Having just written “A Client’s Guide to Hiring PR & Communications Agencies,” we’ve turned the lens around to provide insights into getting hired in a PR Expanded world.
On our journeys we’ve hired agencies, fired agencies, been hired by companies as communications agencies and consultants, and been rejected. As providers of agency search services, we’ve consulted with companies and agencies on what it takes to get hired and the reasons agencies or consultants don’t get hired.
We’ve watched this show from a lot of angles.
In this article we’re not going to focus on marketing, but rather assume that you are actively in the running for a piece of business, are considering a response to an RFP, and/or have a meeting set up with a potential client.
Here are some keys to increasing the odds of getting hired in world in which companies are looking for a range of capabilities that go beyond public relations. Some or all of these may seem obvious, but in our experience, these truisms often get lost in the chase to win business, the rush to prepare presentations, the despondency of failure, and the hubris of success.
You Have to be In It to Win It
Don’t waste your or your potential client’s time with half-hearted proposals. With all the complaints out there about RFPs – from short deadlines, to low budgets, to fixing the process for an incumbent – if you commit to creating a proposal, go all in. If you aren’t confident that a fair playing field has been created for all competing agencies, you probably don’t want to pitch.
Do More Than Your Homework
A minimum amount of due diligence may demonstrate superficial knowledge of a client, but a deep dive and research will ensure that you can demonstrate a thorough understanding of both the company and industry. This isn’t something that can be faked. Clients who live their industry will see through half-baked ideas and answers.
Ensure Your Materials Match Your Story
Communicators are often better at telling other people’s stories than their own. We also may invest more in client projects than our own websites or marketing. You will be judged by your materials and content. If you say you build websites – make sure yours is world class. If you are pitching on the strength of your social media capabilities, expect the client to evaluate you on your feeds and followers.
If a client is looking for ideas, share them — because they illustrate how you think. But be careful! Because if they’re far-fetched, overly ambitious or demonstrate a lack of knowledge of the company or industry, they’ll just as easily highlight what you don’t know as much as what you do know. Holding back on ideas because you fear that clients might steal them is misplaced. In general, it’s not the ideas that are important – it’s the client’s confidence that you can execute them.
Your interactions with the prospective client say a lot about work styles and most important – that you will do what you say you will do. Communicate proactively if you need more time and provide reasons, not excuses. Being responsive also means making sure that you deliver within the time that is allocated and provide what is asked for.
In agency searches or RFPs, asking questions is critical. If there is a defined time and place for them, respect this. Clients will evaluate the questions you ask for what they say about you and your team’s knowledge of the company and industry. Smart questions will help you get hired.
Bring in the Team That Will Work on the Business
Don’t do a bait and switch. There’s nothing worse than bringing in the big guns and not the people who will work on the business. Clients see through this. They want access to senior people but also need to feel comfortable that they’re seeing people who will be day-to-day contacts.
In a highly competitive and increasingly specialized marketplace, clients are looking for agencies and consultants they can relate to, with the skillsets to do the best job for their business.
While it may be tempting to try to shoehorn your firm into a pitch that’s not a great fit, the chances of success are low. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s an approach, person and agency for every business. It’s not one size fits all.
Can you fake it until you make it? Maybe, but it won’t last. It’s important to have the discipline to pitch business for which you are qualified or qualify yourself for the business you pitch. The point is, there’s an opportunity to adjust, change approaches, hire people, train, learn, manage your business and how you communicate to fit the needs of clients.
You don’t need to be reminded that building a business is hard. Success is more likely to come when we banish egos and keep in mind the choices companies have in a competitive landscape. It will make it easier to do what it takes to ensure that your firm is positioned to win.
Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO, CommunicationsMatch™
Locke developed and launched CommunicationsMatch, an agency search and engagement platform with 5,000 listed firms and professionals in 12 countries, to help companies find and engage agencies, consultants and freelancers that match needs. A founder of communications agencies and startups, he previously headed communications functions at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank. Become an agency or individual member of CommunicationsMatch. Click here.
Steve Drake and Robert Udowitz founded RFP Associates in 2011 after observing the agency selection process from “both sides of the aisle” and recognizing the need to streamline and improve the way searches are made and agencies are selected from an honest, unbiased approach. Between them, over the course of their careers Robert and Steve have worked at agencies, corporations, and trade associations in New York, Washington, and, for Steve, in Beijing and Shanghai, where he opened Fleishman-Hillard’s first offices in Mainland China. In recent years they have also been sole practitioners for a variety of clients seeking media, crisis, and strategic communications counsel.