Too much 'wow' can doom a b-to-b pitch

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Your agency has made the short list on a big client pitch, and all you need to do is go in and wow them in the final presentation, right?

Wrong, say clients.

"We need a little wow but a lot more on execution," said John Jacko, senior VP-CMO at Flowserve Corp., a manufacturer of fluid motion and control products that recently went through an agency review.

B-to-b marketers say too much hype, brilliant ideas that are way over budget and not understanding the client are three surefire ways to lose a pitch.

"Some agencies came in and had this 'X factor.' They were really creative and interesting, but they didn't understand our business," Jacko said.

Flowserve conducted a nationwide search of agencies last year to consolidate its advertising account at one shop. Previously, Flowserve worked with different agencies for its pumps, valves and seals divisions.

In the final round, three agencies came in to pitch. Jacko declined to name the other finalists.

He admitted that even some of his own staffers were wowed by the creative presentations of some of the agencies, but the pitches were off base.

"We are not an edgy business, but we're trying not to be an old-line industrial business," Jacko said.

Flowserve was looking for an agency partner that understood the industrial manufacturing business, had strong relationships with trade media, could provide global access and had strong project management skills.

HSR Business to Business, Cincinnati, hit a home run, Jacko said. "They really understood our business, and they hit all the bases," he said.

Lauren Flaherty, CMO of Nortel Networks and former VP-worldwide marketing for small and midsize businesses at IBM Corp., agreed that one of the biggest mistakes agencies can make is not understanding the client.

During her 26-year marketing tenure at IBM, Flaherty had the opportunity to participate in several agency reviews.

"Some agencies would come in and say, `IBM really needs to get hip.' You know what hip is when you see it. The fact that some of these agencies were telling us to `get hip' really made me uncomfortable."

Flaherty said agencies should also avoid a generic case-study approach during presentations. "A lot of agencies will come in with a list of clients, and they are not really attuned to me as a client with particular needs," she said. "They need to be very savvy about how they tailor their story line to be relevant."

Another big no-no is going over budget during the pitch, according to clients.

"Some agencies see constraints as optional," said Paul Magee, director of industry communications and strategic design at Diebold Inc., a manufacturer of ATM machines that went through an agency review last year.

"They say, `This is a program you need to initiate,' even though we only have X number of dollars."

For example, one of the agencies in the review presented a very limited proposal that was within the budget assigned, then suggested the client needed to spend more money.

"No one wants to be told they're being cheap," Magee said.

Ferron Dunham, marketing manager at LG Solid Source, which completed an agency review last year, agreed.

"In the RFP, I specifically asked for a PR plan, creative advertising concepts for print and online, and different programs for each quarter to drive sales in different segments. Every agency came in with the grandest plan?the most expensive plan," he said. "You can't present something unrealistic. When it comes down to crunch time, what are your great ideas going to cost?"

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