The Insights Blog

Cover Letters that Win

Cover Letters that Win


Written proposals! They can be the bane of an agency’s existence.

If only prospective clients knew how much time and effort agencies put into these babies. The sad truth is that they have no idea. In fact, and it pains me to share this, in our experience many clients don’t even read them all the way through. As someone who consults on the client side during agency searches, I can understand where they are coming from. Marketers have incredibly busy schedules. An agency search is usually additional work, on top of their day-to-day responsibilities.

If you want a crash course in writing written proposals that sell, join us in Orlando on January 24 & 25 for a special two-day workshop on how to write better, more successful proposals. We’ll cover everything from cover letters to case studies, and a number of critical topics in between! You can register here.

In today’s article we’ll talk about one key strategy: winning cover letters. So, how do you stand out with your cover letter? How do you grab your prospect’s attention when they open your proposal? It all starts with the cover letter. How do you make your cover letter the opening to a winning proposal?

The Cover Letter is Critical

It may seem obvious, but you should make it a practice to start every single written submission with a cover letter. I have the privilege of typically reading hundreds of written agency proposals each year. I can’t tell you how often I open a response only to find no cover letter. Here is why that is a huge misstep: When your agency replies to a request for a written proposal, more often than not, yours isn’t the only submission the prospect has likely received. And as I already mentioned, there is a good chance your prospect doesn’t have time to read every word in every submission. Which means your prospect might miss some of the key content you want them to remember about your firm. So a cover letter, being the first thing your prospect will dive into, is the place to summarize the most important points you want to get across. It also, sets you up for success as it can help you to leave a great impression.

how to write a cover letter
Key Points to Cover

In our experience, these are the most impactful points agencies should include in their cover letter:

  1. Enthusiasm & Gratitude: Express enthusiasm and appreciation for the consideration. Something as simple as: “Thank you for inviting AGENCY X to your agency selection process and for the time you will be investing in reviewing our submission.

  2. The Prospect’s Business Issues: Recap the business issues and implications that were outlined in the email, RFP, RFI, or initial conversation. We define a business issue as the key challenges or opportunities a company is facing. They are not “nice to haves.” They are clear and present dangers and prominent opportunities (i.e. revenue, market share, increased competition, store traffic, etc.).
    And – most agency cover letters do not address these at all! This is a key way your agency can stand out, by clearly showcasing that you understand the client’s needs.

  3. Droplets: A droplet is a one sentence “case” that can be sprinkled into a presentation, written proposal or cover letter. Here’s how it works: mention, in one sentence, how you have addressed similar issues for specific clients in the past. A simple reference (or “droplet”) will do, as long as you include the following:

a.   The brand you supported

b.   The business challenge

c.  The strategy or tactic the agency used

d.  The outcome

Here’s an example of how a droplet works: “This challenge and our approach would be similar to how we helped COMPANY A shift to a new family focused target audience and increase ecommerce sales by +573%.”

If you hit each of these items, not only will you have written an appreciative letter that demonstrates your capabilities; you will also prove that you understand their business issues and know how to create solutions.

In Conclusion…

There are many key elements of a solid written response, and the cover letter is one of them. It’s good business practice, in general, but it also provides you an opportunity to differentiate your firm right from the start. The cover letter is your written submission’s first impression with your prospect and, when written well, can set the right tone for your proposal.

And – join us in Orlando on January 24 & 25 for a special two-day workshop on how to write better, more successful proposals. We’ll cover everything from cover letters to case studies, and you’ll leave with the skills to write more successful written proposals! You can register here.

Lindsay O’Neil, a Director and member of the executive leadership team at Mercer Island Group, has been counseling clients and their agencies for close to twenty years. She has led important research efforts across all marketing practices including Media, Digital, PR, Advertising, and Social. She has led and participated in numerous agency searches for clients like FreshDirect, Envestnet, Zillow, Barre3, TrueCar, Brooks Running and Hitachi Vantara. One of her key strengths as a consultant is her deep understanding of marketing strategy and agency new business development practices.