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.
Please let me know if you’re looking for a writer for your weblog.
You have some really good articles and I think I would be a good asset.
If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d love to write some articles for
your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please send me an e-mail if interested.
I once worked at a mid-sized agency with great consumer and B2B expertise but very little automotive. Yet one of the second-tier Japanese brands issued an RFP because their big agency wasn’t getting the job done. It was such a long shot that I even agreed to move to Southern California and set up an office in the unlikely event we won the $2 million account.
After some great ideas and presentations, many trips West and a PR director who loved us and sold us, we got the gig. I moved to SoCal. We hired terrific people with great automotive credentials. We got them great exposure for a product line that was decent and semi-competitive, but may not have even deserved what we got. Each month their sales numbers shot through the roof.
But guess what? 1) What the management team that took its orders from Japan really wanted was the same-old same-old 2) The COO didn’t like the PR director and replaced him. 3) Those who spoke as “change agents,” me included, were frozen out. 4) We were canned within 2 years.
Today they’ve been through many agencies and are pretty much on death’s door in the U.S. market, mainly due to the Korean makers coming on strong.
Hi there former PR Guy. To the best of my knowledge, we’ve only won one RFP in which the prospect said prior category experience wasn’t necessary. That would make our winning percentage well below the Mendoza Line. But, since we did win that one time hope springs eternal that lightning will strike twice.
It is a good article, I found it super interesting a position
As loyal rep readers know, the theme of relevant industry experience has come up before and been written about by the rep man many times. my question to the rep man is as follows: have you ever been invited to a RFP where you were told that relevant experience was not necessary and you actually won the business? if so, then it would seem to disprove the theory you had above on being done to satisfy a DD requirement. also, if you have, then it appears to me that the “excuse” in the dear agency letter is simply just that and is an easy out for the prospect akin to a gal or guy saying in a relationship “it’s not you, it’s me”.
but if you never have won such an RFP, then i would agree with your theory and suggest that you simply never respond to such “prospects” and not waste valuable time, effort, money and ideas. i would argue that “thanks, but no thanks for the opportunity” is sometimes the best response. just my 2 cents but look forward to your reply!