New business is the lifeblood of agencies. New clients or organic growth from existing clients both contribute to increasing revenue, providing new opportunities for staff, expanding expertise and building reputations. The competitive environment has become fierce due to a trifecta of changes in the past few years. There are more and varied types of agencies competing for project-based assignments in favor of AORs (so you’re pitching more frequently), coupled with the trend of more work going in-house. Oh, and now we’re in the midst of a pandemic that has injected a lot of uncertainty into the game. Agencies need to reconsider how we compete.
Recently, I joined the Spool team in a pitch for a new client. This global company has a compelling story to tell about its sustainability initiatives in a category often demonized for wrecking the environment. We had just under three weeks to submit our response for this high-stakes opportunity and needed to make some quick decisions. Every agency has its protocols and “best practices” to participate in the RFP process. And while I have the battle scars from 20 years of this work, I gained a fresh perspective from my experience with Spool. Here are my three takeaways:
Ruthlessly assess capabilities and expertise. Too often agencies do not practice what they preach and often rationalize every new business opportunity as “WE GOT THIS!” We took a critical eye to the ask, our collective experience and viability to compete. There was only one area where our experience did not directly address the ask, but the pros far outweighed this con.
Immerse a seasoned team in the proposal. What a gift to work with a team of seasoned pros where everyone could unburden ourselves from agency or client business. We lived and breathed this assignment and as a result, each of us intimately knew every aspect of the program. Any one of us could have passionately and persuasively presented the entire program.
Use an iterative process to develop the program. For me, this initially felt messy. I was “raised” in agencies with structure and clear roles that’s closely project managed. I had to quickly get out of my comfort zone and trust a new way. And I loved it because we were all immersed in an intensively collaborated process—no egos, no excuses, no chasing, only enthusiasm. In two weeks, we developed an integrated program, including media buy and spec creative, with a sense of momentum and accomplishment every day. Often, it can feel like you’re behind and running out of time and the work largely falls to a couple of people working around the clock.
We didn’t win, in case you’re wondering. So why I am spotlighting this experience? Because the experience reinvigorated my perspective by trying something new that produced great work. You don’t win them all and everything takes practice, but we’ll get the next one. And I can’t wait to try.