Have clients become more vigilant in the pitch process since the recession?

Jennifer Prosek, CEO of CJP Communications, and Howard Schacter, president of DiGennaro Communications, debate whether clients have become more vigilant in the pitch process since the recession.

yes

Jennifer Prosek CEO, CJP Communications

Author of Army of Entrepreneurs: Create an Engaged and Empowered Workforce for Exceptional Business Growth

Absolutely. I sometimes find myself wondering, is this PR or basketball? When it comes to winning new business, there are more hoops than ever before.

It starts with the RFP. Potential clients press for fast turnaround, measured in days, not weeks. At the same time, RFPs are now more complex, requiring information on data security and even requesting video introductions of the proposed account team. The competition is also more in-tense. Five years ago, we might have competed against three or four firms. Today, we routinely find ourselves pitching against nearly a dozen top agencies.

Typically, the initial pitch is followed by several more to executives throughout the organization. What was once one or two presentations can now be four or five, even if the client is in another state. You also can't rule out a request for spec work. Potential clients have become adamant about meeting the people who will be on their account. We've always done this, but it has been a change for some agencies. The days of pitching the account with senior management and then staffing it with more junior people are gone.

Then it's hurry up and wait for the decision. You've won the pitch and you're ready to sign the contract. Not so fast. There's no layup here. Clients have become more hesitant about retainers. They want a trial project or a commitment of just three to six months.

Potential clients are looking for that proactive, entrepreneurial edge in their agencies. We do our homework, thoroughly researching the prospective client's business and industry. More than a few clients have said they picked us because they thought a team with chemistry was a good predictor of slam-dunk success.

Things have picked up, but the competition hasn't slackened. While at times it can seem as if we're jumping through more and more hoops, what we're really doing is staying sharp, client-focused, and team-oriented. And what's more satisfying than standing out against some of the best firms in the business?


no

Howard Schacter, president, DiGennaro Communications

Previously led marcomms departments for Steve & Barry's and Live Nation

Having participated in my fair share of PR pitches as both a buyer and seller during my 25 years in the industry, I can attest to the fact that much has changed in the process. One need look no further than the pitch room to see the technologies utilized in today's new business presentations enable agencies to more effectively and emotionally communicate the programming they've created. 

What has not changed, however, is the vigilance with which smart and experienced clients approach the pitch process. Regardless of the state of the economy, the same deliverables they sought from a potential agency partner long before I entered the business are the same they demand today: programs built on solid strategy, creativity, and, above all, results.

The methods we as an industry use to address all three of these pillars have certainly evolved for the better. In talking recently to a number of agency management peers at firms both large and small, it's clear the creative process is embracing more science to go with the art many of us used to rely on almost exclusively for new business pitches. ("Brainstorm at 3pm, everyone.")

Measurement, too, has thankfully moved light years from the days when PR practitioners offered anticipated total impressions as a primary metric by which a program should be judged.

 All this progress is terrific, of course, contributing greatly to the new world order that has PR not only sitting at the table, but also often taking the lead in driving brand positioning and receiving due credit for "the big idea."

It would be a mistake, however, to confuse this progress with a notion that clients are more vigilant coming out of the recession. They have always been and will continue to keep us on our toes, demanding from the first handshake that we deliver just what we say we will - programming that moves the needle on their business and their brand. They just might demand it at half the price you're willing to charge.

Clients have always been thorough in the pitch process, but the recession created a need to be extra careful in tracking how money is spent and ensuring ROI - however, they must behave fairly to agencies and avoid "pitch abuse."

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