Flair can dazzle, but true business sense is the kind of 'creativity' that often wins accounts.
Opportunities abound to creatively distinguish your agency in the new- business process, but creativity must be used tastefully to illustrate strong understanding of a client's business and your vision for meeting their objectives.
"Clients care about ideas, not a trail of dog bones leading to the meeting," says Tom Coyne, founder and CEO of Coyne Public Relations. "Don't get so caught up in creative delivery that you forget clients really look for what's in the presentation. If you don't walk your talk, it will backfire on you."
Leanna Clark, principal and co-owner of Schenkein, advises to avoid creativity merely for creativity's sake.
"Creativity shows how you think, that you understand their business, and that you've heard them," she explains. "[It shows that you] want to be viewed as a strategic counselor and business partner, not as a [provider of] a goofy promotion."
Andy Getsey, cofounder of Atomic Public Relations, adds, "Be careful about humor unless you really know the client and its customers. Don't do corny stuff like cookie baskets and dressing up. You'll gain weight and look dumb. Plus, any client who chooses an agency based on that is in trouble."
Schenkein reports using pre-pitch research tools, such as SurveyMonkey.com, to illustrate understanding of customer feelings. Before it pitched a client seeking to target small and home business, the firm surveyed other small business members of its own network (Pinnacle Worldwide's PR group) to gain insight. It has also used footage of people on the street responding to a fictional new product assigned by one potential client to support ideas for promoting the product.
Before a recent pitch for restaurant Einstein Bros., Schenkein reached out to marketing teams at the company's other brands to better grasp the big picture. The firm scheduled the pitch over lunch, used a menu in the presentation, and fed reps from each brand food from their own restaurants.
"We [flew in food from] Noah's Bagels. [It] showed we were customizing - which we'd do [if we won the business]," Clark says.
Though Coyne notes that presentations are generally "a straight-play," the firm recently won a cereal company's business after putting the entire presentation in and on cereal boxes. "We did this because [we found out] this group hates Power Point," Coyne says. "It made sense. It was on-theme."
Getsey says clients often find "granular insight and sharp strategy" creative. "Taking time to really understand a client's issues and getting into their head demonstrates authentic enthusiasm," he notes.
After researching IMAX, Atomic chose to "distill desired associations into a blurb" that could be easily understood and retained by consumers and media. After creating mock-ups of tickets that demonstrated the IMAX experience's superiority, the firm won the task and executed the program as presented.
Use creative follow-up, but "always tie it to something you hear in the meeting that you know is important to them," Clark advises.
Atomic has succeeded with "entertaining" follow-up. "Before our final meeting with BitTorrent, which we won in December, we did a YouTube video on the International Day of the Ninja," Getsey says. "The Ninja connection is conceptually related to the strategy we pitched a few days later. We're not sure how they reacted - we never discussed [it] specifically. But we laughed a lot in the office when it was made. [We] were in a great mood going into the final pitch."
Gauging where to draw the line on creative output isn't cut and dried. Cone VP Stephanie Doherty says it depends on the client, the opportunity, and the competition.
Coyne never draws a financial line. "In the beginning, do all you can do to attract attention," he says. "Spare no expense. It pays for itself immediately if you get the business."
"Go far enough to [show] understanding of a client's situation, thinking, and ability to problem-solve," adds Getsey. "Start early. Pace yourself. Don't spend so much on ideas that you look desperate or as if you don't care about budgets. And don't give prospects too many creative ideas - just the handful you really believe in. Beyond a certain point, [it] look[s] like you lack conviction and may not be able to execute focused strategy."
Use creativity tastefully and avoid corny gimmicks
Research and show a grasp of a client's business and objectives
Tie follow-ups to something important to the client
Use creativity just for creativity's sake
Spare expense, but only once you've assessed return potential
Spend so much on creative tools that you look desperate or show disregard for budget