Written proposals. If only prospective clients knew how much time and effort agencies put into these babies. The sad truth; 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. So, how do you stand out? How do you grab your prospect’s attention when they open your proposal? It all starts with the cover letter.
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 somewhere between 30 to 50 written RFI responses 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.
Key Points to Cover
In our experience, these are the most impactful points agencies should include in their cover letter:
- 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.”
- 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.)
- Mention, in one sentence, how you have addressed similar issues for specific clients in the past. A simple reference (or “name-drop”) will do, as long as you include the following:
- The brand you supported
- The business challenge
- The strategy or tactic the agency used
- The outcome
- Example: “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.
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.
Lindsay O’Neil, a Senior Consultant at Mercer Island Group, has participated in extensive research across all marketing practices including Media, Digital, PR, Advertising, and Social. She has led and participated in numerous agency searches for clients like 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.