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Should you share your ideas with prospective clients?

Balancing the need to demonstrate your skill with the need to get paid for your work

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In this episode, Chip and Gini discuss whether you should share ideas with prospective clients during the business development process.

If you don’t share ideas, you worry that you can’t prove your expertise and creativity.

If you do share ideas, you worry that the prospect will take your thoughts (for free) and implement them on their own.

So what are you to do?

Transcript

Chip Griffin 

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich 

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin 

and this time we really are here to sell you an idea.

Gini Dietrich 

We are But first, I would like to tell people who cannot see you about the shirt you’re wearing today. It’s a lovely blue color, t shirt, round neck, and it says it depends, which is amazing and totally perfect for this podcast. Now I feel like I need to order myself one and we will match. I’ll get red or something.

Chip Griffin 

I can say this is the first time I have ever appeared in a public video wearing a T shirt.

Gini Dietrich 

I believe that that’s true.

Chip Griffin 

I think it’s probably the first time I’ve ever done any work function wearing a T shirt either of any kind.

Gini Dietrich 

I believe that that’s also true knowing you like I know you but it’s perfect. It’s perfect for this and I clap When I saw it,

Chip Griffin 

I thought it was fun. So I, you know, you got to have.

I think it’s great.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. I thought maybe it was a good antidote to the doom and gloom episode that we published

Gini Dietrich 

the doom and gloom, but by the way, after we stopped recording, he went on and told me more about his doom and gloom. And then I was like, wow, I have a migraine. I wonder why?

Chip Griffin 

Well, you know, it’s, it’s important not to completely depress the audience because we want them to come back. Just

Gini Dietrich 

me. Yeah, just depress me.

Chip Griffin 

Well, yeah. But I share the unvarnished truth with you, Jenny. I

Gini Dietrich 

do and it wasn’t on varnished. I

Chip Griffin 

slightly varnish the truth for everybody else. Not much. Not much. So. I mean, no,

Gini Dietrich 

I would say you didn’t. You just, I wouldn’t say you varnished the truth. I would say you just didn’t go it’s say everything.

Chip Griffin 

Yes, I stopped at a certain point. The point I stopped that was much more speculative. So in all fairness, so we don’t We don’t tease the audience too much into two.

Gini Dietrich 

Oh, yeah, it was.

Chip Griffin 

It was, I am pretty convinced of everything I talked about on the doom and gloom episode. And then with you, I shared some, you know, things that are, you know, more sort of big question marks as opposed to little question marks. But anyway, fair enough for that, because that’s just people to talk like that without actually getting into it. But we are not having another doom and gloom episode. We are not on constructive, useful advice that people can actually take advantage of this week.

Gini Dietrich 

Giving clients prospects, ideas, prospects,

Chip Griffin 

yes. clients, you should absolutely give ideas. Yes. There’s there’s no reason to debate that if you’re not giving ideas to clients, what are you doing? So we’re just going to assume that you do give ideas to clients. But the question is, do you give ideas to prospects? Because some prospects may be just fishing for ideas for free and we’re always worried about giving away things for free. Yes, and So the question is, is it ever okay to give something away for free? Where do you draw the line? How do you convince someone that they should hire you without sharing all this stuff? I mean, and there are degrees, right? I mean, because ad agencies have a history, for example of not just giving the idea but the whole campaign.

Right,

Chip Griffin 

right. If you watch, if you watch Mad Men, for example, they actually come up with the creative. And that’s real. By the way, folks, that is not that is mentioned, this is how ad agencies have traditionally worked, and frankly, still, to a large degree, continue to work. There was actually a show on one of the was a reality show probably eight or 10 years ago on AMC or something like that, where they followed ad agencies around to pitches. And so you got to see them developing the pitch.

Gini Dietrich 

I don’t remember that.

Chip Griffin 

It was it was a fascinating show was only on for one or two seasons. But it was it was a really fascinating thing because they had basically three agencies I think go in, going head to head against each other and they showed their preparation for the pitch the actual pitch On the clients decision, and it’s it’s stunning the amount of stuff that ad agencies give away. Unfortunately, other agencies, including a lot of the folks who are listening to this PR marketing digital, do something similar, not maybe to that full degree. But I’ve been involved in a lot of agency pitches where a whole campaign plan is put out on the table before Yeah,

Gini Dietrich 

yeah. Well, I mean, when, when I was a freshman, that’s what we did. We put together a whole campaigns like a full annual campaign as part of the new business pitch. And I mean, granted, we almost always won. But that was the background that I came from. And when I started my own agency, and I was doing that kind of work, a you don’t have the manpower to do that. And be you don’t always win the business because you’re not a big global firm that has a well known brand.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, well, not Not only that, but one of the problems that you run into with some of the smaller agent sees when they’re doing this is, from my experience, the campaign plan or the pitches put together with way too little information, way to go. So you’re really just firing in the dark and you’re you’re operating off of, you know, a five minute conversation with a friend of yours who works at that company. And all of a sudden, you’re like, oh, here’s what we can do, we can do this, and this and this, and this, you have no idea what the budget is, you have no idea what the goals are, you have no idea what their sensitivities are. And you’re throwing all these ideas out there. And so it’s no surprise that a lot of the times you don’t win those kinds of things.

Gini Dietrich 

Well, and I will tell you, I mean, just in my own experience, as as my agency has evolved, there are a couple of things that I have learned, and that is one of them that you just don’t get enough information. And it’s not necessarily that you don’t ask the right questions. You may very well ask the right questions. You may not be getting the right answers, or you may be getting half truths, which you know, because you don’t have an NDA or you’ve just started a relationship and you don’t have the trust built or whatever happens. To be, but you get inside a client’s business. And those first 90 days, you’re like, Wait a second, this is not what you told me. And it’s not what we expected. And now we’ve got this plan that we’re supposed to be executing on, that doesn’t match what you’re trying to achieve. And that’s for me, that’s, that was the big thing. I was like, we we can’t continue to do work this way. And that’s why we do our our two day strategy session, which used to be in person and no longer is, but that’s why we do that so that we really understand what the client is trying to achieve, what their sensitivities are, where their resources lie, where their strengths are internally, where they need help, externally, all of those pieces to that you have to have that information. And otherwise you just you just don’t know. And to throw out ideas, I think is ludicrous. And to throw out a plan is ludicrous not to say that you can’t say when we works for a client in a similar industry or a similar type of thing. These are some things that we did. And they worked. Absolutely. But I don’t think that you should sit down and write a full on campaign plan and give ideas and you know, to your point, go to the big pitch and have, you know, these, these three different campaigns that they get to choose from, that’s just not how it should work. It’s these days.

Chip Griffin 

Right? And let’s be honest, the, you know, most of your client relationships, the you learn a lot after you start regardless. Yeah, and it is one of the real advantages of your two day strategy thing, you start to learn some of that, but I would imagine even after that, you continue, as the worship goes on, you learn things you’re like, Oh, you know, I never realized that so and so impartment had so much influence, or, you know, I never realized that this was something that they had tried five years ago, and this is why they’re, they have an aversion to these kinds of tactics or these kinds of programs, right kinds of things, or that someone came from another organization where they had a bad experience. You know, there’s there’s So many of these little things that you pick up, the longer that you work with them so, so putting together something super comprehensive, during the pitch process during the prospecting stage is absolutely insane. So I think we’ve, you and I can agree on that there’s there’s no disagreement that we shouldn’t be putting together these big plans, you should absolutely be doing some sort of a paid discovery strategic planning type process, as your as your main way to get into the real planning. But I guess then the question is, you know, where do you draw the line in those conversations with prospects? Because we always have those conversations with prospects? And, you know, it’s natural, as you’re talking to say, oh, have you thought about doing this or that? Right.

Right. Right. And,

Chip Griffin 

and so and so part of that’s part of the natural conversation. So I think taking that out entirely, doesn’t doesn’t work. But you also do want to be careful because if you give someone that golden nugget idea, maybe they say, Well, look, we’ll just run with that we don’t actually need you for it. So you know, where do you draw the line? How do you know how much to share or do you just Talk about your past experiences with your prospects and you never even get into ideas for them.

Gini Dietrich 

So, probably almost three years ago now, we switched the way that we have new business meetings. And in those meetings, especially the initial ones, we don’t provide solutions. We don’t provide advice we don’t consult those are three big no no’s. We ask questions we ask what is your biggest challenge? Why is that your biggest challenge? What have you tried to do to to get past it? You know, we dig into the we ask the question and and I say to my team all the time, you have to ask why at least five times in some fashion not not just like your two year old. It’s like why Why are my seven year old who still does that? Why? Oh my gosh. But it’s you know, asking some

Chip Griffin 

what your team to do it.

Correct. All right.

Chip Griffin 

just just just for clarity there. You want your team to behave like your child by?

Gini Dietrich 

Right? Right? But no, but in all seriousness, asking some form just to continue to dig into that. Because there are a couple of things that happen, you do uncover more than you would if you’re talking about yourself, or you’re showing case studies or whatever happens to be. And I’m always amazed when people say, Wow, that was a really good conversation. And all I did was ask questions like I didn’t. That’s all I did. And people, I think two things happen. People build an there’s that first layer of trust that you build, because you’re asking really smart questions, and you’re getting them to think about things differently. And people love to talk. So when they when you let them talk about themselves, suddenly you become the smart person because you’ve allowed them to do that. And it builds that that first layer of trust that you need in order to win a new piece of business.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, and I think questions are One of the strongest ways to demonstrate expertise in almost any arena. And yes, and you sort of, you know, sometimes it’s used to an extreme say, like in law school where, you know, it’s it’s all about, you know, sort of the the asking the question and the professor I think sometimes uses it just to make themselves look smart, at least you know, if we believe the law school stuff you see on TV. But but it is because it, I mean, a few things. First of all, it’s safer to ask a question, as opposed to, you know, proposing a diagnosis, right? Because if you ask the question, you can demonstrate that you thought about it, and maybe you even think it’s a good idea, but they can then explain to you why it’s not. And it’s not that you’ve now you haven’t created that adversarial relationship where you say, well, you should do X, and they say, look, we tried x, x failed because of ABCD. And they make a really compelling case for why x is just a bad idea. Whereas, if instead of saying you should do X, you say Have you thought about doing x? It creates a more positive dynamic where they share their experience, which you can then learn from. And maybe you still think x is a good idea even after you hear it. But it’s it’s changed the dynamic between the agency and the prospect by asking you those questions as opposed to proposing it as an idea.

Gini Dietrich 

Yes, yeah, I’m just not I’m not a fan. I mean, I’ve been burned several times. I there was a big department store that we pitched in, we put together a very large team, there was an ad agency, there was us there was a marketing agency, there was a direct mail agency. This was back in the day, like there were there, probably five or six of us. And it was a big pitch. And we got down to the final two, and they had us fly to New York, and they had us put together a campaign and give our ideas and because we all came from big agency backgrounds, we did and we didn’t win the business, and I went on vacation and I came back and my officemate, who was not part of the business. We were in similar businesses and shared an office said to me, did you see the sun times while you were gone? And I said, No, because I was on vacation. And he had kept it. And this very large department store announced their big new campaign. And it was all of our ideas that they hadn’t paid for, that they had had us pitch in, in a meeting in New York, and then they took them all. And they like, and I know that there’s something to be said for, you know, the, the, the idea the the magic is in the idea, the idea is just an ideas in how you execute and I get all that but I also like the idea that you that somebody would do that to you and take your, your thinking and all of that work that you put in for free, by the way, and just run with it. And then to be so bold as to announce it to Chicago media, like what is wrong with you. And after that, I was like, nope, nobody’s getting ideas. Sorry.

Chip Griffin 

Right. Look, I think most of us in this space have been burned. At one point or another, In a similar vein, maybe not quite as dramatic as that. But in one way or another, we have been burned by prospects where we share an idea. That said, it’s oftentimes it’s difficult to know for sure that it was our idea that triggered it. Because, you know, sometimes it’s very clear, sometimes the idea is so out of left field that there’s no other way they could have thought of it. Right. But sometimes, let’s be honest, you know, we’re all consuming similar information. So, you know, if you put 10 people in a room and say, Okay, come up with an idea, there’s going to be some overlap in the ideas. So is that fair, but I think because people have been burning because people have heard these stories, I think that they are, they can be too gun shy about, you know, sharing thoughts in meetings and, you know, defining the difference between an actual idea and just a thought or, you know, you’ve got to be careful too, because if you if you look like you’re putting your guard up, and if you look like you’re holding back, that’s a problem too. So you know, you don’t want To give it all away, but at the same time if you if you just shut down, that makes it hard to have a natural conversation with somebody, so I, I guess I would take a more nuanced position on it. And it’s sort of I go back to and I think I’ve told the story on the show before, but I used to do angel investing. And I was part of a group of angel investors and we would meet with a lot of startup entrepreneur entrepreneurs. And the founders would almost always asked me to sign an NDA before they even told me what their business was just flat out No, first of all, it’s just from a from a position it’s dangerous because you know, if you’re talking to someone else who’s got a similar idea now you’re in a boatload of trouble because how do you approve a new at a certain time because we don’t document every call we anyway, so so it’s just it’s dangerous from a legal perspective, but just from a rational perspective. You know, I would always say to them, Look, if if, if the what your business does is so unique and so special that you can’t even tell me it without fear that you’re going to be You know, beaten to market, whatever, then you don’t really have a good idea. Because it’s tied to not just the idea, but the actual execution of that idea. And, and so, you know, there does have to be a balance here. And so I, I do think that if it’s, you know, if if it’s an idea that you can, you know, throw out over a cocktail conversation, that’s different than if it’s one that you’ve put a lot of planning into, and, you know, and it starts to look more like a fully jelled plan of an idea, right? So I, to me, there just has to be, you have to have some understanding of the situation and some fluidity because if you take an absolute position, I’ll give you you know, full on ideas at agency style, or I’ll give you nothing I think those are those positions don’t work. I think it really has to be something more measured in between.

Gini Dietrich 

Well, and perhaps your your difference between a thought and an idea are is is a good one, because I agree. I mean, I certainly will say have you thought about or Have you tried or you know, tell me about Tell me about the last time you did this or you know, what was from a from a content marketing perspective, what’s worked really well? Have you tried this? Certainly I will do that. But you will not get a full on written campaign plan, any calendar, anything you won’t you just won’t get it. Sorry. And if that means we don’t win that was business, that’s what it means. Right.

Chip Griffin 

I hundred percent agree on the plan. No plans. So it’s

Gini Dietrich 

asking for it.

Chip Griffin 

Yes, I understand that. And it’s and it’s still you’re

Gini Dietrich 

not getting it sorry. It is stupid

Chip Griffin 

RFP, which just kind of made me twinge. So, you know,

I know I have a client who just couldn’t say no to me or me Don’t

Chip Griffin 

even worry about the fact that they asked for something stupid in it.

Gini Dietrich 

I agree. I agree. So

Chip Griffin 

we never have to make the decision about the plan and the RFA because we’ve already said no to the RFP. But you know, look, it’s and it is. It’s, I think that a lot of this comes down to data definitions, right? Because if we agree that a plan is bad, an idea, idea can be mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Because it depends. And like, I totally lost any meaning for those of you who are listening and not watching, but I pointed to my shirt that says it depends. We’re not listening and paying attention to the, you know, the show. So, so I, you know, I think it does come down to how you define what an idea is, people can still steal some of those, have you thought of type things, and like that, that is, that’s always going to happen, but honestly, if it was something that you could throw out that easily, they could take it and run with it. It probably wasn’t that original or that special or whatever. I mean, maybe it was sometimes sometimes we have a great idea and you know, but it is what it is and you know, there are there are things that you’re that are worth worrying about losing About to me, something tossed out in a conversation casually like that is not something to worry about, even if it does lead to something

Gini Dietrich 

totally agree with it.

Chip Griffin 

I do agree with that. And we’ve all been spurred by that. I mean, there are people who are listening to this show who probably got an idea from us, for sure, and have capitalized on it, at least I would hope they would. After all these episodes, we’ve done a couple. So now, you know, and we did stop numbering them by the way, because I got tired of numbering them.

Gini Dietrich 

I didn’t notice that when I was doing the crossover. I was like wait, which which one is this? Yeah, I didn’t notice that.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, I mean, I weld and in fairness, most podcasts have moved away from it. iTunes doesn’t like you to number your podcast episodes. So anyway, off the beaten path there. But But with all these episodes, hopefully we have given people some stuff for free, that they’ve been able to take and run with and extra money off first or first so there’s always gonna be that exchange of ideas. I know what happens to me all the time. I watch YouTube videos, I listened to podcast As I read blog posts and articles, I get lots of ideas from them that I take, I do not necessarily always credit back to the person or send them a check or any of those kinds of things. It’s what putting the information out there is about it’s it is to enrich people in one form or fashion. So, you know, I just would encourage people to just stay away from doing, you know, the big in depth plans that can be sort of just that are tied up with a bow and someone can just take and implement with relatively little brain power versus throwing out ideas. In the course of the prospecting conversations. I think you have to to have some judgment in that process and not be too gun shy of either extreme.

Gini Dietrich 

I totally agree. And I think that that’s I mean that the nuance between that I think is is fair. And as it happens, we end up agreeing even when we thought we wouldn’t,

Chip Griffin 

and and I must say that two weeks ago, when we started our recording this episode before, you know my doom and gloom side. Before we started recording, I said, I think we’re going to find more common ground on this than we would. And you insisted that we wouldn’t. So, so who was right, Jenny?

Gini Dietrich 

That is also true. I’m not going to say it.

Chip Griffin 

Oh, come on. You could say you could have no time right once in a while. No, not doing it. Sad. That is very, very sad. Well, I guess on that note, I’ll do it

Gini Dietrich 

when we’re not recording. I’m

Chip Griffin 

sure you will, I’m sure. Well, yeah, you were right, Chip, but I couldn’t say it. I’m

Gini Dietrich 

not saying it was recording.

Chip Griffin 

recorded as a little soundbite and keep playing it back with my little magic switcher down here because I can have a play sound effects. And you’re right, Chip. You’re right, Chip. But I hear that anyway, so I mean, I just not

Gini Dietrich 

gonna say it

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. Yeah. All right. So, on that note, hopefully we’ve given you some ideas on how to handle ideas. And that will bring to a conclusion, this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich 

and I am Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin  and it depends.

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