7 New Business Mistakes Agencies Make

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Earlier this week, I wrote about mistakes clients make during the new business process. Today, I want to take a look at mistakes agencies make — these are mistakes we try to avoid, but we’ve made them, too.

  1. Not answering direct questions. There are some questions that are difficult to answer, including the quantity of articles an agency might expect an announcement to generate or a question about budget levels. But too many agencies hem and haw when a client seeks a clear answer. Hemmimg and hawing makes it seem like you don’t know or won’t answer.
  2. Being too vague when it comes to program specifics. There’s a debate about how detailed agencies should get in their proposals. If you don’t provide enough detail, you may not provide the prospective client with enough information to ascertain whether or not you would be suitable to serve as their agency. Part of the debate is this: which is more important — the ideas or the execution of those ideas? As the head of an agency, I think both the creative and the execution are important, and work hard to excel at both.  At the proposal level we want to provide enough detail to prove our thoughtfulness and experience without handing a document to a prospective client that enables the organization to implement the program without us. (We’ve heard of cases were clients take the ideas generated through the RFP process and implemented those concepts themselves, without hiring a new agency.)  Getting that balance right is a challenge.
  3. Not developing reasonable metrics to measure and evaluate the client’s marketing investment. In fact, too often agencies don’t see a campaign as “an investment,” so they think in terms of generating coverage (via traditional PR) or generating followers (via social media) but fail to focus on the need to generate leads. I realize setting expectations and metrics for social media can be a challenge — especially because metrics for one company may not be appropriate for the next company. But because clients see PR and social media as part of their marketing investment, we need to do a better job of quantifying our proposals and campaigns so as to help determine the ROI for that investment.
  4. Pursuing clients that are not good fits, based on your experience. In a down economy, agencies are more motivated to pursue any new business. But there are clients — while worthy organizations — may not be a good fit for you. It’s not worth pursuing that kind of new business, if only because those assignments may not be a good fit for the agency, its culture and its other clients.On the other hand, I’m not saying agencies must limit their new business only to the sort of clients and industries with which they’ve worked previously. It’s hard to expand if you don’t push the boundaries. But agencies and clients should be cautious.
  5. Not delivering what the client wants or focusing the proposal only to the needs of the day-to-day contact and not the marketing chief. We did that once — provided a good program that addressed what the potential day-to-day client told us she wanted but ignored what her boss wanted.  She had told us she was the key decision maker, but that turned out not the the case. Meanwhile, too many agencies seek to solve the prospective client’s marketing challenge from the agencies’ perspective and not take into consideration the client, the client’s culture, resources and needs.  The client is looking for a partner, an agency it can work with. By not addressing the client’s needs upfront, the agency shows that it doesn’t really care. (It’s a big tip-off if the client’s name is misspelled or if another client’s name is listed in the body that the proposal didn’t get a lot of thought or interest from the prospective agency.)
  6. Not showing any interest or enthusiasm for the client, its business and sector.  I’m always surprised when clients tell us that their current agency no longer seems interested in the business, and yet we hear that about other agencies. If agency personnel don’t seem excited, it will be difficult for them to generate excitement among reporters, bloggers, etc. 
  7. Playing bait-and-switch by bringing only senior people to the pitch meeting and then asigning only junior staff to the account.  This has been going on a long time. Some clients we now work with have specifically told us they liked that our account teams all have substantial experience, and that the people who pitch the account actually work on the account. For us, that makes sense for how we run the agency and our mindset about our corporate culture. 

We don’t mind if other agencies make this last mistake, actually. Or any of the other mistakes we’ve highlighted above. We continue to look for ways to improve what we do. And since we wrote about the mistakes prospective clients make — based on a Forbes.com blog post — we thought it only fair to point out mistakes agencies make.

Let us know if there’s an agency new business mistake you’ve seen that I have not captured above.

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