Things we wish we could tell new business prospects

If you've spent any time as a senior leader in a PR agency, you'll recognize the prospect I'm talking about.

If you've spent any time as a senior leader in a PR agency, you'll recognize the prospect I'm talking about.

The business was a great fit for your agency's experience. The chemistry was right, the team was fired up, and the ideas just flowed. And then … You lost. By a hair. Over creative on an assignment created solely for the RFP that isn't truly connected to the prospect's business needs, or a budget that “wasn't what we were thinking."

It may sound like sour grapes, but every PR practitioner has been through it. As PR continues to play an even more influential role in the integrated marketing mix, I'd like to humbly suggest four tips that would make the selection process a win-win for both sides:

1. Frustration with an agency's inability to work within its budget is an oft-cited complaint by companies looking for a new firm. To see what an agency can realistically do within a budget, don't make it a mystery, only to be revealed once the agency has shown its cards.

2. While a flashy multimedia show is fun to watch during the pitch, it doesn't demonstrate how a team builds relationships with the media and customers. A work session to talk about a pressing problem will provide more insight into how the team thinks and works together.

3. It's the rare RFP that doesn't include a question about measurement. To get true insight into how the agency will help a company meet its goals, why not provide the agency with current benchmarks, solid business objectives, and an idea about what kind of information will be made available to them – sales numbers, website visits, sign-ups, calls to an 800-number. The answer – and the company's approach – will provide real insight into what a client will end up presenting to the CEO six months down the line.

4. While a spot-on idea can be an indicator that the agency is the right one, a client shouldn't be blinded by a single idea. If something seems a bit "off," evaluate why. Would it be a non-issue if the team had been able to collaborate? Would you look forward to working with them, and do you believe that you would both do better work if you worked together? That should be the basis of your decision.
Anne Colaiacovo is partner and GM of the New York office of Allison & Partners.

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