What it takes to be a winner

Choosing an agency is a daunting process. But many clients have found that the pitch process went a long way in helping reveal the perfect partner.

Choosing an agency is a daunting process. But many clients have found that the pitch process went a long way in helping reveal the perfect partner.

Heineken USA

The task: Launch of Premium Light, the company's first brand extension in 135 years.

The winner: Manning Selvage & Lee.

The process: After announcing in October 2005 plans to roll out Premium Light nationally, Heineken USA needed to move quickly to find an agency experienced in "buzz marketing" that could put together a plan before the March 1, 2006, launch.

A consultant helped Heineken create a shortlist of five or six firms based on their experience, potential conflicts of interest, and available resources, among other things, explains Tamara Moore, Heineken USA's director of corporate communications.

Skipping the typical step of requesting written proposals, the company issued an RFP to bring the agencies in to pitch.

The clincher: "From the moment they walked in, MS&L had a good chemistry," Moore says.

The Heineken USA selection committee, which included brand director Andy Glaser, got a good feeling that the presentation team would be the same people working on the account. MS&L also stood out from the competition in proposing that Heineken USA's new president and CEO be used as the face of the new brand leading up to the launch.

In addition, Jim Tsokanos, EVP and MD of MS&L's New York office, says the other agencies were more specialists, whereas his firm offered integrated services.
"We had a lot of it under one roof," says Tsokanos. "We had entertainment, beverage, consumer, influencer, and event marketing."

The relationship: MS&L did a phenomenal job with the launch, Moore says, developing and managing exclusive events in many different cities as part of the March 1 rollout, including a February 27 party at New York's Time Warner building that followed a stunt in Times Square by illusionist Chris Angel, who escaped from shackles inside an old beer crate hoisted above ground.


BMC Software

The task: Selecting an AOR.

The winner: Waggener Edstrom.

The process: Beginning in early April, BMC's director of worldwide corporate communications, Mark Stouse, created a list of 15 prospects based on his own experience and colleague recommendations, then sent an initial RFI.

Five firms offering the best case studies and assessments of the Houston company's place in the enterprise software market each met with BMC for three hours, after which finalists Weber Shandwick, Global Fluency, and Wag Ed returned for a final three-hour round of talks.

The clincher: WagEd excelled in various aspects, including metrics to be used for measuring the value of PR and "pop tests" e-mailed to the finalists over the three weeks prior to the final interviews. Wag Ed also impressed the company with a Wheel of Fortune-type game in which BMC could at any time spin a wheel divided into situations like "SEC investigation" and get WagEd's instant analysis.

The relationship: The $1 million-plus account only began on July 1, but Stouse says WagEd is like "nitrous oxide in a racing engine" and is already formulating ideas.


Fisher & Phillips LLP

The task: Finding AORs for three of the company's 16 markets.

The winners: HLA Group (Tampa, FL), Gard & Gerber (Portland, OR), and Deveney Communications (New Orleans).

The process: Fisher & Phillips (F&P), an Atlanta-based law firm specializing in labor-employment law, prefers small, local PR firms to national agencies. For each of the firm's three latest selections, made between December 2005 and May 2006, CMO Kevin Sullivan followed nearly exactly the same four-week process.

Based on preliminary research and colleague references, Sullivan created a list of about eight companies for each market. Each was e-mailed a "mini-RFP" and, after phone interviews, three for each market were chosen to interview at the local office.

The clincher: "Usually all three firms can do the job," Sullivan says. "But there's this one element I can't totally describe - call it a gut check - that [helps] one firm click better with us than others."

The relationship: All three have done an outstanding job so far, Sullivan reports. Through a monthly conference call, all the firms representing F&P discuss successes and failures and share ideas to improve media relations.


DahliA Blu

The task: Choosing an AOR.

The winner: Samantha Slaven Publicity (SSP).

The process: Dollaya Chaibongsai, cofounder and manager of LA-based startup jewelry maker Dahlia Blu, never thought of hiring a PR firm until attending LA Fashion Week in October 2005.

There, she noticed how much more attention other exhibitors received and spoke with several PR pros proffering their services.

Informally, Chaibongsai says she met with about five PR representatives at the show, and also talked to a few other vendors about who they used.

The clincher: Samantha Slaven's reputation for quick response to client requests made her agency stand out. Most important, she got Dahlia Blu jewelry placed in a magazine before Chaibongsai had even hired her.

The relationship: "I wouldn't pick anyone else," Chaibongsai says. SSP currently works for Dahlia Blu on retainer for a trial period and has won placements in various print and online fashion titles.


Environmental Protection Agency

The task: Five-year contract for an Hispanic educational campaign.

The winner: MRD Consulting.

The process and the clincher: In educating Hispanic laborers about the dangers of pesticide, hiring an agency that understood the culture was key.

Because Miami-based MRD Consulting is minority-owned and -operated, Kathy Seikel, senior policy analyst at the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, wasn't required under federal contracting rules to do an open competition for the contract.

Having already worked with MRD for a previous, two-year contract worth about $90,000 for Hispanic outreach, Seikel says she felt confident awarding the firm on June 19 a one-year deal with options for up to five years and $750,000 in work.

The relationship: MRD has done well for the EPA so far, setting up stories for Univision, Telemundo, Hispanic papers around the US, and other media outlets.

"Now we've got relationships with these producers and they're asking us back for more stories," Seikel says.

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