The Prospect's Responsibility

Agencies expend so much time and effort considering how to improve their service.  That is fitting: we are in a service industry.  From the gentility of our demeanor, to the creativity and effectiveness of our services, to "flowers in the lobby" — the details count.  These characteristics are especially critical during a new-business pitch, during which we are on our best behavior.

But what are the attributes of a good prospective client?  What is their role during the proposal process?  This is rarely discussed.  As the economy improves, it’s a worthwhile question.  During those rare moments in history when agencies have their pick of good assignments, the prospect might want to consider how they can relay the impression that "this could be a great partnership."  Here are a few tips…

  • Be considerate of the Agency’s effort. Even if the agency is flush with business, only a very sloppy firm would approach a new prospect with a half-assed presentation.  Since it is fair for the prospect to expect the agency’s best work, it is fair for the agency reps to expect the prospective client to listen carefully — to wait patiently for the story to unfold, vs. flip ahead in the slide-deck.  When someone has put untold hours into a PowerPoint deck, it is discouraging to watch someone idly rifle through it.  It is similarly soul-crushing for the prospect to stride into the room declaring blithely that the hour-long appointment has been unapologetically cut to 30 minutes. 
  • Be respectful of the Agency’s business. Don’t ask an agency to the table until and unless you have predetermined that they are respected and credentialed enough to win your business on the merits of their presentation.  Challenge their ideas, sure, but not their business model, integrity or industry.  
  • Be mindful of the Agency’s pecking order.  Most agency principals don’t care to negotiate a deal in front of an extended account team.  It’s de-motivating for the hard-charging account reps to come off the high of a well-executed presentation, only to be rewarded by listening to their boss and prospective client contacts fuss over the nickels-and-dimes.  If you loved the Agency’s presentation, feel free to ask basic questions about fee structure, but, leave the deal-making to a follow-up phone call.
  • Smile.  It won’t kill ya.  Maybe you were burned before, but that’s no reason to be antagonistic or unduly wary with a new firm.  You’re hiring a PR agency to be your company’s standard-bearer.  It is an important job.  You want your account team to like you.  Trust me, it helps.  You’ll get better results.

Proud papa Morgan McLintic at LEWIS had a fantastic top-10 list about common mistakes companies make when selecting a PR firm.  If you found this post helpful or interesting, Morgan’s post from April is worth a second look.

Posted on: October 24, 2006 at 9:29 am By Todd Defren
One Response to “The Prospect's Responsibility”


  • Todd – excellent advice. A good way to think of this is like recruitment. In a downturn, candidates need to sell to the recruiter. Then the recruiter’s job is one of qualification.

    In a boom, when there is heavy demand for staff, the recruiter becomes a sales person to sell the firm to the candidate.

    Same with PR firms. After all you are buying talent.

    If you take the wrong approach, you won’t hire the best staff, nor the best agency.

    Regardless of that, most of these points are common professional courtesy. And that stands regardless of the economic cycle. You might hire the team’s mind, but if you follow these, they’ll throw in their hearts too.

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