I’m tooling by lovely White Plains as we speak after a superb, week-long climbing adventure in New Hampshire.
I can’t drive by White Plains without thinking of one of the most ill-fated new business pitches in Peppercomm’s soon-to-be 20-year-long legacy.
Looking back, I can state with assurance that we were set-up for a fall by the marketing staff then working at Dos Equis beer (HQ’d in White Plains).
They contacted us to say they’d been following Peppercomm for years. (Yeah, sure. And, White Plains is the world’s most romantic city.)
The Dos Equis types told us they were holding an agency review, had already narrowed the field to a few, select firms and decided Peppercomm needed to be included since we were “…just as quirky and unconventional as their beer brand.” (which had just launched its ‘world’s most interesting man’ campaign).
We saw immediate red flags. We told the Dos Equis people we had little, if any, prior beverage experience (which is no longer the case, BTW). They pooh-poohed our lack of credentials, said they were tired of hiring the same, old firms with the same tired ideas and really loved our irreverent edge. They almost begged us to compete.
And, so we did.
I led a team to White Plains on one especially grim and grimy rainy morning. We entered the Dos Equis headquarters building and, naturally, were asked to wait while another agency wrapped up its dog-and-pony show.
Finally, we entered the conference room (which was littered with the leave-behinds from various competitors) and began our pitch.
It didn’t take long for one of the senior marketing types to begin probing for our relevant beverage experience. We glanced at the woman who’d originally told us beverage category expertise was a non-issue, but she was happily multi-tasking on her mobile device.
We shared what little experience we had at the time, but it was clear we were dead in the water (in the hops?). The world’s most interesting man would be represented by some other PR firm.
We were thanked for our presentation, told we’d be hearing from Dos Equis shortly and, sure as the world’s most interesting man doubles as the world’s most creepy one as well, we bumped into a third agency as we skulked out of the prospect’s conference room.
I’ll bet Dos Equis met with seven or eight agencies that day. A few days later, we received the dreaded ‘Dear Agency…’ letter and that was that. In the text, though, the senior marketing leader noted that our lack of beverage experience was problematic.
Of course it was. When prospects say prior category experience isn’t that big a deal, they don’t mean it. And, when they say they want big creative ideas, they don’t mean that either. What they want (with some notable exceptions) is a safe, big-name firm that’s handled scores of similar assignments in their field.
Prospects bring in wild cards such as Peppercomm to satisfy purchasing managers and other senior executives who want to be assured the in-house types are conducting a thorough round of due diligence. But, they’d clearly made up their minds before they even issued the RFP.
I haven’t touched a drop of Dos Equis since that ill-fated meeting. But, I can’t help thinking about it every time I pass the world’s least interesting city. In some ways, Dos Equis and White Plains were made for each other.