TALK ABOUT TRANSPARENCY: Peppercomm’s 20 Biggest New Business Mistakes

Peppercomm marks its 20th anniversary this month.

And, in true Peppercomm fashion, we’re reflecting of late on the good, the bad and the ugly.

Kermit Schafer - Pardon My Blooper Vol 1 1954Unlike what most other firms (and a certain PR trade) would lead you to believe, we PR types do not toil in a Utopian world in which every CCO has a seat at the table and every PR firm is treated as a strategic partner. The truth is far different and in many cases, far darker (and far funnier) than you’ve been led to believe. Ah, but, that’s another blog for another day.

Since Peppercomm is always aiming for transparency, I’ve compiled 20 all-time new business SNAFUs encountered by my favorite firm. So, sit back, relax, pop open your beverage of choice and enjoy (Note: Since we have 20 barn burners to share, I’ve decided to divide the list into two parts). Here are the first 10:

1.) Flatulence: I was leading a team pitching a German trade association. They were about to launch their first series of conferences here in the U.S., and were pressing us hard for our experience in dealing with the top analyst firms of the day. I stepped in, re-assured the prospect we were on a first name basis with all of them, and were especially proud of our strong connections with Fartner. Our team broke out in a long-sustained burst of laughter. The prospect did not. Outcome: We didn’t win the business. #HeyWhatYaGonnaDo #BodilyEmission

2.) Playing politics: We once converted our fifth floor conference room into a genuine Italian pizzeria in order to impress visiting dignitaries. They were looking for just the right partner with whom to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We were sailing through the presentation when we came to our experience in managing promotional events. Our junior team member took the lead. He flashed a photograph of a baseball diamond on the screen to indicate we’d be taking the Turtles to all sorts of sporting events to increase awareness. Then he added, “Of course, we’d make sure to avoid any baseball games in which that guy is tossing out the first pitch.” That guy was President George W. Bush. The silence was deafening. Then one of the prospects chuckled, and they all began laughing. Outcome: We won the business. #StayApolitical #WsArmWasBetterThanHisMind

3.) Woopsie-Daisy: We were once invited to pitch one of the world’s largest consumer electronics firms. Our team shuffled into a massive conference room and, after exchanging bows and business cards, took our seats. One team member, however, missed her seat completely and fell flat on her back. The Japanese were horrified (as were we). Unfazed, if a little bruised, our executive raised herself up, straightened herself out and said, “So, how’s that for making a great, first impression?” Laughter permeated the room. Outcome: We won the business. #GraceUnderPressure #WorkOnUrBalanceKiddo

4.) Brain power: Wrapping up a pitch to a very high level strategy firm, we were asked what set our measurement program apart from those of our competitors. “That’s easy,” said our lead team member, “We take the grey matter out of PR measurement.” A stunned silence ensued. Outcome: We lost the pitch. #MasterTheEnglishLanguage #ThinkBeforeSpeaking

5.) Beat the clock: A Midwestern retail brokerage happily informed us we were one of two finalists to pitch their business. They invited us to meet their senior management team and present our program. The only caveat: These were busy executives, and we had exactly 60 minutes to review our ideas. Once in the conference room, our team lead took great pains to set the stage, share our insights and strategies and, then, just as we were about to list the various program elements, the lead prospect held up his hands and said, “Thanks Peppercomm. That’s your one-hour. We appreciate your traveling to meet us and will let you know our decision.” Naturally, our team protested, but the prospect held firm and said, “I made a point of telling you had only 60 minutes in which to present,” Outcome: we lost the pitch. #UneedATimekeeperInTheseMeetings #RehearseRehearseRehearse

6.) Coke vs. Pepsi: I have no idea how or why, but we were invited to pitch the leading manufacturer of specially-equipped vans for handicapped Americans. Since the prospect was located in GodKnowsWhere, South Dakota, we arranged a video conference involving both our New York and San Francisco office executives. The pitch got off to a slow start (perhaps, subconsciously, we were doing our best to match the speed of one of those specially-equipped vans). At one critical juncture of the pitch, we flashed a slide of the van, and said we’d take it on a road trip to key target markets (Think: Florida, Arizona and other states where the average age is 99-plus). In the midst of our meandering, a disembodied voice interrupted our flow: “You do know that’s a photograph of our number one competitor, correct?” Outcome: We lost. #SelfDestruct #SoEgregiousAMistakeThatWeStillLaughAboutItAllTheseYearsLater

7.) Coke vs. Pepsi: the Sequel: Despite a dearth of real technology experience at the time, we were invited to pitch the entire BtoB side of the Yahoo business. We were further thrilled to be told we’d made it to the finals and were invited to present at Yahoo’s campus-like HQ’s. Our team was absolutely crushing the presentation when we came to a juncture in which we once again addressed key target key market initiatives. One of our account supervisors flashed a slide and began listing the various cities we’d aim for. He was immediately interrupted by a prospect, who asked, “Please tell me you’re not using Google Maps to make your case.” There are mistakes and then there’s using Google Maps to illustrate a Yahoo PR strategy. Outcome: We actually won the business. #15MonthsOfFutureHellWithY #AcountSupInQuestionIsLongGone #

8.) How much is that allergy attack in the window? Our intrepid consumer team was once invited to PetSmart headquarters to pitch the entire account. We had a solid program, had rehearsed our presentation multiple times and felt confident as we entered the PetSmart building. Then, one of our lead executives began coughing. Her face became blotchy. She started gasping for air. Why? Because she was allergic to the flea powder on one of the dogs. The client was close to calling the EMTs, but our team member was out of there faster than you could say “911.”  We went on with the pitch but, let’s just say, it lacked a certain bite. Outcome: We lost. #BringUrMedsToAPitch #BeProspectSmart

9.) When do we start? A Cleveland-based law firm was absolutely infatuated with Peppercomm. They said they’d conducted extensive due diligence, and already knew we were the right firm. They asked us to stop what we were doing, assemble the account team and hop on a jet. We dropped everything and did so. It was love at first sight. But, there was one, small hitch. One of the senior law firm partners had been on the road that day. So, about a week later, we were once again asked to drop everything, hop on a plane and meet with said partner. It was love at first sight, part two. Post script: Those meetings occurred in 2006. We’re still waiting for a response to our many e-mails and voice mails asking, “What happened?” and “When do we start?” #TheresAFoolBornEveryMinute #LotsOfProspectsBurnAgenciesInExactlyThisWay #TheyJustWantedOurIdeas

10.) Beware the hired gun. A major trade association invited us to Washington, D.C. to pitch a joint PR/PA program. Then, like now, we really didn’t possess any chops in the public affairs arena. So, one of our top people enlisted his college buddy, a lobbyist, to join the pitch team. Everything was going smoothly until the association president listed her strategy for reaching Beltway decision makers. Our hired gun completely disagreed. The disagreement quickly escalated into an argument that, at its peak, featured the major arteries and veins in the association president’s neck bursting out of their seams. Outcome: we lost. #VetUrHiredGun #MakeSureAngerManagementIsntOneOfHisIssues

You loving this stuff? Check back tomorrow for installment two of Peppercomm’s 20 Biggest New Business Mistakes.

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