Not long ago, after nearly four decades on the corporate side of the desk, I decided to take a walk on the agency side and joined APCO Worldwide. The change in perspective has been interesting, especially when it comes to proposing new ideas to prospective clients.

Countless times during my corporate career, I agreed to meet with agency associates with the hope of hearing proposals that would help me address challenges facing my company. Unfortunately, I was disappointed more often than not. That disappointment usually was due to the fact that the agency representative hadn’t taken the time to learn about what was going on in my world. I even received calls on days when a major event was in progress and had been featured in the news, only to hear the caller blithely ask, “So what’s new?” 

Proposals that succeed are based on relevant ideas that address extant challenges.  They deliver something useful, timely and, ideally, innovative. That takes preparation, but it is worth the effort. I recall a time when I was looking for ways to counter a community challenge to an important company facility. But an agency associate showed up at a meeting I had agreed to and pitched a proprietary reputation product. What I really needed were proven engagement strategies. Neither of us got anything out of the meeting.

Delivering a solid, creative idea to help a client address a pressing issue is the best way to win business and trust. One way to do this is to bring a different perspective to the situation, something an external agency is well-positioned to do. In the midst of a challenge, maintaining perspective is one of the most important yet most difficult things to do: when you’re in the middle of a storm, it’s hard to tell how big it really is.  Can you offer a solution that no one has considered? It might be recommending something counter-intuitive, such as finding ways to accommodate opponents instead of fighting them. Witness the trend toward eliminating artificial ingredients from food.  It’s likely the idea wasn’t adopted lightly, but someone had the courage to propose it and see it through. Taking a counter view is sometimes a very effective way to find an innovative solution. At a minimum, it’s a healthy exercise to ensure all options are explored.

Addressing a client’s pressing issues is also the best way to build future business.  Once you show that you can solve problems and make an impact, growing with the client and addressing emerging needs becomes a more natural process.

Before even scheduling a meeting, take time to really get to know the prospective company, its issues and its chief communications officer. With all the Internet tools available today, there’s just no excuse for not doing that. Determine their perspective and then juxtapose it with yours to identify innovative solutions to the client’s pressing problems. Make an impact, win trust, and grow. You can always propose that proprietary product later – if it addresses a real client need. 

This post is part of APCO's "Brave New Ideas" blog series, featuring perspectives on creativity and ideas from colleagues around the world.

Nicholas Ashooh

Nicholas Ashooh, senior director of corporate and executive communication at APCO Worldwide, focuses on providing corporate communication services to C-suite clients. He is also a member of APCO’s International Advisory Council. Read More