Now serving: Agency #11

Today’s post is dedicated to the memory of Peppercommmer, Sara Jane Whitman Ramos.

A couple of weeks ago we made an unfortunate decision. We trusted a prospect when she told us we'd be among a few, select agencies to pitch her fairly significant piece of business.

BedpostSince we possessed serious category expertise, we bit the bullet, invested the staff time and out-of-pocket expense, and traveled to Outer Mongolia to meet the prospect's fellow marketing, communications and purchasing decision-makers.

We arrived a few minutes early for our 3pm presentation. The prospect's assistant came to the reception area and asked us to take a seat. “The other agency's running late,” he said. “Oh,” we replied.

Twenty minutes later, we were ushered into a conference room. Fifteen minutes after that, a bedraggled group of client-side types staggered into the room, yawning, stretching and bleary-eyed from what we were told had been a full day's worth of agency presentations. “And, we have one more after you today and two tomorrow!” exclaimed the prospect. Ugh. It became abundantly clear that we were smack dab in the middle of a major cattle call.

“How many agencies have you already seen?” I asked. The prospect scratched her head, and sighed, “Well, there were a couple yesterday, and then all of you guys today and the ones tomorrow. I'm actually not sure. I do know we've got two Omnicom firms coming in tomorrow. That part I remember,” she chuckled.

I was appalled. I knew our odds had immediately dropped from one in four to one in god knows how many?

And, so we went through the pitch. And, the exhausted client-side types nodded their heads and asked a few questions. But, I knew their brains were just as dead as our chances.

Sure enough, an e-mail arrived a week or so later. 'Thanks for all the time and effort,' wrote the prospect. 'We've picked three finalists and, unfortunately, you finished a close fourth,' Yeah, sure. I'll bet seven or eight other firms received the exact same note.

All of which leaves me wondering why so many PR directors still spin so many wheels in their search for a new partner. It was clear by their non-verbals that the prospect's peers didn't appreciate the agonizing monotony of meeting one agency after another. And, I can personally attest to the fact that 11 of the 12 agencies this woman contacted rue the moment they answered her initial phone call.

So, why does the cattle call trend continue unabated when everyone involved, aside from the winning firm, loses big time?

The Council of PR Firms goes to great lengths to educate prospective clients on agency selection protocol. But, the Arthur W. Page Society doesn't do much in warning next generation corporate communications types such as our Outer Mongolia prospect about the sheer waste of time and money that is the cattle call. I'm hopeful incoming director Roger Bolton may change all that.

Until then though, we'll just have to rely on an ever-more vigilant internal evaluation process at Peppercom. I can tell you from first-hand experience, it’s no fun being agency number 11 in a 12 agency beauty pageant.

2 thoughts on “Now serving: Agency #11

  1. I hate hearing (and reading) stories like this. Everyone’s time is wasted, it’s counter-productive, and creates ill-will.
    But in answer to your question: why so many PR directors still spin so many wheels in their search for a new partner; I would say it’s the same reason that HR folks interview 20 candidates for a position. They want to be able to tell their higher-ups that they did their “due diligence.”
    Also, they are afraid of making the wrong hire, so they think interviewing more people (or in your case, more agencies) will help them make a better decision.
    In actuality, it does just the opposite. And I think at the very least you deserved a phone call from them(not a form letter) explaining their decision. Very insulting.