By Greg Mondshein

I’ve spent my career toeing the line between client service and business development, and what I’ve learned along the way is that building the client portfolio of your dreams, more often than not, begins with the pitch. Landing the wrong account is a short-term victory that leads to a long-term headache. Not every dollar needs to be chased, and decisions made in the pitch—not listening to prospects’ subtle (and not so subtle) clues—can impact everything from employee satisfaction to profitability. Before you dig into that next RFP, here are a few key indications that you’re chasing the wrong account.

  1. There’s no personal relationship. Let’s face it, we’re battling each other blindfolded and need all the help we can get. Considering PR professionals tend to bounce around and often end up in-house, there’s a strong chance decision makers are bringing personal experience and colleagues to the table. If you’re not one of them, even with the best strategy and presentation, you’re likely not winning.
  2. Your access is limited to coordinators, not decision makers. Marketers that are serious about finding the right partner know the importance of providing access and insight. Without it, any agency’s ability to deliver thoughtful creative is severely limited. Often times, the people running the pitch aren’t making decisions, driving overall marketing strategy or cutting checks, which forces the pitching agencies to guess on the right approach. Trust me, you don’t want to be in the very uncomfortable position of nailing a brief based on conversations with your pitch contact, but grossly missing the mark from the CMO’s perspective. I still have nightmares.
  3. There are more than six RFP respondents. Just from an easy math perspective, your chances are limited, but including tons of agencies demonstrates the process is likely going to be informal and formulaic. How would an internal team truly give each agency the proper access to executives? Why are there so many firms included? Did they all speak to the challenges they are trying to solve? This is more of a philosophical position of mine, but if a client can’t clearly demonstrate why we specifically were included, we’re heading for the hills.
  4. There’s no clear brief. This one is pretty straightforward, but critically important. How can you recommend the right approach when the client can’t clearly communicate their needs and the goals for working with an agency?
  5. The timeline is unreasonable. Usually one of two things is going on here. First, you’re late to the party and the real players have had ample time to deliver a thoughtful program. Second, the client doesn’t have a clear understanding of what they’re asking and what goes into the development of smart recommendations. Either way, run, don’t walk away.
  6. You’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for relevant experience. It’s hard to say ‘no’ to a shiny new prospect, but if you’re struggling to demonstrate you’ve been there before, there’s probably a reason for it. Accept it’s not in your wheelhouse and it’ll likely be difficult to win. In the event you do win, it’ll be even harder for you to service. Walk away and focus on a more relevant target.
  7. The scope doesn’t reflect the budget. The standard ‘more for less’ approach doesn’t position you as a thought partner. You become an order taker rather than a strategic partner, and that traditionally lends itself to unachievable expectations, an overworked staff and an unprofitable account.

At the end of the day, the above factors are all critical in your assessment of a prospective client’s fit with your business, but nothing can take the place of passion and alignment to core values. If your team is passionate about the business, love the client contact and believe in the mission of the brand, the value of the service you provide will dramatically increase.

Here’s to being honest in your fit assessments and making the hard decisions early. Your staff and your bottom line will thank you!

Greg Mondshein is cofounder and managing partner of SourceCode Communications. Follow him on Twitter at @gmondshein and @sourcecodecomms.

Chasing money stock photo by Lightspring/Shutterstock