Canadian Interview: Julie Rusciolleli

Julie Rusciolleli, president of Maverick Public Relations, talks to PRWeek about the pitch process

It's not the kind of call agency presidents like to receive from a potential client: “Thanks for pitching, but we went with another agency.”  The news can be particularly devastating if you believed you knocked the pitch out of the park. In those cases, Julie Rusciolleli, president of Maverick Public Relations, says agency executives should demand answers—which is exactly what she did after Virgin Mobile Canada opted to go with another firm following a competitive pitch a couple of years ago. As Rusciolleli tells PRWeek, her subsequent conversation with Virgin Mobile Canada's chief marketing officer Nathan Rosenberg helped her refine Maverick's pitch process for the better.
On your blog, you revealed that a secretary at Virgin Mobile Canada called to tell you that another agency had won the account. You could have left it alone, but instead called up Virgin's CMO for an explanation.
If you've lost something that you thought was yours, you should absolutely follow up. You might not want to make that call for a couple of days, and it is certainly not an easy call to make. Criticism is hard to hear because even though the client says don't take it personally, you do. But you really want to make sure you don't get placated answers, like ‘We liked you, but we felt the other agency had a better presentation'. That is no good because it won't help you reshape or relearn something. Pinpoint the prospect down by asking, ‘Was it the creative? Were we on strategy? Did we fail on measurement?' Just probe—I keep a list of questions with me, and if I can get through at least the first three of them, I am happy.  And I've found clients are actually pretty good about telling you the real reasons for their decision.

What did Nathan Rosenberg at Virgin Mobile Canada tell you over that hour-long meeting?
We met at a Starbucks, and I had my notebook with me. It turned out that we had made a wrong assumption at the beginning of the pitch. And when you make a wrong assumption, the rest of the plan goes off. Although parts of our presentation were bang on, it was only part of what we needed to do. It's like attending a formal with a gown on, but you're wearing sneakers. So parts of it look great, but the foundation is wrong—that is essentially what happened to us. I now test my big assumptions before I present them. You can't always do that, but I tend to call a prospect, and say, ‘Look, this is what we're thinking and how we are going to position our creative, does this make sense?' With Virgin, we made too many assumptions about the brand. That was the big reveal.

What else did you learn from that experience?
From my own introspective look at the Virgin Mobile pitch, I don't think I pitched with my A-team. That was one of my biggest learnings, too—you always pitch with your A-team, no matter what. And you know who those people are.  

How are you tinkering with your pitch process now?
Clients are very nervous about every dollar they spend, so you need to show how quickly you can create traction in the marketplace. I would no longer wait until the end of a presentation to show results. I would show results throughout a presentation—show in the first 30 days, here's what you're going to get. Since clients are nervous, the last thing you want is a reduction in your fee, so show results early in the pitch.

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