March 6, 2012

RFPs: The Right Way

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations,New Business — Joe Grant @ 2:59 pm

An RFP comes your way and the prospect is right up your alley. You decide it’s Full Speed Ahead!

Here’s the first thing to remember about answering RFPs: it’s nothing more than a stand-in for you. It’s a salesman. And so it needs to be likable, concise, and focused entirely on prospect need. Just like you if you were in the room when they read it.

Appoint a battle captain – Each RFP requires a heavyweight, one of your best, with the clout to marshal the company resources so it gets done with the least amount of tears and sweat. Don’t give it to someone with time on his hands and don’t anoint a neophyte either; there’s too much at stake.

1st Draft – Have a professional writer write it, someone who despises subjunctive clauses and passive voice. Do not dole out sections to multiple authors or else it will read like a committee’s fractured report. Edit ruthlessly. Be concise. Leave out all that just-in-case fluff which can make it look like you’re throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. This is an ad for your agency – write it like one!

Focus on 1 takeaway – Like any good ad there should be a singular mental leave-behind, an inescapable shimmering message pointed directly at THEM. Even though they want the goods on you, think about it: it’s not about you, it’s really about them, right?

Which means you have to use plenty of these phrases: This is relevant to (prospect) because… This benefits you several ways… Our experience here applies directly to (prospect’s) needs because… Tie any horn-tooting to their unexpressed but ever present “what’s-this-mean-for-us” concerns.

Cautions on case histories – Fuse each to their needs — never parade a case history without tightly lacing it to their problems and opportunities. Think of it this way: your case histories have to be in effect about them. Two, maybe three are all you need or else it gets confusing. Too many or too long and your best success stories appear merely self-aggrandizing.

Art direct it – Put an art director to work making your RFP response fun and accessible. Tell a story, use cartoons, make it a joy to read. But keep in mind this is your sales guy in loco agentis so don’t go over the top or it will have the same effect as wearing a loud plaid sport coat.

Bio-prudence – Be careful about showcasing every last person in the agency. Instead, customize each bio with something like, Susie Smith will be [prospect]’s primary day-to-day contact. She’s known for…and her experience [describe] applies directly to your marketing needs becauseThe idea is to make them WANT Susie working on their business, and of course the same goes for others on your list. Throwing in too many resumes can look like you’re padding… and expensive.

Show some ankle – Imagine their surprise when buried in all those somniferous RFPs they’re plowing through, yours gives them just a little tease, a lagniappe, by showing one or two snippets of creative with their logo or product. Now you’ve got their attention and if you do it right they’ll want to see more. Bada-bing! I’m not suggesting creating full-blown campaigns, but use their name and I.D. when you can. It’s flattering.

Be memorable – Nothing’s more disappointing when we do “lost prospect” interviews (see below) than learning that the client, who chose someone else, doesn’t even remember your proposal. It means you made no impression whatsoever! Well of course they didn’t choose you — if it wasn’t crafted to be memorable, how could you possibly create arresting materials for them? Be not afraid to risk a little – you can’t lose what you don’t have.

Table appeal – Client committees often begin their decision-making meeting by laying out all the RFP proposals side by side on a conference room table. Make sure yours stands out and is immediately recognizable. Don’t be like the agency — I’m not making this up — that not only failed to have it’s name on the proposal cover, it wasn’t anywhere inside either!

Keep these suggestions in mind and let us know if your batting average improves.

Our sales pitch – We interview “lost prospects,” i.e. the ones you didn’t get, to find out why you’re not winning your share of new business. Because we’re an outside source, clients tend to give us direct answers which we use to provide you with straight-shooting recommendations on how to stop striking out. For details, call Joe Grant at 239.537.6133 direct to find out more. It’s a small investment which can pay off big.

SubscribeSubscribe using an RSS feed reader 


January 10, 2011

8 Ways to Fortify Your Accounts

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations,New Business,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 6:00 pm


Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.

oddanimals160 1. Internal account reviews – unless you commit to a measurable process for ongoing improvement, account teams will default to nothing more than enclaves of apathy. Account by account, herd everyone who works on the business into a room and walk through financial performance, market dynamics, client internal politics, growth opportunities, and agency soft spots, (see How Quarterly Reviews Make a Difference). Craft a 90-day action plan then do it all over again 3 months later. Accounts left unmanaged – “un-led” describes it better – eventually disappear.

2. What’s the plan? – seat-of-the-pants clients who hurl last minute projects at you which they’ve known about for months need to be roped into a plan before everybody goes nuts. Your mission: hold an annual planning retreat with every major client (or maybe do it every 6 months). Go offsite and spend a day planning TOGETHER what you’ll do and how you’ll work for the rest of the year. By the way, you pick up the tab – it’s the cheapest way we know to keep an account for at least another year.

3. Capabilities presentations – a lot has changed since this time last year – the client’s people and yours, market dynamics, competition, your competencies. Host a meeting to get your client current on your new capabilities – talented new staffers, new services and departments, enhanced capacity – and you’ll reinforce their decision to hire (and keep) you. Remember, it’s entirely possible that at this very moment your competitors are prepping a similar song-and-dance to woo your very clients to greener grass. The first rule of client retention is Never, ever take an account for granted.

4. Know your clients better – Plan now to attend some trade shows, visit outlying factories or stores in other markets, or put people through a client’s instruction program (“Put ’em behind the grill,” we used to say in the fast food business). Do it on your nickel; it will be a statement. Clients don’t expect you to know everything about their business, but they want you to know more.

5. Reset the bar – Proactivity is at least 50% of keeping a client. Challenge the account and creative folks to generate one big spanking fresh idea for each client every quarter. All that high priced talent you’re warehousing ought to be able to come up with four sparkling ideas a year the client wasn’t anticipating. I’m talking big stuff here. It’s what they expect – unsolicited solutions and opportunities.

6. Fix the inside stuff – straighten out the sloppy or ineffective things in your own house that hinder your ability to deliver timely and flawless execution. If a recalcitrant internal department is road-blocking or you’re burdened with balky infrastructure, fix it. Because should the gods smile and you land all that projected new business, those internal snafus will really gum up the works when your agency machine gets larger.

7. Switch creative teams – people get stale working on the same stuff. Stir things up by assigning creative Team A to do a project for Team B’s clients. Sure, they won’t know all the peculiar little never-dos, but that’s exactly what you want – fresh thinking. You’ll reinvigorate the creative gang, give the account people practice in delivering lucid strategic briefs to an unfamiliar audience, and generate something fresh for your clients.

8. Revisit promises – when you pitched your brains out getting Client X, you made commitments and promises, written and unwritten. Ah, romance! But like any romance, promises uttered in the heat of the moment often fade. Dig out and revisit the presentation. Recommit to deliver the things you said you’d do – sort of like renewing marriage vows. Promises left unfulfilled undermine trust.

Now get out there and try some of these. They work, guys.


Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.

April 5, 2010

How to Keep Accounts Fresh

Filed under: Career Advice,Client/Agency Relations,New Business,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 1:53 pm


Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.

ImagePretty exciting when you begin to pursue a new client, isn’t it. The thrill of the chase! You lie awake rhapsodizing about how great it will be, you woo them with dinners and surprises, no effort is too much to show your commitment. Ah, romance!

But as in any romance, things can easily get boring. The agency morphs into “account waiters” dozing by the phone for the client to call in an order. This year’s media plan is a duplicate of last year’s; the creative is tired. Your best people somehow migrate to the more exciting businesses which only compounds the problem. What happened to all those stimulating initial meetings? Not to mention the promises made in the pitch.

It’s not unusual. Every account of every size at every agency goes through similar troughs. But smart agencies do all they can to rejuvenate waning accounts. Such as:

Capabilities Presentations – A lot has probably changed since you started working together. So at least once a year invite the client over to remind them of your abilities and competence. Include a summary of the work you’ve done and critique it. Perhaps you have new people, or they do, or new services to offer. Ask the client for a little song and dance about themselves, too – including market trends, new products in the pipeline, and organizational changes. Just getting ready for this meeting will be energizing and everyone will be pumped in the afterglow.

Freshening Exercises – Get some different points of view by asking staffers who don’t work on the account to review it. Have them each write a 1-page suggestion plan to improve things. Or hold a brainstorm session, again with people not normally assigned to the business, to solve problems and look for opportunities. Ours is a creative business and good ideas about a client’s business aren’t just the province of the daily team. Open it up so you generate contributions from everyone.

Switch Teams – Why not? Nowhere is it written that you can’t occasionally change personnel on an account, though you’ve got to make sure there’s continuity and the client doesn’t feel like s/he’s starting from scratch. Big agencies do this all the time to keep things fresh. After all, for the client it’s like getting a new agency without the added aggravation and cost. And you get to keep the client.

Sound Retreat – Go offsite with your client and refocus on the important things. Maybe you host a strategic planning session for the coming year or just take time away from the office to take stock; you can make this part of your review protocol. Craft a collaborative mission statement for you and the client, tackle issues there never seems to be time for during the daily crunch, and perhaps make time to just relax and bond – an occasion to have fun again. And that’s why you got into this business in the first place, right? To have fun, damnit.

Put your head to it and you’ll think of lots of way to bring the romance back to your accounts. Do the unexpected, the little things, the pleasant surprises (good ones, of course).

In our work helping agencies reach their potential, time and again the same handful of issues holds agencies back from what they might become, or worse, sinks them all together.

Here’s a powerful question to ask: What would you want if you were the client?


Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.

March 1, 2010

Run for the Roses

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations,New Business — Joe Grant @ 12:34 pm


Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email

Suppose you were in the nursery business. You’d want to produce flat after flat of pretty, healthy plants all about the same size and color. You’d water them the same, fertilize them evenly, and make sure they got consistent sunlight. Your uniform approach would yield predictable and we’ll assume profitable results.

Now let’s imagine you’re in the race horse business. You’d buy and breed only a few horses with outstanding potential, hoping to find that exceptional one that would be a big winner. If you were lucky enough to develop an extraordinary animal you’d pour your resources into it. You’d hire top notch trainers, sign up a world-class jockey, provide the very best veterinary care and so on. You’d invest and re-invest in your highly talented find so it would yield outstanding returns.

We try to make clients fit into systems and procedures convenient for us. We make them adjust to our estimating and invoicing systems and balk when they request more information or want it in a different form. We expect clients to meet our scheduling priorities…and our creative idiosyncrasies.

Leo (of the agency bearing that name) understood the racehorse idea. There was a time when Burnett strategically chose to house no more than 11 great accounts, each handled befitting the unique bloodline they represented.

During those years they never tried to put the same saddle on different steeds.

We can learn from this, even in small agencies. Critical to your success is engaging people ideally suited to sensing the nuances of individual client needs, functioning like an intuitive equine trainer. With the right kind of handling accounts will grow strong at your agency generating dependable and expanding profits year after year. Managing each like the one-of-a-kind entity it is will yield much better results than sprinkling handfuls of Rapid-Gro across your roster.

Are you willing to let your account folks run the business…and not allow operations-types to ride roughshod over them?

Accounting, traffic, and others with a proclivity for homogeneity need to understand that making a god of uniformity could well prevent the agency from making a run for the roses.

So are you like the gardener managing for normalcy, carefully applying identical amounts of water and fertilizer to each row of flowers for uniform results? Or like the horse whisperer – intuiting subtleties to seamlessly deliver both what your individual client wants and simultaneously giving them what they need.

You gotta decide what kind of business you’re in.


Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email

November 21, 2009

Social Media ROI



Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.


We hear it from agency principals all over the country: “What do we do about social media? And how the hell do we measure it?” The answer is, in a way, simple. First, you’ve got to jump in the water and play around. Doesn’t matter where. Doesn’t matter how deep the water is. Just don’t wait for things to settle down or become clear. Get in, get a feel for it. You’ll soon see the needle move.

Here. Sit back for the next 4 fast-moving minutes and drink this in:

My advice to anyone waiting for definitive answers about social media is to quit waiting. It’s cheap and guaranteed to be a great ride.

Thanks to fellow traveler Fred Driver, one of the partners at d.trio in Minneapolis, for bringing this clip to my attention. Eric Qualman put it together and he has more insight to offer at Socialnomics.

October 1, 2009

Why You Should Audit Your Clients

An unabashed pitch for a Client Perception Study


Do you wish you could read your clients’ minds to know what they really think about your agency? Do you know how they feel about your creative product, or if that new hire you just made is working out? Do you know for sure if they’re thinking of putting the account up for review? Or what if you knew just what it would take to get more or maybe all of their business?

Agency principals who have the answers to these and similar questions are the ones presiding over growing, thriving agencies. Because ignorance is not bliss.

Grant Consulting is about making your agency work the way you want it to. We’ve perfected a proprietary process to get straight answers to tough questions from your clients that you can use to keep them happy, grow their accounts, and lead to new and more profitable business.

We call it the Client Perception Studyand we’ve been doing it for agencies around the country since ’92. In every case those agencies are now larger and more profitable than ever, even considering the economic rough patch we’ve just been through. In several instances we’ve actually saved accounts that were about to go out the door.

With our Study, everything is account-specific; there are no meaningless generalities. This is not a one-size-fits-all “survey” clients have to fill out. There’s no, “Responsiveness decreased from 4.7 to 4.6.”  What the hell does that tell you?

Instead, with the Client Perception Study:

· You’ll know who at your clients thinks what about your agency so you can fix specific problems and         perceptions

· You’ll signal to clients your commitment to on-going improvement

· You’ll have a tangible way to enhance value and justify cost because you’ll be managing for results not just effort

· You can use the results – many agencies do – as the key tool for staff performance reviews

Think of it this way: how many clients can you afford to lose? For probably less than you spend on client travel and entertainment, you can find out exactly how to manage your accounts for maximum profit and longevity.

To find out more – what it costs, what you’ll receive, how it’s customized on a client-by-client basis, etc. –  call Joe Grant at 239/394-8220 to chat about your particular situation. No obligation whatsoever.

By the way, we’re happy to put you directly in touch with other agency principals who use our Client Perception Study to grow their revenue and profits. Call 239/394-8220 and we’ll give you the scoop.


PS. How’s your new business these days – not winning all the new accounts you think you should? Our Lost Prospect Reports and recommendations can pinpoint problems and give you the information you need to get back on the winning track. Ask us about it.


Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.

September 10, 2009

The Biggest Mistake Agency CEOs Make


Well, after spending my entire adult life in the agency business and the last 16+ years consulting exclusively with agency principals, I’ve come to a conclusion about the single biggest mistake agency CEOs make.

It’s this: You won’t win the race unless you field the best horse you can.

Obvious, for sure, but think about it. In agency new business pitches, if you have the best people, you win; in Creative, if you have the best people, you win; in Account Service, if you have the best, you keep on winning. Have the best in your agency or on the track and you win. It’s as simple as that.

But it’s also why so many agencies fail to finish in the money. What holds agencies back more than anything else is bad hiring.

Not hiring ‘mistakes,’ BAD HIRING.

Though this appears to be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, I’d argue it isn’t so to agency CEOs and owners who often nudge hiring decisions downward to department heads with less-seasoned judgment, or to HR directors with little more training than they’re a ‘people person’ who demonstrates an uncanny ability to remember birthdays. CEOs, especially as an agency grows, too often abdicate their single most critical responsibility affecting the agency’s character and success: hiring the best.

Not so at an agency I know hovering around $50 million where the CEO will not sign off on a hire until he personally has taken the candidate to lunch or dinner. Why a meal? Because there he can’t escape what he knows can be an uncomfortable and often banal conversation wherein he can learn, often painfully, a lot about the candidate. He’s written off many $100 dinners that halted a hire at the 11th hour and claims it’s the best money he spends.

Sure, it can be awkward engaging in mindless chit-chat with someone up for a back office slot, but you’re a good judge of values and character – will this person deliver sound judgment affecting hundreds of thousands of dollars of agency income? Will he or she forge lasting deep relations centered on trust and honesty – both in and outside the agency?

You know, community theaters spend more time auditioning amateur actors for roles they’ll play for only a few weekends than most agencies do discovering if they’re getting just the right person. Too often it’s enough merely to “fill the position” when you should be putting the aspirant through as tough a grilling session as you’d give the ‘dude’ wanting to marry your daughter. Because it’s at least as important.

Hey, and if money’s in the way, veto those budget line items like buying new computers. More sophisticated equipment in the hands of the less skilled will only make your agency look inadequate faster. Instead, invest and then reinvest in the one thing that will always move you ahead: the best people you can get.

This is a great time to scout and enlist new talent. There’s more available (and affordable) cream out there than there’s been in a long while.

You can’t name anything that has more impact on your agency’s run for the roses than making your foremost priority hiring the very best.


Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.

August 5, 2009

True New Business Debacles

Filed under: New Business — Joe Grant @ 7:00 am
Tags: , ,


Tale #1 – Agency A answers an RFP for a $7 million account right up its alley. The decision was made in an instant: go for it! They work day and night and basically halt all other new business activity – getting this plum is too important and besides, if they win it their problems are over.

Outcome: You probably know how this story ends. The final selection was put off several months. . . then one day the phone rings. “It was a really tough decision, it was so close. . . but we’re awarding the business to the other guys.” Too bad.

Really too bad because Agency A did virtually no other new business work from February until July, nearly half a year. They put just one big egg in their basket. . .and it didn’t hatch.

Tale # 2 – Agency B wins the MegaBiz account, its largest ever, located in a city 850 miles away. Happy days are here again! Except it’s a little like the snake that swallowed a pig – it takes a long time to digest and almost kills the snake.

“But that’s OK, we’re going to make tons of money on MegaBiz.” They hire some high-ticket staffers, open a satellite office, reorganize the agency – ain’t this fun? Overcome by hubris, the agency purposely stops all new business activity for most of the year: “Because we just can’t handle winning another big account right now.”

Outcome: Oops. MegaBiz income dribbles in at 15% of projection (it’s a long story but, among other things, because they didn’t dig deep enough upfront they weren’t dealing at the top of the food chain –  never even met the true decision-maker until after they landed the account). The agency reacts (correctly) by dumping a dozen people and shuttering the satellite office. But, cash reserves are down to zero, morale sucks, and the whole time not a lick of significant new business work gets done.

The moral to these stories? The biggest and costliest mistakes you’re likely to make are in those first blushing moments when you pick up the scent of a new piece of business. When the phone call or RFP comes in agencies have been known to go dumb like a gawky teenage boy asked by a pretty girl to dance.

All I’m saying is think each opportunity through, thoroughly. And never EVER stop working every single day on new business.

June 30, 2009

The Secret New Business Formula

Filed under: New Business — Joe Grant @ 8:21 pm
Tags: ,


Can’t tell you how many times agency people have asked, “We’ve got to get another account in here, fast – what’s the secret to new business?”

Well, I could write a book on that one (and maybe someday will). Of course there’s no one silver bullet answer. But after doing scores of interviews on behalf of agencies whose new business pitches netted a second place finish, I can state with impunity that in the end it boils down to just one word.


Yup, prospects who pick someone else will tell us after some probing that the “fit” was simply better with the winning agency. “We felt better with the other guys. They were more our kind of people. There was a connection.”

OK, so it’s a little like love, huh. There’s either a spark. . . or there isn’t. We all understand that; you can’t force chemistry in personal relationships. And that after all is what agency/client connections are like, at least in the pitching phase: a romance.

Yet well-meaning agencies trying to craft a compelling story about themselves will assault prospects with dry data, case histories, and boring PowerPoints jammed with unreadable charts and tables – often delivered by uninspiring noodleheads. Where’s the romance, where’s the zing?

I don’t care what the RFP guidelines say, you MUST make personal connections with as many decision makers or influencers on the client selection team as possible, long before the final presentation. Know who has a stake in the agency choice, who’ll be at the presentation(s). . . and start to “work ‘em” immediately and often.

Call and ask to visit to get their personal take on what they want their new agency to do, why the previous one failed, what their biggest point of pain is so you can make sure to specifically address it. Learn about their careers, their interests, their kids. Find out where the pressure’s coming from, what’s standing in the way of their departmental and personal success. In short, get to know them as people – become their friend.

Why? Because it’s easier to do business with a friend, that’s why. When you walk into that presentation room on the Big Day you want to look around the table at people you know, people you already have a solid relationship with. You want to address them as individuals – as human beings with their own unique issues and vulnerabilities. Which of course you will subtly address and solve with warmth and humor in such a way that they will want to work with you, their buddies, more than anyone else.

A couple of years ago I addressed a large group of designers and advertising-types meeting in Phoenix where there was another speaker who suggested that clients were no different than ailing patients going to a medical specialist – the doctor’s job was to fix the problem (prescribe meds, replace a knee, whatever) and not waste his/her time building a “relationship.” Just fix it. Like going to Midas to get a new muffler slapped on, I guess.

I couldn’t disagree more. No matter what turn-down reason the lost prospect gives you for choosing someone else, it comes down to chemistry, romance, and maybe even pheromones. You know there’s always a lot unspoken when the lady says, “Gee, can’t go out tonight – got to wash my hair.”

Chemistry is what makes the sale in our business. So here’s a question:

How romantic was the last big pitch you lost?

By the way (if you’ll permit a little pitch of our own here) we’d be happy to interview your “lost prospects” if you haven’t had many new business wins lately. Just send an email to and I’ll fill you in on how it works.


Subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.

May 12, 2009

The Essence of Strategy


SubscribeSubscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.


strategy More and more I’m convinced the path to agency success is specialization.

Face it, agency-types are burdened by hubris. We’re too quick to say “Sure, we can do that,” and we probably honestly believe we can. One agency I know actually has this mission plaque hung in their lobby: Whatever the Client Wants.

But this kind of delusional thinking is what costs agencies tons of cash as they unrealistically respond to client needs. They’ll claim they do PR by hiring a “people person” to head a one person department, promote a computer game fiend to web designer, or anoint someone who knows how to text as the Digital Strategist.

Agencies that will do anything for anyone are like short order diners – they’re good at slapping out eggs & toast or meatloaf with mashed potatoes, but you wouldn’t expect them also to confect a delicate French sauce to accompany your Dover sole.

To channel Gordon Gecko for a moment, focus is good. Two quick stories will illustrate.

An agency in Indiana had a basket of different accounts some years ago. But their biggest one marketed highly regulated and complex products like ag chemicals and advanced technical equipment. They began to focus only on  “technical and scientific products” and now 5MetaCom is a profitable leader with a national reputation in a narrow but target-rich field.

The Max Borges Agency in Miami tells their whole story in 4 words: Pure Tech, Pure Results. Owner/founder Max will tell you, “All we do is get hits for tech gadgets. That’s it.” Sure, like most PR firms they could easily slide into hawking any kind of product but their strategy precludes distraction and they market themselves as experts.

And who doesn’t want to go to an expert? You can be an agency that’s expert in high tech gadgets, hospitality and travel, not-for-profit hospitals, or even petroleum drilling rig mud pumps.

I don’t buy that agencies will never know an advertiser’s market as well as the client does. That’s merely an excuse for mediocrity and bogus in our age of specialization. Clients want you to really know their market. . .  so you’ll concoct opportunities and flood them with proactive ideas.

Consider: the essence of strategy is sacrifice. To be an expert and reap the good stuff – including high fees, a reputation for effectiveness, and prospects begging you to take them on – you’ve got to sacrifice the dog and cat accounts that suck up so much time and money and yield so little, and concentrate instead on the one industry you know. . . where you do it better than anybody else.

That’s not hubris, by the way. It’s sound strategy. And yes, like most things requiring sacrifice, there’s payoff down the road.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at