Bringing Your Agency’s A-Game to a New Business Presentation

The agency search was down to four finalists. Each had provided stellar written responses during the proposal phase, and seemed ready to take the stage.  Per the RFP Associates process, the finalists were asked to go beyond the contents of their written responses to the RFP, and to delve deeper into the important elements of our client’s global campaign.


Sure, there would be just one winner, but we all wanted this to be an even horserace, with equal odds for each of the finalist agencies.   

By the end of the presentations, though, three of the four firms barely managed to get to the finish line, and stumbled off the track, looking as if they belonged anywhere but in the finals of a PR agency search.  Indeed, those three finalists distinguished themselves more for what they shouldn’t have brought to a finals competition than for delivering the professional, well-oiled presentations we wanted our client to witness.


Agency One was a large multinational. Its proposal was so well thought out, even cerebral, that our client thought it would be a favorite in the final round.  For the presentation Agency One chose to bring an SVP and VP in addition to a senior colleague from Europe. The colleague and division he represented were not in the original proposal or even the agency website! During the presentation it was clear he was there solely for the purpose of upselling our client on a brand new, and largely untested, offering.  Said agency spent at least an hour of the allotted two to explain – and sell – the new service.  The result? Almost instant elimination! 


Agency Two was a reputable mid-sized firm. From the start of the presentation it was clear the team was thrown together for the presentation – and that most of the team members were largely unfamiliar with the contents of the agency’s proposal.  Needless to say, they  were not all on the same page. Not only did they talk on top of each other but they kept staring at their leader to be certain they were responding correctly. One member of the team spoke with a confidence that wreaked more of bravado than knowledge. Afterward, our clients simply shook their collective heads: this agency was simply not ready for prime time. Nor was it sustainable. 


Agency Three was a specialized multinational agency with excellent experience in the type of work our client required. Unfortunately, none of that came out during the presentation. Despite our client’s well-articulated requirements for specific global markets, Agency Three did not properly demonstrate that it could – or would – effectively communicate with overseas offices, with the media in the region, or even with the agency’s would-be client. 


Agency Four – the winning agency – was a localized multinational, meaning it had been a reputable local agency that was successfully acquired and integrated into a global firm. Its team was in-sync from the beginning. Team members displayed depth and research to support why they were best suited for our client’s work. The team was conversational yet well-oiled, making the chemistry with our client almost immediate. Criticisms leveled at Agency Four’s  written response were efficiently addressed and corrected. Even the team’s attention to detail was punctuated by the presence of the agency’s IT support person, who came for the presentation and brought a speaker system to ensure the audio could be heard and would not malfunction.


Let’s be clear. In our searches there is complete transparency and all agencies compete on a level playing field. The four finalists’ written proposals scored well on the scorecards developed for this search. And while we could have brought in only two or three agencies as finalists, the four that presented belonged there based on the quality of their submitted responses.


It seemed as if Agencies One, Two and Three simply put their all into their proposals and had nothing more to bring to the table. RFP Associates searches are robust because elements like the presentation portion encourage the agencies to respond beyond their written proposal.


We recommend several formulas for successful presentations:


Present to win – This is it. You made it to the final round, and now have to ensure the time, money, and effort all pay off.   The odds of winning are mathematically against you unless you go all-out to prove to the client that you want and deserve this business. Bring your A-Game and pull no punches. This means go beyond the boundaries of what has been asked of you so far.  

Come armed with research, media plans, original video, and answers for every possible question. And, please rehearse. 


Handouts and enlargements are critical – Bring copies of your presentation, supplemental handouts (e.g, timelines, budgets) or poster board-sized visuals of your plan. It’s simply too late to provide your PowerPoint via email as a thank you and follow-up later that day. If it’s not in our client’s hands for the post-presentation discussion it’s your loss when we can’t refer to a slide we need to review.


Chemistry counts – The dynamic between your colleagues is as important as the rapport you need to establish (quickly) with the potential client. Don’t walk into the conference room intent on connecting your laptop. Instead, spend two minutes B-S-ing with the client about how much you appreciate the opportunity, or a friend you might have in common. Create a conversational environment. This is often one of the most relevant questions our clients ask themselves:  Can I work with these guys?


Learn from Your Mistakes – Despite their missteps, Agency Two impressed us when they asked for an exit-type interview with a non-member of the presentation team, citing the agency’s best practice policy. We were happy to oblige.


- Robert Udowitz

A similar version of this piece originally appeared on the Gould+Partners blog.