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Monday, January 17, 2011

An Agency Review Process That Spotlights the People -- Not The Process

It may not be a trend quite yet, but it's my observation that in recent months more and more customer prospects are placing a greater emphasis on chemistry in gauging prospective business relationships.

And if I may speak on behalf of public relations agencies everywhere, just this one time, we embrace this emerging tendency with open arms.

Several months ago I wrote about chemistry as the key to long-term business partnerships.  My point then was that assuming a level playing field, in that all of the agencies competing for a piece of business demonstrate a strong ability to meet the client's communications goals, chemistry is going to ultimately decide who wins the business.  

Starting around September of last year, several new business prospects we spoke with began their agency search by holding conference calls with the participating agencies, sans an RFP.  These calls -- with members of the agency account team on one end and the client-side decision makers on the other -- commonly begin with small talk.  Casual conversation that helps to break the ice and begins to determine if there's chemistry among those on the call.   Talking about current events, industry happenings, eventful weather and people you might know in common all help to make connections and all qualify as conversation starters.

If there's laughter involved, that means you're off to a great start.  If there's not, begin to worry.

The phone call is a critical first step.  Executed well, you'll move on to the next phase, which is the live meeting and the real test of chemistry.

At a recent new business meeting, the agency was to simply meet with the prospect's VP of marketing and head of communications. What ensued was a two-hour discussion that covered everything from global events to best area coffee shops, to how B2B companies are using marketing automation solutions and inbound marketing techniques to attract customers. Of course, each side still spent time providing background on themselves, their businesses and discussed ideas. But much of the time was spent just getting to know each other; and listening.  

In the second live meeting, each side did a much deeper dive on "what they are looking for" and "how we work."  But again, this was all done without an RFP.  In fact, the acronym never came up.  And I'd venture to say the prospect found out as much about 3Point and the proposed account team by visiting our web site, reading our blog, talking to references.  And finally, by talking with us.  

Let's hope this approach achieves trend status.  It's effective and efficient and allows all parties to get to the work more quickly.

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