Agencies, It's Time to Involve HR In New-Business Pitches

Four Ways HR Can Help Win Pitches and Retain Business

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There was a time when, if they existed at all, ''personnel departments" were very much seen as part of an agency's back office. They sat somewhere between the IT department and the accounts function and were expected to quietly get on with organizing employment contracts, payroll and managing the occasional performance issue.

The irony is, for an industry that talks endlessly about the value of people, many agencies rarely -- if ever -- utilize their talent experts outside of the HR office.

That's ironic because there is a powerful case for more active involvement of the HR and talent function -- one that, critically, proves their additional value to the business and their clients.

The people who work in our industry are key to our ability to deliver exceptional service to our clients, and that requires the very best people who also rightly expect and deserve to have their careers managed effectively.

Being able to do so when clients expect more for less means that making that case for an appropriate level of fee has become critical to business success at every agency in every market around the world.

Professional and experienced HR people have the ability to win new business and retain clients, if agencies are willing to involve them. But this takes a new approach that goes well beyond helping to fill out RFPs.

When MediaCom was invited to pitch for the Mars global planning account, we were aware that they were looking for a media partner who could utilize knowledge and network to drive growth. Two of the five growth enablers that we identified focused around talent, making it essential that HR was part of the pitch. This allowed HR to share our vision of how smart, connected talent, carefully managed through our Connect to Grow talent management program, would help the company achieve its goal.

Making HR more active in our business means getting closer to clients, which is why the HR leaders in all regions are actively involved in crafting the people and performance sections of pitches and working directly with clients to present the case as to how our people contribute to their businesses.

Here are four ways HR can help drive new business and retain clients:

1. Work with client leaders to benchmark talent on key accounts. By doing this, clients can be sure they retain the same quality of staff and commit to improve that quality (if lacking) over time via agreed performance measurement and training programs.

2. Reassure potential new clients about how to handle account transitions. This is a critical role in this season of global and regional new-business pitches. HR can showcase how previous new clients have been onboarded and detail an agency's specific proposals to ensure their communication tasks will be seamlessly moved to their teams.

3. Mirror the client's structure and people to ensure that teams work together as smoothly as possible. HR and talent teams can contribute by studying client organizations and making sure that processes are aligned and teams know how to communicate effectively with each other.

4. Analyze the communication styles of employees on specific client accounts. By doing this, agencies can make sure to assign people who have similar communication styles to their clients. Such work plays a critical part in ensuring that relationships don't break down and misunderstandings are avoided.

Agencies seem to want to be seen as professional service firms on a par with lawyers and accountants. If we hope to achieve that, then being more proactive in making the case for the value of our talent will help. Look for it, and maybe there is a team of people sitting in a corner of your agency who are eager to help you do just that.