Strategic Design | marketing & branding thoughts by Nick Rice

Dynamic marketing, branding & design strategies that span the gap between business & creative.

What it takes to win

My firm recently lost a big deal. We were one of three agencies to bid on a year long integrated media & advertising contract worth well into the six figures. Now this isn't a sob story or anything close, we win and lose bids all the time. But it did get me to thinking about was what it takes to win an advertising contract as a small agency (which is pretty much a constant thought as a business developer).

All three firms are small agencies (significantly less than 50 people - but more than 10). And we had a little bit of an inside track in that we have a personal relationship with the decision maker that no one else does to our knowledge. That relationship offered some advice on what the first agency presented to her. It was all about what the decision maker liked and what she expected to see but didn't. And like normal, we learned about the first firm too late to change our presentation.

But here's the rub. During the initial meetings, our executive made it very clear that she was looking for ideas and visionary direction. She even twice mentioned that she didn't want to have our best designers put a lot of time into concepts. During our initial internal brainstorming sessions, I fought to present two concepts to our client. These weren't two different look and feels as much as they were a proposed identity mark and a website mockup. We decided it would be best to show that we could generate quality ideas that met all of the goals of the project and that we would save the other mediums (radio & TV) until after we won the bid. That way we wouldn't waste a lot of time on scripts and storyboards because those are always subject to heavy revisions.

Apparently the firm that was awarded the project came up with full storyboards for at least two TV spots and a couple of radio script ideas. They presented the exact opposite mediums as we did. In fact, to my knowledge they didn't do any work on the brand identity itself. Now I'm not saying we're right and they're wrong - especially since they won the business. But it is funny how an executive (with a lot of advertising experience) was swayed by storyboards and scripts. I think part of it's due to the fact that business execs don't view script writing and story board illustrations as requiring as much effort as graphic design, video, or web work. It's easy to look at a story board sketch and know that it's not the final deliverable. When you do website concepts, even though they are probably Photoshop files, they look just like the final website. A lot of executives that I've seen can't grasp the void between polished mock ups and the final deliverable. They do not understand the level of effort required from a programming, testing, and troubleshooting point of view. They only see the surface. And for some reason they don't seem to think that the time copywriters and illustrators put into sketches cost as much to the agency.

I think a lot of it stems from each firms internal DNA. We are basically an interactive firm with a long history of film/video. While the other agency is group of ex-ad agency guys that spun off and started their own firm. Traditional ad agencies are solely focused on coming up with a break-through idea. If they can sell the idea to their client, they find the right production team to execute it. Interactive firms, on the other hand, do most of their production in-house. They come up with the idea and produce the deliverables themselves. A lot also depends on the size of the project. We would have done a lot more if the project was seven or eight figures instead of six.

So looking back, what would I do differently? I would probably leverage our relationship more to truly find out what would have impressed her and her team. We did what we do naturally. We focused on the deliverables that made the most sense to us. We were looking at the foundation (brand identity and website) and the other firm was looking at the paint and carpet. We focused on long term branding and information delivery while they focused on short term awareness. Both are important. In the end, I think both firms missed opportunities. If we can find a way to work together, the client will get the best of both worlds. That's the best way to win - meet the business objectives and keep client satisfaction high.

technorati tags > advertising, branding, strategy, business, development

3 Responses to “What it takes to win”

  1. # Anonymous Meikah Delid

    Lessons learned, Nick! I like the way you give explanation to what happened. It's true that in every presentation, we need to cater to the need of our audience. It happens during product/proposal presentations, we think we're giving them the best---the best which our audience don't need.  

  2. # Anonymous Maria Palma (Customers Are Always)

    Hi Nick,

    It is quite a challenge at times to ascertain what our client wants. They tell us one thing, but then they end up choosing something completely opposite of what they wanted. Perhaps it just wasn't meant to be ;)

    Thanks for sharing your experience!  

  3. # Blogger Nick Rice

    Maria, I think you're right. Things tend to happen for a reason. It is a very tough assignment to discern what a client is looking for without the feeling of asking a thousand questions (which isn't all bad btw). But I do think we could have done a better job pressing for more info and offering hypothetical solutions to gauge repsonse and satisfaction.

    Thanks, Nick  

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