An agency- firing idea


While rummaging through my sock drawer the other day, I found myself unable to locate a clean, matched pair. I asked my wife if there might be any in the wash. She responded by telling me to check the mismatched sock pile in the laundry room.

The name triggered a Pavlovian response, and I was immediately transported back in time to a major new business pitch we were making.

We were up against some major players and challenged by the prospect to present “ideas that would get an agency fired.”  As you might expect, we soon found ourselves struggling to formulate three truly innovative (and agency firing worthy) suggestions.

En route to the pitch, I found myself with extra time to squeeze in a quick workout. After checking into an airport hotel for the night, I searched for my gym socks. Sure enough, one was M.I.A.

Its absence triggered an immediate thought for the upcoming pitch: where DOES a missing sock go? Why does it leave in the first place and what happens to it afterwards? Does it join a league of other missing socks or go it alone like a clothing world version of Robinson Crusoe?

I shared my idea for the missing sock theme with my teammates. Lacking a third idea and weary beyond words, they readily agreed to let me present it to the prospect later that day. I did. I actually brought my one, remaining white sock to the meeting and, at just the right moment, hurled it across the conference room table at the CMO.

Needless to say he was flummoxed. I then escalated his unease by asking, “So, Jeff, where did this poor white sock's mate go? Where do ALL missing socks go? Is there a sock heaven? We'd like to know. In fact, we think EVERY American housewife (their target audience) would like to know and we'd like to suggest a grass roots campaign to find America's missing socks.”

Jeff and his team loved the idea. We were hired on the spot. And, just as quickly, the missing sock idea went, well, missing. It remains M.I.A. to this day.

Most big ideas that win new accounts never see the light of day.  Why? There are a number of reasons:

– The prospect's only interested in seeing how creative the contenders can be
– The prospect's really not interested in pushing the envelope and risking failure
– The prospect doesn't have the budget needed to implement the truly big idea.

It can be frustrating to nail a really big concept, have the prospect buy it (and you) and later be told it won't be implemented. But, the subsequent fees can sure ease the pain.

How about you? Have you ever presented great ideas that, despite winning universal acclaim from the client, never saw the light of day? If so, spill the beans. My sock story needs company.

5 thoughts on “An agency- firing idea

  1. Wow. That is such a great idea, Cathieericson. But, as you know, it’s one thing to share a great idea with a prospect and quite another to pass it along to a direct competitor.

  2. Absolutely…for all three reasons cited! Can be frustrating, but is usually not surprising. It takes an amazing client to see the value of “outside the box.”
    Our local PRSA chapter included an award category one time for “Close…but no go” where we could honor those brilliant ideas that never got implemented. It would have been judged “just for fun.”
    Not one agency entered an idea, even though we all have them. I guess no one wanted to air their “laundry” to borrow your sock analogy.

  3. My former agency once worked for a certain Asian car company that’s now definitely second-tier if not lower. Back then, as now, they had one great niche product. The difference was that back then they wouldn’t bring it over from the mother country despite enthusiast clamor for it.
    To spur management and create buzz, we came up with a road rally program designed to get enthusiasts of limited means involved in motorsport.
    While the marcom people loved it, the sales people — from whose rank the showboat COO rose — said the product would never do enough volume to make it worthwhile.
    As we later found out, they were only concerned with jiggering the monthly sales numbers and wrote up a lot of bad loans before being fired. They hired an agency without a significant auto portfolio for more consumer marketing, but the end only wanted same-old, same-old.
    One of the clients’ competitors whom you might have heard of — Subaru — has adopted many of the same strategies with its WRX STi all-wheel-drive performance compact.
    I have other ideas that haven’t seen the light of day but I won’t share them. That’s because I’ve become a believer in Blair Enns’ no-RFP, take-no-prisoners Manifesto, which I apply to creative services but can work just as well for PR:

  4. Thanks Julie. That is so true. I cannot remember how many times a prospect in say, health care, has invited us to pitch their business under the guise of ‘….wanting fresh, out-of-the-box thinking from someone other than the usual suspects.’ Then, we receive a call later on letting us know our lack of industry depth weighed heavily against us and the prospect had once again hired one of the usual suspects. Be it ever thus.

  5. What a great idea! I love when “happy accidents” spawn new creations. And kudos to the client for being open-minded enough to handle the unorthodox pitch.
    It’s been my experience that people say that want new, innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers, but, unfortunately, they wind up choosing the tried and true.