Can Getting Things Wrong Really Be Getting Things Right?

Guest post by Courtney Chauvin and Sarah Coniski

Along with Deb Brown, we had the opportunity to serve as guest lecturers earlier this week to a group of New York University students enrolled in an introductory6a00d834515ae669e20105349b33d7970c-800wi
 public relations course. Our task was to teach students how to win new business, a perennial topic that is even more timely and critical today given the current economic situation. In a service-based business, such as PR, clients come and go all the time (of course, none ever leave Peppercom), so how can you keep the pipeline constantly replenished?

Our 90-minute presentation was pretty interactive and consisted of some basic how to’s: how to win new business (be in it to win it, or don’t even bother); how to develop a thoughtful proposal (creative programming is key, but so is addressing the prospective clients’ pain points); how to create and deliver a killer presentation (rehearse, rehearse, rehearse); and how to have some fun in the process (take the pitch seriously, not yourselves). At the end of our presentation, we opened up the classroom to further questions and discussion.

The students had some really thoughtful questions, but not all of them focused on how to get it right and win the new biz. They really wanted to know what to do when you don’t get things right: you hand the proposal in late, you’ve incorrectly identified the target audiences for the campaign, your creative ideas stink, and so on. How do you address these serious disconnects and flubs? What do you say to the prospective client? After all, it’s an important piece of business and the agency’s reputation is on the line.

All really good questions. 

We responded by saying clients were the experts in their respective businesses and fields, not us. We’re not always going to have the magical answers, the most novel ideas, the prettiest presentations, etc. What we can and should bring to the table, though, is thoughtful solutions to the challenges that have been shared with us. And if your points are well founded and well researched, then they are most worthy of discussion. Engage in dialogue. Ask questions. Share your perspectives. 

As an example, we discussed a recent pitch where we presented a SWOT analysis that, in the prospective client’s opinion, missed the mark. We explained how we used this gaffe as an opportunity to discuss the serious disconnect between how the company perceived itself vs. how the public viewed the company. We gave the client some concrete ideas on how to close the gap and, a few weeks later, we won the new business. 

Sometimes getting things “wrong” can actually lead to a hearty conversation and a deeper appreciation of both parties – a solid foundation upon which any good client/agency relationship should be built. 

2 thoughts on “Can Getting Things Wrong Really Be Getting Things Right?

  1. Thanks, Flackman. Great idea on the “Understanding Document” as a follow up to a first meeting. A great dialogue tool indeed.

  2. Good points. As a matter of course with prospects, the first document we deliver is our “Understanding Document”. It’s a distillation of what we learned and understood from the initial meeting. It builds trust by showing we were actively listening. It also gives the prospect the opportunity to clarify what was written and takes the initial dialogue further.