New-Business Best Practices

As one can imagine, today’s media landscape mandates digital media practitioners assume a leading role when developing most clients’ business solutions. For this reason, it’s important to raise a few issues I’ve noticed in new-business pitches.

Intellectual Property Theft

It’s been said there’s no such thing as an original idea. That suggests someone, somewhere, probably already came up with your “original idea.” Though there are instances where this is true (an old concept recycled with a new spin or twist, for example), it’s not valid as a sweeping generalization. The media landscape is changing at such a rapid rate, new platforms and opportunities present themselves all the time. Brand-new ways of tackling client problems are developed each day. It’s one of the things that makes this industry so exciting.

All that said, the practice of clients taking concepts presented in a pitch and using them, regardless of which agency wins the business, has prompted plenty of discussion. Those of you on various industry discussion groups are already very familiar with the topic. The net result boils down to the fact agencies really can’t do much about this very unfortunate practice. It’s a price one pays for new business.

All we can really do is strongly encourage potential clients to respect the intellectual property agencies develop for a pitch. After all, if ideas developed by a (losing) agency were so outstanding, that agency probably should have been awarded the business in the first place!

Overpromise, Underdeliver

In a pitch situation, there’s typically an incumbent and other competing agencies. One might think being an incumbent has its advantages (knowing the client’s business, key players, what has or hasn’t worked in the past). In reality, it’s typically a weak position.

Foremost, if a client were truly happy with the level of service you provided, chances are they wouldn’t have called for a pitch. Additionally, an incumbent agency can be put into a position where a client may react to new thinking with, “Well, if that was such a good idea, why haven’t you been doing that all along?”

Enter a competitive agency, promising the prospective client they can deliver better thinking with guaranteed business results at a fraction of the cost. It’s a pretty seductive offer. Clients often take the bait.

Pitch decisions and agency wins get front-page treatment in the trade press. What the trades don’t cover is what happens 6 or 12 months after the win. They don’t report on how the winning agency promised the stars and the moon, only to discover either they couldn’t deliver or they could — but the “highly efficient” strategy actually harms the client’s business.

Is it foolhardy to propose some type of sanction should be imposed in such situations by an industry body, such as the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4 As), for serious infractions? If that’s not feasible, perhaps an industry association could develop standards and best practices for the marketing community.

The Bait and Switch

Clients are wise to the age-old practice of agencies trotting out the A-team for new pitches, then staffing the resulting business with other personnel. Smart clients demand the majority of the people they meet during the pitch process be the same as those who will work on their business, should it be awarded to the agency. From an agency perspective, this can be very difficult to do (unless it retains unassigned agency resources on the books). Yet it’s a best practice and should be treated seriously.

At least be open and honest with a prospective client. Let them know the real deal before you sell them the Ferrari and deliver a Hyundai.

Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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