Shops get creative in pitching accounts

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While b-to-b agencies aren't known for outrageous antics in client pitches, such as singing company jingles or dressing up in character costumes, they are finding ingenious ways to differentiate themselves during account reviews.

"We don't dress up in chicken suits, but we have done some pretty bizarre things," said Pete Kovac, president-CEO of Nicholson Kovac, a b-to-b agency in Kansas City, Mo.

In a pitch for Colony Paints, a Minneapolis-based paint and industrial coatings manufacturer, Kovac and Chief Creative Officer Nick Nicholson dressed up in paint-splattered overalls and made their presentation on a painter's tarp. They won the account.

In a pitch for HealthNet, a Kansas City-based preferred provider organization, the agency created a carnival set, which was the theme of the campaign, for the pitch. It won that account, too.

"At the end of the day, you have to understand the culture of the prospect and what's appropriate for them," Kovac said. "If you go in wearing a chicken suit and they think chicken suits are stupid, you haven't done yourself any favors."

On the more serious side, NK provides incentives to new clients, such as offering its partners at no cost during initial strategy sessions.

"It gives us an opportunity to really be engaged in their business," Kovac said.

Gary Slack, chairman-chief experience officer of Slack Barshinger, Chicago, said, "Pure creativity and pizzazz are important in the early stages of a client's search, but demonstrating serious strategic thinking is more important in the later stages of a search process. As we move further along, we act like we are already their agency."

In a pitch for the Incentive Federation, a trade association of incentive marketing companies, Slack Barshinger created an online incentive campaign during the review aimed at 19 executives who would be making the agency decision.

In the month leading up to the final pitch, the agency sent a weekly e-mail to the decision-makers, asking them to go to a microsite to learn more about Slack Barshinger. Each visit to the Web site earned points that appeared on a bar graph, and when enough points were accumulated, the agency made a donation to the Make a Wish Foundation.

"Their industry is all about incentive marketing, so we used an incentive to help them learn about us," Slack said. The agency won the account.

Mike O'Toole, exec VP-partner at Philip Johnson Associates, Cambridge, Mass., said the agency hasn't done too many outrageous things in presentations. "Where we tend to stand out is in the discover and planning stages. We go deeper in our research of the company and the category, and show them the quality of our thinking and process."

During a pitch for Invitrogen Corp., a life sciences company, Philip Johnson execs got on life sciences blogs and offered researchers an Amazon gift certificate if they agreed to do a phone interview.

As a result, the agency conducted 25 interviews with researchers, finding out their opinions about Invitrogen and the industry. It used the information in the pitch and won the account.

In a recent review for Novell, PJA conducted interviews with Gartner analysts and IT decision-makers, and used sound bites of actual conversations in the pitch to Novell. It won that account, as well.

"We develop a point of view about what the company's position should be, which brings some risk with it," O'Toole said. "Even if some of it ends up on the cutting-room floor, it reveals how we work and how we think."

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