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Adventures In New Business

PR pros know that the high-stress experience of pitching a prospective client can end up being an adventure. The attendees, location, even the assignment can change without your knowing! And, of course, technology can always thwart you.

The best thing you can do is to be prepared for anything and everything. It’s a jungle out there! Here are some tips about what to expect.

Expect delays. Always assume a new business presentation will take longer than planned, especially if it’s a “beauty contest” with back-to-back meetings. A recent prospect from out of town kept our team cooling our heels for an hour while we assumed the worst – a business emergency, or a lengthy meeting with a rival agency. (We later found out the CEO had a personal errand.) The trick with delays is not to let them make you nervous; try relaxing with a mobile game or even listening to music with earphones to keep the tension at bay.

Be discreet. Some pitches are confidential, but even if not, never share details about pending new business. It can’t possibly help to clue in a competitor. Also, take care when you travel. At a recent agency shootout for a plum travel account, we ended up in the same hotel as a competitor. They, too, were rehearsing in the business center, and if we’d wanted, we could have overheard their entire pitch!  (We did the honorable thing and moved.)

Dress to impress. Assuming the execs from the cool new startup will show up in jeans? The stuffier corporate types in navy blue suits? Not always the case! Dress “safe” and be prepared for anything. This can even mean keeping a change of clothes at your desk for meetings that come up unexpectedly. Or not. Once a supervisor of mine flew to a meeting “for the day” that turned into 3 days and the client provided a clothing allowance! (ahh, pre-recession).

Lunch, what lunch? Just because your meeting is set during the “lunch hour” and someone may have indicated the team will be ordering in food, assume they’re not. Besides, you can’t eat and present at the same time. Fortify yourself ahead of time. A former colleague of ours actually passed out during a business meeting…either from hunger or nerves, we were never sure! It’s a good way to win the sympathy vote but not recommended.

Hard copies. Going “green” is a great thing, but it’s not always practical. The last thing you want is to show up ready to present with presentation backups saved in the cloud but no access to a computer projector. Technology will fail, trust us. We once had to present from a dying Dell netbook – not a winning strategy.

Date/time/location. Things get lost in translation. Triple and quadruple check meeting details, and make sure you confirm the day before. Last year, a group of us sat waiting in our conference room, prepared to the last detail, for a prospect who didn’t show. (It turned out they were waiting in a hotel uptown, and yes, we did rush there.)

What have you learned from your new business adventures?

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