Let’s Make Rain: Seven Secrets Pitching and Landing New Clients in the Post-Recession Economy
By Christine Deussen, President, Deussen Global Communications, Inc.
Many communications, marketing and related agencies lost clients during the recession, particularly in 2009 and 2010 when fiscal realities set in. When clients faced sudden budget shortfalls, cutting agency fees was a quick way to make up the deficit. In addition, the benefits of a good agency’s work usually last for 6-12 months after they are terminated, so at first a client or brand will not as acutely feel the pain of decreased awareness in social, print, on-line, other media, or decreased advertising share-of-voice.
However, once those 12 months pass – and while competitors have either maintained or even increased their communications investments – clients and brands will begin to acutely see the need for proactive communications once again.
Many agencies took advantage of the downturn: Work-life balance, with the fresh and wider perspectives it offers, was restored. More relaxed minds and lower workloads allowed agency decision-makers additional time with which to focus on their own businesses, rather than exclusively on their clients’ needs. There was time to review what leads to greatest profit and success for the agency, allowing for better decision making, and clearer differentiation, moving forward. Some agencies re-positioned themselves, or set new business objectives and strategies. Some used the time to add new tactics to their arsenals. Others took a hard look at pricing and measurements for success. Others actually marketed themselves for a change! If your agency suffered, or is still suffering, a small downturn, take advantage of the extra time to attack any of these, or other lingering, projects.
That being said, there is very little difference in how to win business, old economy or new. Budgets may be smaller, ROI may be more closely scrutinized, the pitch process may be longer . . . but the steps to success are the same:
- Never Stop Networking: Networking is not an on-again, off-again proposition, and certainly not one to only pick up in times of need; instead, it is one of many endeavors that must be maintained every day for optimal effect. Additionally, networking is not asking for help; networking is giving help. If you read an article someone could use, send it to them. If you can connect two people who may be able to help each other, do so.
- State Your Interests: If you would like to work for or with a certain person, company, or brand, let them know! They may feel they are too small for you, or too downscale, or outside your realm of experience. Let them know that you are interested, qualified, smart, dedicated, and would do a great job for them. It is fine to say this directly.
- Give Some Freebies: If you would eventually like to do a company’s PR, send them every relevant PR opportunity that comes across your desk. They will begin to see what they are missing out on by not working with you, as well as be impressed by your desire to work with them.
- Write Great Plans: If you faithfully adhere to steps 1-3, you will likely be invited to write a plan as soon as the opportunity arises. Solid plans take a great deal of time, thought, research, creativity, and attention to detail. They are risky, because you will be investing time, as well as maybe money, for not only no guaranteed return, but the chance that someone may steal your ideas. However, if you want the business, this is part of the process. Embrace it, and write the best plan possible. This in turn will allow you to do the best pitch possible: You will be confident in and proud of and your work, and also have the peace of mind of knowing that if you do not win, you will have given your best effort, which is all that can be expected. In addition, if you do not win, having presented a great plan is a great marketing tool: Potential clients will remember you and likely give you a chance at another project or brand.
- Be Creative and Flexible: It is rare that a first plan is accepted wholesale. If you are so fortunate as to be the agency selected, know that weeks – if not months – of negotiations are likely to follow, concerning both programming and budgets. Be smart in building budgets, knowing that everyone wants a discount. But, also be realistic: Your agency cannot provide best-in-class work without providing proper salaries and having adequate activation budgets. If an initial budget was never given, which is far too often the case, you may have to start from scratch to build a program that fits the brand’s now-stated parameters. If parts must be trimmed, remember that marketing is building, and insist that basics be attended to first. Be creative; be flexible; be patient; know your limits; and get there, remembering that a workable solution is what both you and your client want.
- Deliver, Discuss, and Thank: Once you get the job, give 110% of your effort, if not more. In business, there is nothing better than a happy client, and nothing worse than an unhappy one. Be honest and communicative; admit your difficulties and display your successes; make your client look good. A client will sense if you are on their side and doing everything you can to make them succeed. If that is the case, they will work with you during the inevitable dry spells or bad luck that will crop up – but also remember to be grateful for that. Thank them for their business. Remember that you are earning it every day.
- Enjoy! Life is short, and in our industry, it seems at least half of it is spent working. Find joy and meaning in your work. Make it fun. Develop new skills. Enjoy those business trips and dinners; develop true friendships with your clients. Be proud of your successes. And succeed!
# # #
Christine Deussen founded Deussen Global Communications, Inc. in 2002. A Michigan native, and graduate of Columbia University’s Barnard College, Christine is fluent in French, and conversant in Italian and Spanish. She is frequent speaker and is published several times a year, and is proud that her agency was noted in both The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times in the last 12 months. Christine lives in Manhattan and loves spending time with friends and family; cooking and eating; travelling; and playing with her greyhound.