Fooled again!

10458design-1It began the way most ruses do: with a come-on that sounded too good to be true. A good friend at a global agency had a hot lead he wanted to pass along to me.

My buddy’s firm had a conflict, so they were asked to recommend two other agencies. Mine was one of two.

We jumped on the phone with the prospect, listened to her talk about a major re-brand with which her corporation needed significant support here in the United States. ‘That’s spot-on for us,’ said our agency president, who cited countless examples. ‘But,’ he cautioned the lead, ‘We are NOT a global agency and would have to partner with other firms in, say, India, etc., if you need people on the ground to coordinate events.’

The prospect assured us it wouldn’t be an issue, and we set a first meeting. I attended that session and, as meetings go, I’d rate it a solid nine on a scale of 1-10. My colleagues and I nailed each, and every, question, and I made sure to reiterate that we had four, and only four offices (and would be unable to support any global efforts without first lining up key partner agencies). Again, the prospect assured us it would be a non-issue. She asked for an immediate scope-of-work, and said a decision would be made ASAP.

And it was. Wednesday of last week, the prospect called me to say, ‘Steve, we loved you and your team but, frankly, we need boots on the ground in places such as Germany, India and China, so we’re going with a global agency. That said, IF we should have other, future U.S. assignments, you’ll be the first ones we call.’ Sure, and the Mets will make a late-season run and win the World Series.

Damn, I thought to myself. Fooled again. But, in conducting a quick post mortem, I couldn’t find a single flaw in our process. We were transparent throughout and made it very clear we did NOT have boots on the ground in places such as Frankfurt, Mumbai and Beijing. And, the prospect assured us multiple times that it wasn’t an issue.

And, then it became an issue. We lost a piece of business we thought we’d won.

And prospects such as this one continue to abuse agencies at will.

THIS is the sort of story our trades pretend doesn’t happen. Yet, it occurs all the time. There are a lot of shysters out there who, in order to pick an agency’s brain and, basically, obtain, free advice, will lie.

It’s depressing. And, it’s getting worse. And, corporate communications trade groups and our industry media continue to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

I sometimes think we’re living in a Stepford Wives-type Industry where only the good news is reported, and the sleazy happenings continue unchecked.

I, for one, make a solemn pledge not to let this happen again to Peppercomm. I’m not sure how I’ll assure that, but I’ll take the pledge nonetheless.

Having said that, who needs an agency for an immediate re-brand with NO global components?

6 thoughts on “Fooled again!

  1. Great post, Steve. I’m so glad you exposed this practice. They should have just asked to meet for coffee so they could pick your brain. At least that would have been more truthful and less awkward for everyone involved.

  2. It sounds like one of two things to me: 1) the person you initially spoke with actually wanted to hire your firm, but was overruled by the powers-that-be in the corporate food chain; or 2) they needed to provide evidence of “due diligence” before hiring the global agency they had decided to hire long before even meeting with you. Disgusting, of course, but there is no way to legislate or enforce fair hiring practices.

  3. Great stuff, guys. I have to say the worst experience I ever had dates back to the dotcom days. We found out we’d lost the pitch when we read about it in O’Dwyer’s.

  4. Steve, I can recall two similar instances in our Walek days that made us similarly furious. The first one was with a mid-sized hedge fund, who was trying to get in front of a potential crisis with one of their co-founders. They explained their situation to us, we offered some advice, wrote up a protocol and sent it to them. They then claimed that they never received our written advice or our invoice. It amounted to a very generous free consultation.

    The second was with a well-known middle market private equity firm. They first brought us in for an initial one hour meeting, which is par for the course with any new business. That was followed by a three hour full-on pitch with all of our principals. We weren’t even offended that they never hired us. We never EVER heard from them again. We politely followed up for weeks. It’s been over two years since we heard from them.

    If a prospect is to tell us no, it’s always best to hear within a week of the pitch along with some detailed feedback as to why we didn’t win. I usually respect such firms. However, the case Steve outlined above was a either massive miscommunication from the top or a blatant breach of ethics.

    Ideally we would like to take these RFPs/leads at face value, despite our best efforts at vetting to ensure that we don’t waste time. Hey, at least we’re not selling real estate…

  5. …at least they had the courtesy to actually tell you when they made the decision. Half the time you don’t even get that. I recall this happening to me a few years back. Not too long afterwards the person who made me jump through hoops was let go, and subsequently sent me a groveling apologetic email, then in same email, asked me if I knew of any positions or had any freelance work. Not only did I have both, I knew of others that did as well. Not sure if I ever responded or not. According to her LinkedIn to this day she still doesn’t have a job.

  6. Yep. Still waiting on a potentially huge piece of business we’ve been chasing since late March. We made the cut to the final three. I asked our contacts how we were doing. They said. “You have to ask?! You’re doing great Out of the three agencies we’ve looked at, you guys were the only ones that wanted to get to know our company better before recommending a program. But now were looking at two others.”

    In the end, the small, but excessively experienced agency will lose out, likely because this big company needs a bigger agency. Even though they have no clue what they’re looking for.