Getting Invited to the Party

Being a Wallflower Is Not an Option

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Maureen Hall Maureen Hall
I love to dance. So I hate it when there's a party and I'm not invited. Likewise, I'm tempted to pout when I read about an RFP for an account that would have been a nice match for us and we didn't make the short list. But instead of sulking, I take a serious look around and consider ways we might have been more proactive.

We weren't always so down to business with new business. In the beginning, we could afford to wait until a new client called us. We didn't have a formal new-business approach because we didn't need one; we were fortunate to have clients who referred more business than we could handle.

But things changed, particularly our agency vision. Over the years we purposefully moved our primary focus from creative design house to strategic-branding firm. This transition dramatically shrank the playing field of potential clients and accounts. And that's something to consider before adopting any new-business standard; when the balance sheet starts looking grim, sticking to your guns becomes an exercise in self-control. In order to avoid the temptation to stray from our vision, we've made sure we have plenty of opportunities to participate in new-business pitches. Here are some strategies we've implemented to help ensure we stay on the party-thrower's radar.

First Impressions
We've assigned someone the task of keeping our agency profile up-to-date with search consultants. After we opened a second office in another city and began prospecting there, we realized we had failed to update the contact information on our website.

When did you last update your site?

The Guest List
According to AAAA research, small agencies receive 90 percent of their business via word of mouth. We keep a "where are they now?" list of ex-clients that have changed companies, in the hopes they land somewhere fabulous and are in need of advertising. This list should rival your database of agency search consultants you want to invite to tour your agency to become more familiar with you.

Putting your ideas out there by writing an industry-specific blog, getting a book published, or sending an op-ed piece to a trade magazine helps your agency get noticed by the right people, and by "right" I mean people who value new thoughts and ideas. Joining community boards takes time, but the relationships built there can last a lifetime.

Play Host
Sponsoring events that align with your agency's brand gives you a chance to get to know new people without a "dog-and-pony show." Hosting a cocktail party with a regional business pub a few years ago forced us to perfect our agency's elevator speech and earned us free press.

Crash The Party
Even if you've done everything right, your invitation can still get lost in the mail; so give them a call. No one likes making cold calls, but the 4As cite that one in every five uninvited agencies will make first cut in the search process. Not bad odds. Prospecting is all about math anyway -- more attempts equals more successes.

Oh, and then have fun at the party.
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