Having been in the PR business since William Henry Harrison sat in the Oval Office (however briefly), I thought I’d seen every twist and permutation in the mating ritual otherwise known a new business pitching.
Then, along came ABC Widgets. They were in the midst of a search, didn’t like any agency they’d seen to date, had heard good things about my favorite firm and asked if we’d be interested. We were.
The Widget PR folk asked for an initial call. During the call, we answered all of their questions and, when the subject of potential conflicts came up, we said we didn’t see any (with the possible exception of the XYZ Doodad Company). Widget folk said not to worry. Doodad wasn’t a conflict. At the end of the call, they invited us to meet the decision-making team within a few days’ time.
To do so, we’d have to quickly assemble a team, prepare a presentation (that, naturally, had to include a few creative ideas) and drive to NoSuchPlace, Delaware.
We did so. From the get-go, it was obvious the Widgets types dug our act. As we whipped through the preso and nailed one question after another, we brought up the Doodad case study, thinking it would address many of their challenges. When we finished, one of the senior decision-makers said, “You represent Doodad?” We shook our heads affirmatively.
We then proceeded to answer a few questions about how we’d staff the Widget account and adjourned the meeting. There was no question we’d nailed it. The PR folk even told us so and said we’d be hearing from them the next day.
We heard from them the next day. The call began something like this, “Steve, we love your team, but the Doodad conflict is a real problem. Does Doodad know you’re pitching us?” they asked. “No,” I said. “Since we didn’t think it was a conflict and you didn’t either, we never asked.” The Widget folk asked us to ask.
We did. As expected the Doodad types had no issue with our also representing ABC Widgets. I was psyched and sent the Widget folk a quick e-mail, figuring we’d sealed the deal.
Later that day, a call came from the Widget PR folk. One of them said, “We appreciate the hustle, the interest and the ideas but, frankly, the Doodad conflict is too big a hurdle. We’re going with someone else.”
And, that was that. We’d virtually won an account one day only to be told the next that we’d lost because of a conflict the PROSPECT initially told us was NOT a problem.
There ought to be a law.