Last January, I started off the year with some thoughts on what’s required to hook a big client. In case you don’t have time to re-read the post, I’ll cut to the chase: winning big takes the courage and commitment to think big.
But details matter too. Sometimes they matter a lot. In extreme cases, neglecting the details derails the pitch, turning your big ambitions into a lot of wasted energy and frustration.

"None of these tips require you to master new expertise or make big mind-shifts. And I’m not saying don’t think big about agency growth this year. Just make sure to get the simple stuff right first."

So, this year, I thought I’d start off 2016 with five stupid and avoidable reasons for any ad agency to lose a new business pitch. 

1. Misspellings, grammatical mistakes and aulty formats

know of several specific cases where a misspelled word resulted in an agency being eliminated from a review. In one of those cases, that misspelled word was the client’s name. Even worse, the misspelled name appeared on the cover page of the agency’s proposal.


In that one stroke of the keypad, a host of negative impressions was communicated, whether they happened to be true or not.
Stupid. Avoidable.
A good proofreader would have caught that, or even one of your colleagues who wasn’t involved in the writing of the document or the deck and who could look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.
(And if you need further proof, download the Agency Management Institute’s new research study on the top reasons marketers hire and fire agencies. When asked what can automatically disqualify an agency from participating in their search process, one of the reasons cited was “typos in proposals.”) 

2. A bad receptionist or unanswered emails to
’m a big believer that every page of an agency’s website should have a clear call-to-action, whether it’s a contact form to fill out or a link to an email. The problem occurs when the agency doesn’t keep up its end of the bargain.

How often do you check your agency’s “info@” email account? Have you assigned someone to monitor it? Are those emails still going to the in-box of the marketing assistant that left the agency months ago?
Likewise, how confident are you in your receptionist?

Unfortunately, this is usually an entry-level job that’s held by apathetic or frazzled individuals. Yet, these people are often your advance guard, representing the agency and giving a hint of what it might be like to work with you.

I’ll admit that it’s probably rare that an agency alienates a prospect because a receptionist kept them on hold for too long, but it happens. (Likewise, I’ve been told the opposite, that a prospect felt like our agency was “the one” from their first conversation with the front desk.)

3. Flawed travel plans
True story:
I was leading business development at a big media agency and we were knee-deep in our most important pitch of the year (yes, we were going to hook that big client). We were based in New York City, the client was based in the suburbs of Chicago. It was January.
None of us particularly wanted to spend the prior day and night in the generic hotel eating mediocre food, but it meant that we were more likely to show up at the client’s headquarters prepared and relatively refreshed after what would likely be a late night. So we went to the suburbs and settled ourselves in to make final preparations and rehearse.
The competition didn’t have the same opinion. They decided it would be much more enjoyable to stay in downtown Chicago and finish of the day with a team dinner at a fine restaurant.
Then it started to snow.
The snow storm was so bad that it wreaked havoc on the morning commute. We wouldn’t have known – we just had to pile in the van and drive about 1500 yards. But our competitor was more than an hour late for the start of their presentation.
Stupid. Avoidable.
(By the way, we did win that business, and I think we won it mostly because we followed many of the principles that I wrote about last year, not just because our rival made a stupid travel decision. But it certainly didn’t help their case.)

4. You didn’t follow the brief
You need to know when and how to manage your client and their requests so that you’re positioning yourself advantageously. But that doesn’t mean disregarding their requests.
Agencies can get so wrapped up in writing what they feel is the greatest response ever that they lose sight of the RFP’s basic requirements. It’s understandable (though not excusable) when an RFP is extensive and requires a lot of managing of resources and content.
Read and re-read the RFP throughout the process. Make sure that as you get closer to completion, you’re not moving farther away from the original request.
5. Didn’t rehearse/don’t know your material
I’m a believer in the power of rehearsal. It’s usually not fun, it’s often boring, and sometimes it can be awkward. But I’ve seen first-hand – both with myself and others – how effective it can be. It gives you a chance to work out the kinks and find out the easy way (or less hard way) what’s going to present well. Plus, while this may sound paradoxical to non-believers, knowing your material cold puts you in a much better position to adapt when your audience decides to change the game plan.
Many of you know what I mean – it’s that moment when the most important decision-maker in the room derails the agenda by wanting to start with a topic you’d planned to address in the last quarter of your presentation.
When you barely know your material, there’s a moment of panic – and that moment of panic gets transmitted to your audience no matter how cool you try to be. But, when you’ve rehearsed ad nauseum, you and your team have an intimacy with the content that lets you handle these kinds of changes with effortless grace. It’s a difficult thing to describe if you’ve never actually experienced it. But, having lived through both kinds of experiences, I can tell you that it’s true.

It should be reassuring that all five of these tips don’t require any special new expertise or big mind-shifts. And I’m not saying don’t think big about agency growth this year, just make sure to get the simple stuff right first.
Now go forth and fill that pipeline!