New business, round two: More tips for winning presentations

Second rounds have a strange dynamic: agencies must be compelling and creative enough to beat the other firms, but fit in well enough to be an extension of the client organization.

Last month’s column focused on a dozen tips for PR agencies pitching for new business with a particular emphasis on the first round of client meetings and presentations. Now let’s look at round two: usually the final step by clients in the agency-selection process.

I had the opportunity to participate in such a review recently, and this experience, combined with a few others on the client side of the table and probably hundreds others from the agency side, informs these observations and recommendations.

The second round usually requires agencies to introduce the team the firm proposes to service the client business. In and of itself, that’s not problematic, but here’s one challenge: the best account people are not necessarily the best presenters.

What’s the solution? There’s no easy answer, but one good rule to follow is to allow people to play to their strengths. While I do believe everyone in the room should be a presentation participant—otherwise, why show up?—that doesn’t mean everyone actually "presents." Maybe a digital analyst provides commentary from his or her seat about the way in which the work is done, but the process doesn’t require that person to stand up and "present" five slides. You get the idea.

I once had to tell a client who asked for one presenter to not be on the account team to give that person a chance. I told the client that within three months this person would be seen as the most valuable member on the team. He just wasn’t a great presenter. The client agreed and sure enough he was regarded a star.

Second rounds also create a strange dynamic: agencies must be compelling and creative enough to beat the other firms, yet not too far "out there" because the winning firm becomes, in effect, an extension of the client organization.

Indeed, this slight tension plays out in many ways. Agencies need to be…

Breakthrough, but solid…
Clients want to be inspired. They rarely if ever look just for the fundamentals. They view the search opportunity as a chance to push their own boundaries. Yet they also know what is reality for their own organizations and ultimately must make a selection that offers compatibility and a high likelihood of success. What’s an agency to do? Again, no easy answer. But one thing for sure is to demonstrate how breakthrough thinking can be leveraged against the core businesses so that "breakthrough" is interpreted as impactful and not pie in the sky.

Strategic, but creative…
Most clients want to see if the agency thinks like a business and is oriented to measurable impact, driving business performance, and creating real value. Much of that seems very left brain. However, they also want to be inspired and somewhat taken out of their comfort zone. They want to see great creative and believe that such inspired thinking can break through the clutter. Agency teams must constantly show that link.

Have big thinkers but also be reliable…
This is a variation of the above point. Clients want the best an agency has to offer, and often that includes specialists who aren’t "married" to any one or two clients. Those people—often senior counselors with specializations—can be very effective but agencies are well-served explaining how the core team will engage those specialists for the account. Left as just a promise, clients tend to minimize the potential value.

Show great senior capabilities but show the day-to-day team…
Here’s the presentation trick: some of those senior people can add perceived value to the team and to the agency. But the core team must be really solid; nothing compensates for that. Make sure the core team knows the space, knows the client, and instills confidence as an extension of the client’s organization. If accomplished, those other people are value-add. If it’s not accomplished, those other people are irrelevant.

One other observation:
Many firms present in partnership with a sister agency or a specialized boutique within their holding company. This has some advantages but it also can create some confusion. Who is responsible for what? Is it a single, integrated team? And so on. Bottom line: the team must be a team. Clients can sense the chemistry and camaraderie quickly. Make it easy for the client to buy; that means clarity of purchase.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at

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