Disappearing act leads to a sour relationship with client and team

You've just received an RFP for an exciting piece of new business. Industry and experience-wise, it's right up your alley, though you'll have to pull in key pitch team members from around your agency's office network to be competitive.

You've just received an RFP for an exciting piece of new business. Industry and experience-wise, it's right up your alley, though you'll have to pull in key pitch team members from around your agency's office network to be competitive. You assemble a crack combination of senior thought leaders, mid-level, day-to-day managers, and support staff. You collaborate well, work around the clock toward an impossible deadline, fly to God knows where to make your final presentation, and then, great news, you win the business. Now what?

Unfortunately, all too often in the case of multi-office firms, the pre-win camaraderie, teamwork, and promises of shared future client fees evaporates in the stark reality of the lead office having to make its numbers. As a result, the new client might never again see or hear from key members of the pitch team. While the problem is endemic to holding company-owned agencies, independents are not immune from the dilemma when they have separate office/team P&Ls.

This pervasive but short-sighted agency operating model can quickly sour a relationship, especially when the client was attracted in the first place to a multi-office agency, in hopes to avail themselves of the firm's rich network of human resources. And, as you might guess, it's also one of the top reasons prospective clients decide to call it quits and mount an agency review. They feel frustrated that they're being blocked from using the agency's best and brightest account specialists.

Having been responsible for a large agency's regional office P&L, I'm aware of the intense pressures on office, practice, and account team leaders to make their nut. Agency leadership usually employs “the hammer,” whose role it is to demand adherence to budget goals set, sometimes as much as a year or more in advance. On one hand, it's just the reality of doing business nowadays. But on the other, the sense of teamwork, trust, fairness, and the agency's cultural underpinnings often suffer.

And what about the clients? There's no doubt that, in this scenario, they get the short end of the stick. That's why so many clients who have been around the block a few times are dubious, at best, about the chances of seeing or hearing from some of pitch day's most impressive agency team members once the deal is consummated.

While every agency talks a good game about team-work across offices, geographies, and practices – it's one of the most compelling selling points of a large agency with a deep and broad network – few have truly solved the problem of how to incentivize agency personnel to follow through. Global agencies act like independent, regional firms, and everybody loses.

If you want to not only win the client, but also develop a long-term relationship, put client service and cross-office teamwork first. Don't just talk the talk; make it worth your team's while by providing real encouragement in the form of financial incentives. It's not magic – just good business.
 
Dan Orsborn is a senior partner at SelectResources International where he heads the PR agency search practice. He can be reached at dan@selectr.com.

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