As a national public relations boutique agency, we are often pitted against larger PR firms in the marketplace when competing for a desirable client. This situation does not intimidate our team whatsoever; in fact, it gets everyone excited, because it forces us to bring nothing but our A game and show how our point of differentiation can be a welcome and refreshing approach for a brand seeking a PR partner. The following six steps offer advice on how small or boutique agencies can be more successful when pitching for new business against their formidable large-agency foes.
You must tell the prospect what you think about their brand regardless of how risky it may seem given that you have little access to the internal perspectives, politics, and understanding of the brand. The big agencies will come into any new business meeting prepared with data; therefore, don't miss the opportunity to show your insightful intelligence, as clients hire counselors who understand their business objectives and who are willing to take a stand on what they believe. They do not want yes men and women, and as such will love an agency that provides a contrarian point of view or challenges the status quo. That is a true partner!
There is a perception that big agencies take a very template approach to their new business programs. That really isn't the case, but smaller agencies do have much more latitude to develop programs that are anchored in strategy but offer a very rich creative approach that larger agencies sometimes struggle to deliver. Therefore, make sure your ideas are fresh, but never lose sight of them being executable--nobody wants a creative idea that can't be delivered.
Small agencies can win the intelligence game if they are willing to do their homework and truly understand the category in a meaningful way. There are tons of secondary research in the marketplace that can be leveraged in your proposal, communication, and strategic initiatives. In addition, you can always conduct some basic consumer or category research that shows you went above and beyond to understand their business. We have won many accounts this way.
One of our most successful strategies when pitching against bigger agencies is to bring mid-level account handlers to the new business pitches and ensure that they play an active role. This proves to the prospect that you (and they) are confident in their abilities; gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the brand, category, and competitive landscape; and, perhaps most important, gives the prospect a clear indication of who will be working on their brand. Clients recognize that a significant amount of work is being done by these individuals, so the more comfortable they are with the team that is going to service the business, the more likely you will win the account.
Always remember that people buy people, not agencies. Thus, you must work hard to develop rapport with the prospect so they feel connected to you, because, ultimately, people like to work with people they like. We will always go to LinkedIn and leverage other resources to learn about the people we are meeting with to get a better understanding of their business background and work history, where they went to school, what groups they are affiliated with, etc. This opens the door of opportunity to find common threads that can be brought out during a face-to-face meeting.
It is incredibly important for the prospect to know that you understand the challenges they are facing and that you are able to provide solutions that will drive their business forward. Therefore, use terminology that is reflective of this, and look to tie your marketing programs back into business growth goals and ROI.
Though there is no science to winning new business, by following these steps we believe you can improve your chances against larger agencies with greater resources. At the end of the day, while some brands only want to work with agency Goliaths, most are willing to consider the Davids of the world if they show equal passion for their brand and the creative smarts to move the needle.