The American Association of Advertising Agencies' article titled "Best Practices in Agency Search and Selection Process" advises marketers that when reaching out to agencies for new business “Reasonable efforts should be made to identify and resolve potential conflicts at the beginning of the search and selection process. In the interest of saving time and effort, any and all participants in the search process should state their conflict policies upfront.”
Sounds simple enough, right? I often wonder why it is, then, when we are invited into a new business pitch and need to clear conflicts with our current clients, that we feel like we’re cheating on them and dread making that initial call.
For those of us who have ever worked at a big agency, we know that we have the comfort of hiding behind agency brands and holding-company walls. But at small agencies, you need to be a little bit more creative and strategic in your approach.
How often do we forget to think beyond the industry or company that we have as a client and are also pitching? At such times I often remind folks that it’s good to ask yourself these questions before forging ahead: Is the client targeting different brands? Different products? Different audiences [ages, income, geography]? Is one assignment national and the other regional? Quite often differences in these areas will be the key to unlock the "green light" from your current client.
Which brings me to mention another point; don’t be afraid, when dealing with contract negotiations, to make sure that the new client is very specific in defining any potential conflicts.
I remember many times coming across a contract where someone like Sony was simply listed as a conflict and, as you all know, Sony represents many different business units and brands.
The whole company!? That’s quite a bit of new business you’re going to be missing out on! By insisting on clarifying division, products or brands you’re going to avoid a few headaches and stand a fighting chance of adding to your client list, portfolio and, ultimately, your experience database.
Finally on the issue of approaching current clients:
The old adage does not lie; honesty truly is the best policy. Never hesitate to say to a current client “We’ve received an invitation to pitch X client for Y piece of their business targeting a Z audience and wondered how you’d feel about that?” Your clients should know and understand that you’re a for-profit company that needs to grow the bottom line just like they do. Extending the courtesy of letting them know upfront only alleviates bad surprises [and consequently bad feelings] down the road. And who knows? They may even offer to give an insider's viewpoint [and some tips] that help you get the business.