Bottom rail on top now, massa.

I never cease to be amazed at the poor deportment of businesspeople, especially those businesspeople who conduct new business searches for PR firms.

A couple of recent events prompted this evergreen, but nonetheless, too often true observation. Today, for example, I spied a big feature article on a particular manufacturer in which the head of communications is quoted extensively. Ah yes, I remember him well. It was only six months ago that this guy invited one large and three midsized agencies to pitch his account. In the briefings we were told the prospect had "had it" with big firms. So, what happened? They ended up picking the one big agency after all. And, how did we find out? Courtesy of a trade reporter calling for a reaction. The big agency selection was confirmed an hour later by a one sentence e-mail from this dude. Repeated requests for a post mortem explanation were ignored. Nice. Very nice.

Also, today, one of our account people followed up on a proposal that had been submitted several weeks ago to a prospect who said she needed to make a decision ASAP. Needless to say, we hadn’t heard anything so our intrepid AS sent the note. A one-sentence response came back saying the organization was in "….serious conversations with another firm." Nice. Very nice.

I’m convinced what goes around comes around and these ill-mannered types will get their just desserts in the end. In the meantime, I find it interesting how dramatically the comportment of such individuals change overnight when they find themselves downsized and in need of a job. Suddenly, they become amazingly communicative and often follow-up an e-mail with several phone calls wondering if we have openings or can connect them to others who might. When such a scenario does occur, I’m always reminded of the awesome Ken Burns Civil War documentary and a particular incident at the end of the war when a freed slave turned Union soldier saw his former master being led away in chains to a prisoner of war camp and said, "Bottom rail on top now, massa."

7 thoughts on “Bottom rail on top now, massa.

  1. Geoff-
    Excellent posts. Having worked in the pr industry, I can tell you that internships are very important- but probably for the wrong reason. I interned at a small firm and got real-world PR experience, and ultimately, I took my first job for that firm. However, as the size of the agency gets bigger, the amount of expereience you gain gets smaller. Most times, interns are stuffing press kits, making copies, etc. Does that equate to a good pr preson- absolutely not. At Peppercom, there was a balance for interns where they would do a lot of copying, stuffing etc, but also sat in on team meetings, and wrote some pitches etc.

  2. Geoff,
    Great post. I too have had a similar experience. What got me was not so much the lack of constructive feedback (which would have been valuable) but the complete lack of respect for my time and the effort I put into getting to the interview stage. I take solace in the fact that “what goes around comes around” – here’s to that day coming along soon.

  3. Ha! Good stuff. That’s a very favorable comparison.
    I wrote for a newspaper and worked at my school’s Sports Information Office as my “college credit internships”. Both were great experiences in developing my writing and hands-on media relations skills. But I’d say what was most beneficial was surrounding myself to the smartest men and women who worked on campus, including the Public Affairs Director and Sports Information Officer and just learning from them. Their wisdom, which I still seek from them today, has helped me so much more than a semester of answering phones for a big PR firm.
    Before I’m attacked for my ignorance, I do understand the value in an internship experience in which students are fully ingrained in the culture and operations of the corporate world. It prepares individuals so much more with the orientation period where its like learning a new language. I just think it can be overrated and I don’t think I’m alone here. I regret I never had one myself and hold that factor responsible for my lack of success in interviews. (I’ve never been one to shoulder the blame for my own life……this is a joke)

  4. Interesting post, Geoff.
    Did you land an internship before graduating?
    Also, your post reminded me of Michael J. Fox’s movie, ‘The Secret of My Success.’

  5. RepMan: Here’s a different perspective about a similar scenario to consider next time you’re interviewing entry level (or any level, for that matter) candidates for jobs at your firm.
    As a recent graduate looking to work on the agency-side, but lacking the coveted “agency experience” that seems to be the end-all for my interviewers, I met with several agencies (big and small) after which I was feeling completely confident about my qualifications to work for that firm.
    Much to my dismay and frustration was the the result: not necessarily that I didn’t get the job, but that I wasn’t given so much as a call or email back explaining their reasons for going in a different direction. This, despite my professional follow-up letters, emails, and phone calls pleading for an answer…or, better yet, a reason. I learned in academia (from the best, mind you) that this was so important to building and maintaining relationships. Yet, time and time again, I was disrespected and disappointed that the industry I studied in college and sought a career in after could be so cold. Was I misled in college? Was it all a load of crap? Was all I learned irrelevant in the “real world”?
    Fortunately, I am confident in my PR skills and abilities. I saw how I compared with peers who are now working as mindless drones b/c they “interned in the city” for a semester. Congrats Edelman, Good hire Fleishman. You just hired a dude I once saw down 3 shots in a row and subsequentially vomit on himself before passing out on a bar stool.
    Just consider this RepMan when you interview entry level employees. Tell your HR folks to really look beyond the resume, the expensive suit, and the buttoned up front. I know I’d have been a great asset to my potential employers, had they offered me a position. So, what you said about “what goes around, comes around” RepMan? I agree. The company lost someone who would have run through brick walls for them but instead now has to face him as their compeition. Kind of like the Babe did to his former employer once traded. (And yes, I just managed to compare my plight in PR to the “Curse”)
    My concern is for the fragile college graduates who are discouraged away from the PR field by such standoffish conduct. We should be giving these young professionals active feedback instead of the “one sentence email”.

  6. Appreciate the comment. Unlike you, some corporate communicators don’t understand that their poor behavior, in turn, reflects badly on their organization. And, as we all know, an organization depends upon all of its employees to be brand ambassadors. Mistreating those who don’t hold the same level of power as you is not only bad form, it’s bad corporate communications.

  7. I definitely agree with you on this one, RepMan. Having recently made the switch from agency to in-house PR, I’ve now seen the agency-client relationship from both sides of the story.
    Often, the PR or communications contact is not the ultimate decision-maker on agency relationships. It should work that way, but as we all know, it sometimes doesn’t. Many times, it’s the C-level execs who are the hold-up in making a decision or choice. For example, I’ve led the charge on two initiatives that required outside help: finding a photographer for executive headshots and finding an agency to conduct media training. In both cases, it took my executives 6-8 weeks to get back to me with the final go-ahead (even though I’d already made my decisions weeks before). The key, however, was that I let the agencies and photographers know what was going on the entire time. While these pitches may not have been as time-consuming as some of the ones to which you’re referring, I still appreciated the work they had pulled together and wanted to keep them updated.
    As soon as I did confirm these projects with the selected outside parties, I also made it a point to immediately call those who we did not choose. I not only communicated first-hand that they didn’t get the projects, I also explained the reasons why. The agency experience taught me how frustrating it can be to put work into a pitch only to hear a “we’ve gone with another firm” response without any further explanation.
    So, I’ve come to the same conclusion from either end of the agency-client relationship: Common courtesy and good communication are critical. And, I’d even add that agency experience should be required for any corporate communications pro—it’s certainly helped me.