Agency Hiring Lessons from Happy Meals to Package Delivery

When offering advice to agencies about how they can win more business, we often cite the lesson that no detail is too small. An example that summarizes the point best is the many-times-retold tale of a McDonald’s PR pitch where one agency was eliminated before it even began its final presentation because no one on the team could quote the price of a Happy Meal.

 

The other involves a proposal for a piece of the UPS business which would have resulted in a lucrative win for a major agency.

 

After all the research, creative ideas, strategy, and budgeting were prepared, the task of shipping it to the prospective client fell on a team member who made the fatal error of shipping the proposal via UPS’s chief rival FedEx! 

 

Not surprisingly, the UPS communications chief did not even bother opening the package.  And not only did the agency not get the UPS business, but the cascading effect damaged a pre-existing agency-client relationship, long-term job security for a number of staffers, and, of course, the firm’s reputation.

 

In the category of its-a-small-world, I recently was introduced to a communications executive who was a bit player at the agency responsible for the UPS debacle. The person relayed to me the full back-story of how the mistake came to be and how it rocked the firm to its very core more than anyone ever knew.

 

The lessons to agencies are compelling and simple:  no element of the client interaction can be overlooked and every individual in the chain needs to understand the importance of the client work, whether it’s a proposal or an ongoing assignment.

 

Clients hiring agencies must also recognize that the agency search process should involve considering intangibles which may be just as important as the specific elements of the scope of work laid out in the RFP. It shouldn’t be a game of “gotcha” but peppering in questions to get a sense of whether the agency did its homework in preparing for the proposal and presentation should distinguish the winner from the finalists.

 

Using the first example, regardless of any strategic or creative brilliance appearing in proposals for McDonald’s RFP, agencies whose response includes team members’ personal experience with the chain should be moved to the top of the pile.

 

We always point out that hiring an agency is like hiring a team of new staff members. Therefore, the detail and time devoted to the process should match the seriousness with which your human resources department would accord the recruitment of, say, six public relations staffers, all at once. And, scrupulously overseeing how each firm handles the response can be as important as the response itself. After all, the hired firm is likely responsible for the external reputation of your organization.

 

Btw, someday I’ll also share the tale of the agency that marched into a different McDonald’s presentation with Starbucks cups in-hand. Spoiler alert:  perhaps the McCafé mural in the board room should have given them pause.

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To listen to executives of both PR agencies and client organizations tell it, the request-for-proposal (RFP) process is hopelessly dysfunctional, and frequently dead on arrival.

Agencies point to an array of worries and concerns about RFPs. Among them: a complex and redundant process featuring tight deadlines, outsized expectations, a vague scope of work and an incomplete or completely missing budget. Many believe “the fix is in,” that the client organization knows precisely which agency it intends to hire and issues an RFP simply to satisfy a mandate by top management or the procurement department.

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Last week they won the American Society of Association Executives' Gold Circle Award for the best-integrated communications campaign, best media/PR and the very top Overall Excellence Award (aka Best in Show). And a mere two days later the client-agency duo won a Silver Anvil and Award of Excellence from the Public Relations Society of America.  

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Sorry. Like everything else in life, finding the firm that will best serve your needs is no longer that easy. And it shouldn't be. In today's bottom line focused ROI environment can you really invest six figures into an agency that may or may not be able


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