ANALYSIS <b>The Agency Business</b>: Incumbent firms may need to re-think when re-pitching clients

For most PR agencies, chances are that at some point they will have to bid again for a client's business. But by updating their pitches, firms can more easily win these re-bids.

For most PR agencies, chances are that at some point they will have to bid again for a client's business. But by updating their pitches, firms can more easily win these re-bids.

Pitching new business is already one of the more stressful parts of agency life. The long hours of preparation, the pressure to perform, the sometimes interminable wait for a response - and that's just the first time around. If you win the business once, odds are you're going to have to win it again someday. Nearly all contracts come up for re-bids at one point or another. When one does, being the incumbent can either be the greatest advantage there is or the reason to not even try. There are essentially two kinds of re-bids. The most common are those built into contracts. All government contracts have this provision for legal reasons. Many corporate ones do simply to protect against institutional inertia. Incumbents generally hold a significant advantage over competitors in these types of re-bids. They're a known entity, they've already proven themselves capable of doing the job, and they know more about the client's specific needs and preferences. "If you're the incumbent, you know what worked in the past and what hasn't worked," says Gene Reineke, managing director of Hill & Knowlton's Washington, DC, office. "You probably have information and data on how to do the business that your competitors don't have." That kind of information can greatly sharpen your proposal. Everyone knows the uncertainty of trying to put together a program having nothing but a general objective and a budget. But if you're the incumbent, you can use your knowledge of the business and the client to construct a budget that more accurately reflects what that client has in mind. The name of the game in friendly re-pitches is to ensure clients that they can expect the same solid service they've received from the same people they've been dealing with. "In the end, all of us win or lose because we deliver results or we don't," says John Haber, SVP and senior partner with Fleishman-Hillard. "The client says to themselves, 'Is this firm going to deliver what they promise?' The great advantage on a re-bid is they already know the answer." Send familiar faces to the pitch meeting and be sure to accentuate the progress already made. It's never a bad idea to show that you have new ideas going forward, but be careful not to imply that you've lost sight of the original objectives. Then there's the other kind of re-pitch. The kind that isn't mandated by the contract, but instead comes about because someone has decided it's time for a change. In those cases, being the incumbent means coming to the plate with two strikes already called. "If you know that the relationship is sour because you haven't delivered results or there's no chemistry, and you realize you're just not going to win, that's a different situation," says Haber. The key in these situations is the exact opposite of the mandated re-pitch. If your client is calling in new faces in an attempt to energize the business, you're going to want to show the client some new faces yourself. Pull some people from other parts of the agency to give the team a fresh look and a sense of rejuvenation. Don't, however, leave out the team's senior people unless someone has a particularly bad relationship with the client. Showing some change is good, but you don't want to give the sense of being rudderless. More important than new faces, however, are new ideas. If clients are looking for new representation, they are looking for fresh ideas. Show them that they don't need to change agencies to get them. "It's always better to show that you have new ideas and new thoughts in a re-pitch," says Reineke. "It keeps you on your toes and shows clients you're not taking anything for granted." And in the end, if the relationship is truly soured, if the two entities simply do not work well together, there is no shame in deciding not to pitch again. "The best client relationships are those where you are truly partners, where you work very well and closely together," explains Haber. "If the agency is just sitting around waiting for the client to call, they won't even be invited to re-bid." Keys to the re-bid If it's a mandated re-bid:
  • Use data and knowledge learned on the job to fine-tune your pitch
  • Present familiar faces and some fresh ideas
  • Quantify and accentuate progress already made If it's a problematic re-bid:
  • Bring new faces to the pitch
  • Prove that the client doesn't need a new agency to get new ideas
  • Know when the relationship isn't working and you're better off walking away

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