Humanizing the Process: Tom Steadman, IPNY

IPNY, Inc.
Full Service
New York, United States
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Tom Steadman
Managing Director IPNY, Inc. (copy)

What is your view of the current climate in terms of new business opportunities and process? What has changed in the last few months and what is your forecast for the rest of the year?

There’s definitely new business to win but finding it these days is certainly more challenging.  “New from new” new business is understandably, way more difficult.  The last few months have made it nearly impossible to forge new relationships and we all know that the way to win new business is through strong, positive relationship building.  We're continuing to carry on dialogue with our new business prospects.  I’d say patience and empathy are probably the two most important traits needed right now.  We need to understand that the client’s decision to switch their AOR or award a project to a new agency during these times will require serious thought and understanding of the both near and long-term environment in which they're operating. 

That said, there’s nothing holding us back from expanding our business with our current clients.  In fact, the trusted relationships that have been forged over the years with many of our current and past clients get called into action when clients are thrown into unique, stressful market conditions.  Our core clients from the healthcare, nonprofit and financial services sector have all remained active in the market over the past few months.  Of course, we’ve maintained dialogue, modified strategy and tactics where appropriate and managed to earn a few new projects along the way.  These new projects were awarded based on the strength of the relationship, the mutual respect and understanding we have with our clients and smart, targeted promotion defined to help our clients business stand out during these challenging times.


How challenging was it to develop an idea for a pitch across your creative, research and growth teams, without being able to collaborate in the same physical space? How did you overcome those challenges?

IPNY’s basic philosophy has been to encourage working remotely. Operating as a virtual agency is nothing new.  We’re very comfortable working within a virtual business model and have learned how to develop winning integrated ideas while not sharing the same physical space.  

Everyone plays a key role in developing our ideas.  Strategic insights, Media Planning, Creative, Production, Public Relations and Account Management all share equally in the development of our work.  The team is accustomed to working with one another as we’ve known each other both professionally and personally for years. As such we have no issues reaching out to one another in the development stages of our ideas.

One of our more recent pitches challenged us to develop a campaign that had little-to-no media support with the assumption that it would leverage the use of PSA’s. Therefore, it became critical to the success of our idea to understanding the media landscape around PSA’s so that we could instill confidence in the client that the spots would actually air.  Our ideas leveraged insights to deliver powerful messaging for the target audience, but also took into consideration that in order to run they would need to capture the attention of the local market station managers.

To help bring the idea to life and to confirm its value, we were able to quickly pull together some market research.  The focus groups were all held online and the entire pitch team was able to take part, which furthered the continuity and development of our pitch preparations.


Looking at the pitch itself, what was it like presenting in a virtual environment? 

Presenting in a virtual environment is certainly different, but I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse than in person.  It’s just different.  It seems that every meeting now requires a good 10-20 minutes of socializing in order to get to know one another better.  Oddly enough, the experience actually humanizes the process and makes it almost friendlier.  There’s a feeling of togetherness that both the client and the agency team feels as we mutually prepared for the pitch.  Both parties know that we’re doing this together and both want to make sure that we carve out time to get to know one another as best we can under the circumstances.  One of the more memorable moments was when one of the 10 clients introduced himself along with his daughter who was sitting on his lap.  

On the downside, virtual presentations don’t allow you to feel or get a sense of some of the meeting dynamics.  It’s nearly impossible to gauge the emotional connection the clients might be making (or not making) with the work.  Head nods and smiles are easily seen, but beyond that it’s very difficult to feel the vibe that you inherently do when you're all in a room together.  In the end, you could be left with guessing whether the message you were trying to convey was actually received.  We’ve learned that it’s best to simply ask if they understood.  The candor and honesty is generally appreciated.  


What technologies did you use to present? How did you handle elements of the process such as the Q&A and the leave-behinds?

We used Zoom, but we’re able to use alternative platforms if required.  Interestingly, this was discussed early on with the client during the RFP process so that both parties knew well enough in advance as to what virtual platform was being used.  

A critical component of our presentations is the use of pre-produced videos to help demonstrate core capabilities and share insights from key research findings.  The use of video guarantees that you’ll deliver your critical thinking within a concise message that has significantly more impact especially if you're sharing layered sound bites from consumer research and/or examples of social and digital media.

We're generally very comfortable handling Q&A within the flow of the meeting as we prefer for our pitches to be more conversational.  If we do our job right, we should know what to expect as it relates to the relevant questions that will inevitably pop-up and we will have the precise answer already formulated.  Of course, we will always carve out the essential 30 minutes or so at the end of the meeting for the formal Q&A session.

We gladly shared our presentation in advance to the client to ensure they had access to it just in case we had technical difficulties with the Zoom technology.  As it turns out, we had one client who wasn’t able to access the Zoom video link so having the presentation, with all the embedded video and audio files came in handy.  The advanced material also served as the leave-behind and was far more environmentally sustainable than printing and preparing storyboards and old-school leave behind binders.  All of which was much appreciated by our clients.


PC, or pre-COVID as is our new vernacular, there was already chatter about the stress of working on a pitch. Preparing for a pitch often involves intensive work 24/7 because of unrealistic deadlines. What do you think can be done to smooth this process moving forward and are there any learnings from the lockdown? 

As mentioned earlier, we’ve been working virtually for quite a while now.  What’s helped is the fact that the client now has to work remotely and as such has now started to think more seriously about how best to run pitches via virtual environments.  The pitches that we’ve done since the shelter-at-home orders were instituted have only improved the work and pitch process.  

The harsh reality of the post-COVID virtual pitch process is that much of the showy gamesmanship of “The Pitch” has been diminished in lieu of sound strategic insight and great ideas.  The vulnerability brought on by the times for both client and agency are exposed and the warmth of a sound, logical discussion about business challenges and marketing/advertising solutions has thankfully returned as the new normal.  

Our most significant learning would be to ensure that you understand the meeting dynamics and how best to convey your message.  We’re all supposed to be communications experts so we all should be able to coordinate the new virtual medium with the right message content with the hopes of persuading the target audience to agree.