I know I sometimes sound like a broken record, but I cannot believe how poorly some
prospective clients treat the agencies competing for their business.
For example, there's a certain Midwestern home appliance maker that more than six months ago rushed us to develop a presentation, travel to their godforsaken headquarters and deliver a two-hour pitch. After awarding the business to another firm, they've refused to respond to our repeated e-mail and voice mail entreaties asking for feedback.
And, then there's a certain well-known consumer brand that just really put us through the ringer.
The top communications honcho called me about two months ago. She said we'd come highly recommended and invited us to be one of a “…few, select firms” to pitch her seven-figure account. She asked if we had conflicts. I assured her we did not.
So, she issued the RFP and we answered the typically inane, 'fishing expedition-type' questions ('Tell us how you'd break our brand through the clutter and overcome the poor economy to once again become number one in our field.” Prayer was one obvious answer.).
We submitted our lengthy proposal before the 5pm EDT deadline on the appointed day and crossed our fingers. Surprisingly, we heard right away. The lead prospect asked me to visit her HQs ASAP for an “informal working lunch.” Wow. Good sign, no?
So, I moved around my schedule, hopped in a car and traveled to god's country for the command performance.
Once there, I was greeted by the prospect, who carried a dog-eared, Post-it flagged copy of our RFP. We ate lunch. (She didn't treat.) In between bites, she'd flip to a given page, skim down to a section and say, “So, on page 22, section three, paragraph two, you say you'd jump on breaking news opportunities for us. Give me an example from today's news to show me how it would work.” Fair enough. But, the questions became more arcane and more intense up to, and including, how we KNEW our program would guarantee a sales increase. I told her the G word didn't enter our vocabulary, whether it's applied to media or sales. That seemed to cause some mild indigestion.
The 'lunch' ended and I returned to the office. The next day, I sent her a spot-on example of a breaking news story she could leverage on her organization's behalf. She responded effusively and said I'd given her the ammunition necessary to make some decisions. That sounded promising.
And, then, radio silence. Two weeks passed. I sent a follow-up note. No response.
Then, yesterday, came a note headlined: “To vendors.” It read: “Thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, you are not being invited to the final round.”
I was appalled, but not at all surprised. I shot the erstwhile prospect a note, asking for an explanation and letting her know that we had expended lots of blood, sweat and tears pursuing the account. At the very least, common decency dictated a personal phone call.
That said, I expect the same type of radio silence from this character as we got from the 'Midwestern nice' prospect.
I'm at a loss to explain why highly-paid, highly-educated and highly vulnerable corporate types treat their agency brethren with such indifference. If the economy doesn't turn around and these 'overhead expenses' find themselves on the streets, their reputations will precede them. In other words, I won't be inviting either of them to a working lunch anytime soon.
Funny how I feel the same way yet forget my biggest competitors may also be may biggest supporters. Each time I hear crickets after traveling on holidays, alone, away from fun and family to rehearse for a final pitch a little voice in my head says “begging them to date you doth not a good relationship make”. Why do we do this over and over? Aren’t we supposed to be clever, smart mavericks? Unfortunately we’ve won business in this exact cattle calling process, I can think of three large accounts we won this way. I wish that were not the case, I wish we won them because I sat next to the CMO on a plane instead. An example of time well spent vs circumstance.
Awesome, David. Simply awesome. From your lips to God’s/purchasing’s ears.
Steve, I would have commented earlier but I was engaged in reading through a humongous RFP. A university “system” in my fair state wanted a communications firm that would not only help them find big donors for a new campus in the worst recession since the Great Depression, but also promote the school and get it all kinds of coverage so it can find more donors so it can pay PR firms to….. Anyway, the RFP was written by their purchasing department (really). And, if you had a question or two like we did, you had to ask Purchasing, who would post the answers on a website. No direct discussions allowed (really). “Talk to the hand cause the face ain’t listenin’.” The posted answers were as cryptic as the RFP. We decided to pass. Too many unknowns to commit resources to something that resembles a Texas rabbit trail.
As a corporate guy, the best agency relationships I ever had–the ones where everyone was happy, we achieved results and got a little trophy, did not come as a result of an RFP. Amazing, I know.
There’s a lot to be said for taking time to get to know a firm, it’s passion for results, and its ability to get the job done. To those out there who might be tempted to go sans RFP I’d say, have some courage, make a decision and put your effort into the relationship instead of the RFP. You’ll save time, money and being a subject of Steve Cody’s blog.
Steve, Tucker, Scott and Trish,
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you have been commoditized. When you are 1 out of 55 (or 100) agencies pithing for the business you are a commodity. When you are on the short list of agencies being asked to jump through hoops you are a commodity. Don’t be surprised when you are treated as one. You can vent all you want but the Agency/PR community needs to accept equal responsibiliy. If you don’t like how you are being treated then change how you prospect and sell your services.
I’m just wondering whether the ignition key for private enterprise is a sacred commitment to Public Trust.
Looking forward to November 6.
I hear you, Scott. I wonder if the senior management of these Fortune 500 corporations know how shabbily their people treat others? Such boorish behavior reflects poorly on the organization and, in fact, undermines its overall image and reputation. And that’s something that should concern every CEO and board of directors.
Steve, that’s why the trees are falling, confidence in corporations is ebbing and nobody wants to actually live in the forest.
We just work there — tacitly felling trees.
Interesting thought, Scott, but it would be akin to the tree falling in the middle of the woods. No one would respond to it.
Pardon my blithering ignorance, but I wonder whether it makes any sense to advertize for the kind of conscientious client your industry desperately needs?
Not surprised to hear your story, Julie. As Tucker indicated, one can only hope that these people get their just desserts down the road.
Thanks Trish. Spot on. The philosophy of the whole lot might best be summed up as: “Use them and then lose them.”
I don’t think it’s much more different than the guy who cut me at Dunkin Donuts or the lady who could see others didn’t fit into the elevator but still felt the need to throw her purse in the door to see she couldn’t fit… all constitutes selfishness. Help me. Serve me. Oh thanks for that; I’m done with you now.
I know everyone is busy, but the least anyone can do is provide feedback.
Steve: I chuckled several times while reading your story because, unfortunately, I have been in similar situations — not as a vendor, but as a job-hunter. The rude dynamics you describe seem to be standard operating procedure for most “Human Capital” departments.
A well-known and respected cable television network called me back four times to meet with senior-level executives about an open position there. I followed up with them after the last meeting, but never heard back. Finally, I received a form letter via email saying that I was no longer on the short list.
A phone call would have been the courteous way to give me this news, after all the time and energy I spent with them. Unfortunately, common manners seem to be a thing of the past nowadays.
Great suggestions, Robert. Thanks.
Given the popularity of social networking and given its ability to improve or detract from one’s personal or corporate brand, you would think clients like the one you describe would understand that social networking exists in other forms beyond digital. Basic, tried and true forms like human interaction, face-to-face contact, a phone call or even a handwritten letter are the original social networking and people seem to have forgotten these can also be beneficial and/or devastating to your personal brand and reputation. Especially now we have blogs and other forms of digital social networking as vehicles to share our personal experiences and opinions. Word travels fast.
And for me, it also has to do with “corporate cowardice.” Clients such as this one have no problem asking you and your staff to work day and night, invest time and money and crawl over five miles of broken glass to deliver a superior product. But they do seem to have a problem with possessing the guts to be honest about the how many agencies are in the pitch, or exactly what they are looking for in an agency and why you were not selected. That means they would actually have to have a logical, valid reason to personally communicate and either they are afraid for some reason, or just don’t care. And by conducting themselves in this manner they are ignoring any form of personal or professional responsibility and to me that is pure cowardice.
Hopefully folks like those you describe will some day be on the receiving-end of such shoddy treatment.
Steve, It’s time to change the rules. Before you jump threw any hoops, tell your prospects you expect to have an extensive review/feeback interview if you are not chosen. Have them put it in writing. If they refuse you can be assured of one of three things. Either this is not a real opportunity. You are being used a pawn and you are chances of being considered are nill. Or you a dealing with someone who has little or no respect for your time. In either of the cases their is a lack of integrity and without hestiation you should decline the invitation.
Any interst in the next rule change?