Dear Valued Vendor

RFaaPI’m pleased to say that as a proud member of the Arthur W. Page Society and a trustee of the Institute for Public Relations, I’m able to rub shoulders with the smartest, and most strategic, chief communications officers in the world.

These pioneers are not only elevating the awareness and credibility of communications among their C-suite peers, they’re also playing a collaborative role. They serve as the fulcrum for IT, human resources, general legal counsel, business development and customer service to share information and, critically, speak in one authentic, consistent and coherent voice.

Ah, but I must also tell you that these world-class CCOs are the exception, and not the rule. Two quick cases in point:

– Several executive recruiters have told me many, many CCOs do NOT connect with the CEO and other members of the C-suite. In fact, turnover at the CCO level is significant (and an ongoing source of serious revenue for the recruiters).

– A surprising percentage of senior PR executives at Fortune 1000 corporations do NOT report to the CEO and are NOT invited to hang out with other members of the C-Suite. Many report to marketing. Others call the human resource manager boss and then there are those unfortunate souls who work for the general legal counsel. Ugh.

Lest the editor of PR Week, or any other leading trade, doubt my words, I’d like to share a recent experience with a Fortune 50 client.

The senior PR guy decided to put the business up for bid. We’d been handling their various business units for years, were told the existing business was safe, but that they’d very much like us to pitch the global account as well.

We balked, citing our lack of “boots on the ground” in 57 different nations. The senior client assured us category expertise and NOT global reach would determine the winner. But, he did tell us our three competitors were, you guessed it, global firms.

We debated our go/no go decision and finally agreed to participate. There would be one presentation followed by a reverse auction (more on that to come).

Once we were in the meeting, the senior PR guy’s peers hammered the bejesus out of us for lacking, you guessed it, boots on the ground in 57 countries.

Afterwards, the senior PR guy told us not to worry. All of the competitors were being questioned about the same thing, he said. The real determinant would be industry knowledge and the reverse auction.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a reverse auction is a process led by procurement (AKA, the penny pinchers from hell). The procurement team establishes a micro site, posts what they feel is a fair, blended hourly rate, and then gives each agency 30 minutes to submit their bids (with the unstated message being “low cost provider wins”).

Well, a few days later, we received a note from the senior PR guy whose salutation began, “Dear Valued Vendor.” The letter informed us we’d lost the pitch for two reasons: price and, you guessed it, a lack of boots on the ground in 57 countries.

All of which told me this particular senior PR guy not only wasn’t a C-Suite player, he was being forced to play by the rules set by procurement. You call that strategic?

That’s why I continue to chuckle and shake my head at the content churned out by PR Week in particular. They’d have you assume ALL CCOs have won the battle, and DO call the shots when helping frame key strategic business decisions and hiring smart, qualified agency partners. As I noted earlier, many have neither responsibility.

Which is why, when I read Steve Barrett’s recent editorial in PR Week’s “Power 50”, I thought to myself, “These guys are either committed to telling only one side of the story or, god help all of us, they’re blissfully ignorant of what’s going down in the countless organizations in which PR is still very much seen as little more than a necessary overhead expense.”

I’d be interested in hearing the publication’s POV. If nothing else, it would be fascinating to learn if our trade journalists are even aware of the Dear Valued Vendor universe.



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