-Mart has since expanded the amount of work it's doing with H&K.

Goodman believes in extensively researching a potential client's needs before making a pitch. "We put as much effort into the research as the presentation," she says.

Kim Hunter

President and CEO, Lagrant Communications, Los Angeles

Kim Hunter has spent 15 years running his integrated communications agency, yet when he's pitching for new business, he still harkens back to the seven years he spent at Baxter International. "I come from the client side," he says with pride. "I just have a very different perspective."

That means he won't pitch for business unless he's sure he can meet all the client's needs. He learns what those are by asking lots of questions before he decides whether to answer an RFP. "It's my business as the firm's rainmaker to ask those questions," he explains. "If you're going in [to a pitch] meeting with all the requirements, you're one step ahead." Hunter only pitches for business if he judges he has a 65% or better chance of winning the account.

In the pitch, he brings the team he expects will work on the account, so clients know exactly the talent they will be getting. Hunter prepares an outline of his presentation and usually handles the strategy discussion himself, bringing along creative, accounting, planning, and media people from the agency to discuss their specialties.

Once an account is won, Hunter is widely known for going that extra mile for clients. He routinely spends his time on airline flights tagging articles in various publications to send to clients.

His attention to clients also extends beyond the everyday work parameters. An accomplished cook, Hunter admits to baking desserts for them

"Most of my clients I befriend," he explains. "I've traveled on vacation with them, had them in my house, baby-sat for them. There's not much I wouldn't do for my clients, as long as it doesn't compromise my ethics and moral beliefs."

Michael Petruzzello

Partner, Qorvis Communications, Washington, DC

Michael Petruzzello loves pitching for new business, and more times than not he wins the accounts he's after. Since starting Qorvis five years ago, he says he's won 85% of the business he has pitched. "It's the best part of my work," he says of pitching. "It's the thrill of the hunt."

Petruzzello says the key is to hunt with the right equipment. "Tactics don't sell; it's strategy and big ideas," he says. "We all use the same tools; it's really how you use that toolbox, and that's where strategy comes up."

But a good strategy alone won't win an account, he adds. "We don't just offer our best ideas; we endeavor to prove they're best," and that means doing extensive research before any presentation. "Most work must be done [prior to] the presentation," he says. Preparing can take him and his team "hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work," Petruzzello says.

Petruzzello doesn't shy away from using PowerPoint presentations as some pitchers do, but he's sure that every presentation he does has at least three moments of excitement, whether from a graphic, a video, or some other device to grab attention. "You don't just start with energy and then trail off," he says. "We try to make a presentation visually entertaining. It's almost like a play."

Jim O'Malley, SVP of public affairs at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, found Petruzzello passionate enough during his pitch 18 months ago that he hired Qorvis. "Michael Petruzzello essentially laid out very clearly and concisely what he was going to do for us and then said, 'If we don't deliver, you don't have to pay for us,'" O'Malley recalls. Another satisfied client, Chris Swonger, SVP of corporate affairs with Allied Domecq, says that Petruzzello doesn't just disappear to pitch more business once a client has come on board. "I can call Michael any day of the week," he says.

Petruzzello works hard to retain clients won. He meets with staff every Monday to review all 67 of the firm's clients. "If there are any issues, we attack them organizationally, not just as a team," he explains. Bringing the full agency's resources to bear in such situations seems to be working: The firm's revenues have been growing in high double-digits annually, he says.

Michael Robinson

VP, Levick Strategic Communications, Washington, DC

Michael Robinson believes in research and preparation for any pitch, but he also believes in trying to find an emotional link with a potential client. "The business we are in is too fast-paced and too intense not to have a personal relationship with a client," he explains. "People buy from people they like. Vendors can be replaced. How do I become a counselor and partner, not just a vendor?"

Robinson, a former director of public affairs and policy at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and former head of PR for NASDAQ, will look for links, such as colleges attended or people both he and a potential client know, to have some common ground to talk about.

The personal approach seems to be working for Robinson, who joined Levick a year ago after being director of investment business communications at Freddie Mac. The agency

won the Cayman Islands law firm Walkers in November. Sheree Harrison, director of marketing and PR there, says of Robinson: "He does a very good job of really connecting on a personal level. I always feel I can call him whenever."

Robinson's experience with the SEC and his financial background were big selling point in her firm's decision to work with Levick, Harrison explains. But his exuberance has been a major reason for staying with the agency. "He's always very enthusiastic," she says. "The level of attention we get is way beyond what we expected."

Scott Freda, director of PR for Philadelphia law firm Barrack, Rodos & Bacine, found Robinson through a mutual friend and decided to take on Levick as its first PR agency after talking to him. "He definitely communicates in a fashion that goes in sync with my business," says Freda.

Pam Talbot

President and CEO, US, Edelman

Pam Talbot has worked at Edelman for more than three decades, but all of that experience hasn't dampened the excitement she feels in a pitch. She has kept up that enthusiasm by always looking for something special about a potential client that will interest or intrigue her.

"Going into a meeting with someone, I do have to have some passion there to be successful," Talbot says. "When I'm going after a piece of business, I get completely immersed and excited not just about the pitch, but about the [client's] product or the opportunity itself."

She gets involved in anywhere from 15 to 30 pitches a year for Edelman and lists developing new business as the second largest part of her job, just after working with existing clients.

Talbot's philosophy on pitching is straightforward - "What I want to do is connect with the people I talk to," she explains.

That can mean including theatrics, such as producing a montage of Edelman employees' pets with poems written to them by their owners for a pitch to a pet food company. It worked - Edelman won part of the business.

"Obviously, substance is important, but you have to be memorable," Talbot says. You also have to show you're someone a client can be comfortable working with.

Susan Yost

Account director, TechCom Partners and Market Wave, Dallas

Susan Yost is always pitching for new business. In one instance, she was able to gain an audience with one client, law firm Higier, Lautin, Foxman, McKinney & Owen, during a ride on an elevator.

"When you show a potential client your energy level is high, you're giving them a taste of what they'll get from you," reasons the effervescent Yost.

"Susan is passionate about the client's business and about PR in general," says her boss, Tina Young, president of TechCom and Market Wave. Yost has brought in 35% to 40% of her agencies' business in the past 12 months, Young estimates.

Yost, like other accomplished pitchers, says that her work on a potential account begins with a lot of research, both into the background of the client and into that of its competitors. "I try to always come to a new business pitch with something to bring to the table," she says.

Yost is constantly watching and reading the news, looking for trends and developments that might help a potential client. She'll send notes to prospective clients to alert them of news that might affect their business. "You're always keeping yourself in front of a prospect," she says.

It worked with law firm Higier. Yost met someone from the firm (which is in the same Dallas office building as hers) in an elevator and discovered that the law firm was looking for help in creating a website.

"We felt like they were very honest with us," recalls Brenda Warren, manager of operations at Higier. Of Yost, she says: "We were most impressed with her attention to detail. She's energetic but calm. I've never seen her in a bad mood."

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