Brendon Shank

Increase Your Chances of Getting the Business

By: Brendon Shank | February 22, 2016 | 
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How to Increase Your Chances of Getting the Business with This One Weird Trick

By Brendon Shank

Communications and marketing agency friends: The next time you’re at a new business pitch and you hand your proposal to the CEO or the CMO, watch what he or she does first.

She will check out the cover page, but will then shuffle through all of the pages, looking for one specific thing.

Here’s a hint: It’s not your bio or the great ideas you spent all night putting together.

It’s not even the case studies of your past work.

It’s the price tag.

That’s the part that hits home first.

Can we afford this? Did they stay within our budget? And if I spend X dollars, will I get X+1 dollars back in value?

She’s going to ask herself those questions first.

Then—and only then—will she check out your great ideas or your team bios and beautiful graphics and very professional binding.

Trust me on this.

As the former head of a communications department for a medical society, I’ve been on the other side, reviewing proposals for all kinds of communications functions: SEO, publishing, social media, and more and I did the same thing.

After all, if I can’t afford the work (or if I don’t think it will generate value), it’s not worth having the conversation.

How to Increase Your Chances of Getting the Business

I propose a change to your next proposal: Put the budget up front.

Maybe not on the cover page, but right after a concise vision for the work—such as page two or three.

It shows you’re not only serious about the work, but that you understand the priorities and pressures of your potential client. It’s the first step in getting the business.

It also demonstrates your confidence in the proposal as a business model for creating value and return-on-investment, not just in the brilliant and innovative ideas that it includes.

After all, your proposal only succeeds when it makes business sense.

The alternative, burying the budget in an appendix or way back at the end of the proposal, demonstrates the opposite.

Burying it doesn’t make it go away or de-emphasize the costs involved.

Rather, it can convey that investment might not justify the return.

Emphasize Value

A second recommendation to help increase your changes of getting the business is to emphasize the value in an apples-to-apples way.

Are you proposing media relations work?

Show how an investment of $20,000 will generate $22,000 worth of earned media.

Proposing social media engagement?

Give that engagement a value the prospect can understand and evaluate against the investment.

Demonstrating the expected value doesn’t have to be precise (and over-promising is never a good idea), but your proposal should create value—value that is the end result of your expertise, hard work, and great ideas.

Putting that value right next to the projected investment for a client helps them connect the dots and make the argument to the other stakeholders in the proposal (check out Gini Dietrich’s recent case study for great ideas on translating PR to value for a client).

Consider a Client’s Internal Costs

Finally, don’t forget your proposal is only part of the investment the prospect will be making.

The CEO is also going to be thinking about how much of her staff’s time will be spent in getting you up to speed and what is required to manage and collaborate with your team.

If it’s going to take one quarter of a junior staffer’s time to coordinate with you, that’s one quarter of a salary that’s also being invested into the project—investment that needs to be justified in your proposal.

Agencies and consultants often say they want to be good partners to their clients.

Partnership is all about sharing goals and values.

That partnership can start with the proposal: Emphasizing your interest in creating value for the client, achieving their goals, sharing in their success, and identifying challenges in a collaborative way.

If you can do that in a compelling and authentic way, it’s likely you’ll increase your chances of getting the business and have them sign off on your proposal—provided you don’t bury it.

image credit: shutterstock

About Brendon Shank


Brendon Shank is a healthcare communications executive with more than 15 years of agency experience and former head of the communications department at the Society of Hospital Medicine, the fastest growing medical specialty society in healthcare. He is chair-elect of the Public Relations Society of America Health Academy.

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4 Comments on "Increase Your Chances of Getting the Business"

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Paula Kiger
3 months 4 days ago

Great points here, and a unique take on how to divvy up a proposal!

Brendon Shank
3 months 3 days ago

Thanks, Paula! I think we get kind of rote with our proposals sometimes. It’s fun to shake them up.

Gini Dietrich
3 months 1 day ago

You know, Brendon, you’re right. They always go to the budget page first. We started doing a two-page proposal that is pretty much what you recommend: An executive summary and a budget. Once approved, we then write what most agencies would consider the proposal. But this allows us to dig into a client’s business—and get paid to do it—and propose something extremely customized. I like it lots better and, to your point, they do too.

Brendon Shank
2 months 25 days ago

Very smart, Gini! It increases ROI for both agency and client, which is the beginning of beautiful relationships.

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