What do a Midwestern law firm, a Phoenix-based social media company and a New England financial services organization have in common? They've all gone on recent PR firm fishing expeditions.
In doing so, they've issued RFPs, made agencies scramble to respond, invited a select few to visit their environs (at agency cost, of course) and then never, ever made a decision. Nice, no?
The Great Recession has seen a great rise in the number of fishing expeditions. In fact, I recently told a PR Week reporter that I've never seen more totally bogus leads in my entire life. Even those crazy, egomaniacal, abusive-as-hell dotcom prospects made decisions and hired firms. They may have fired them a week later but, hey, at least they made pulled the trigger.
Not nowadays, though. Nowadays it's all about the fishing expedition. The endless, '….just one more round of reviews and we'll get back to you with a decision soon' fishing expedition.
I think fishing expeditions are thriving for three reasons:
1) Prospective clients know agencies are dying for new business and, like a hungry shark, are ready to bite at the first lure. 'So, let's test the waters, Blixinbottom. Maybe we'll find something. Maybe we won't. But, who cares?'
2) It's a great way to get free creative advice. Agencies are all too happy to fork over pro bono strategy and creativity as long as there's a potential of being hired. 'Look, Blixinbottom, you're stuck for new ideas and I haven't had one since Jerry Ford was president. We're both feeling the heat from old man Bedwetter, so let's pick some brains. The price is right.'
3) The prospective client who initiated the search finds out he never had the authority to do so, but is too embarrassed to tell the competing firms. 'Ignore the damn e-mails, Blixinbottom. They'll move on. Still, I could have sworn Bedwetter said we had a budget to hire an outside PR firm. Oh well. Hey, let's do that one idea about an online advisory board. It rocked!'
Our various industry trade associations like to publish white papers and research purporting to show how PR is slowly, but surely, playing an ever more important role in major corporations. That may be true in some instances. But, many corporate decision-makers still see PR as a commodity and treat PR firms as vendors who, like a school of fish, will swarm around a warm lead. And, the sad truth is, we will.
'So, Blixinbottom, let's draft a new RFP, send it out to a few different suspects this time and let's see what type of ideas we dredge up. You never know. One of these days old man Bedwetter just might let us hire someone. In the meantime, we need ideas.'
That’s really interesting, Rob. And, it certainly rings true. My ex-CEO at Brouillard used the same strategy as he hired one ‘hand-picked successor’ after another and then criticized/undercut us with JWT management so that he’d look brilliant and not be forced into retirement.
We’ve seen the same thing here. All talk and no action. I would add a 4th reason to your post above. 4) Prospective client wants to flex some internal muscle and show that his internal team is capable of handling the work, a.k.a. saving the company money. He’ll bring in firms and trash them just to prove how smart his existing team is. Then his team implements the agency ideas. Brilliant.
Au contraire, Monsieur Duke. Things are going swimmingly at Peppercom. I appreciate your obvious concern, though. Thank you for that. Your ‘tude, though, is indicative of what we’re finding from prospective clients, though. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn you’re one of them.
Wow, things must be really bad Herr Cody; this is, at a minimum, your third blog in as many months about those dastardly dilettantes who decide not to hire you–how dare they?!
Perhaps I see it backwards. That is, wow Herr Cody, things must have been really good a while back, when a plethora of people pursued the privilege of posting Peppercom as their PR agency of record.
Either way, the seed that engendered your waahttitude speaks well for your agency’s blossom.