Are the Dogs and Ponies Dead?

It seems like we agency folk spend all our time making pitches these days. Whether we’re upselling services to existing clients or trying to win new clients, the pitch process is taking up huge chunks of senior management’s time. Are there any new clients out there after all?

The slice of the opportunity pie is growing smaller and smaller. A colleague recently told me a shocking story. Apparently, a blurb printed in a regional advertising magazine mentioned that a company with a tiny budget was looking for an ad agency. According to the advertising manager at this company, approximately 250 agencies inquired about a request for proposal (RFP). Out of the 250, 70 companies submitted.

Reading the RFP also gave me a mild shock. This prospective client wanted more than the agency mission statement, philosophy, methodologies, client roster, case examples, client references, and description of services. The company gave an assignment and wanted work — lots of work — for free. Not only was the number of inquiries staggering, the fact that 70 companies went through this grueling and expensive process really sheds light on the present environment.

Gone are the days of the prototypical dog-and-pony show. Welcome to the dawn of practical application. Most clients’ budgets have been cut or trimmed; they want more work for less money. And guess what, kids. If you don’t cut your rate, someone else will (with a smile on her face).

I was telling this story to a friend of mine who is a regional account manager at an ad network. He was equally shocked, but things have changed dramatically on his side, too. It amazed me how many calls and meetings he’s currently accountable for. He’s a local guy in the greater Boston area, and he’s gathered a wealth of great contacts — most of whom have been laid off over the past year or two. (We breathe a sigh of relief after one of us discovers a long-lost pal who’s still in the business.)

One thing hasn’t changed, though. My friend is always happy to respond to an RFP. In our conversation, I told him we rarely even use RFPs any more. Everything seems to have a sense of urgency nowadays. Quite often, we don’t even have the time to draft an RFP and send it out — not to mention waiting for it to come back, reviewing it, and inserting appropriate materials into our overall “deck.” It’s all about relationships. If a salesperson (like my friend) knows an agency and its people, it’s quite easy to involve him on a moment’s notice. So my pal gave me a great idea. He said, “Feel free to share your current challenges and goals with us. Let us know how you’ll eventually be pitching the information and when. We’ll work within your template and help you out.”

Here are some tidbits for buyers and sellers operating day-to-day in interactive media:

  • Most sales folks’ jaws drop when they see what agencies are stacked up against.
  • Good salespeople know that a media director has a heck of a lot more work to do with a proposal after it comes in.
  • In most instances, time is everyone’s enemy.
  • It is quite common for an agency to have a mere week or two to prepare before a major pitch or presentation.
  • Agency folk have thrown away the typical dog-and-pony show.
  • Sales folk and publishers should throw theirs away, too.
  • Our competitors will most likely be asking for information that’s similar to what we’re requesting.
  • Keep confidentiality at the top of your list of morals.
  • If an agency wins new business, call/email to congratulate and give your contact information only — don’t poke and prod and demand meetings or answers.
  • If you have a solid relationship with an agency, the media folk will keep you in the loop as soon as they’ve been given an assignment.
  • Keep in touch; it’s nice and it works.

Well, with that said, I’m off to hoop-jump yet again. Wish me luck.

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