Should the winners be unable to perform their duties…

blucherNot too long ago, we were one of four firms invited to pitch a global brand looking for help in the good, old U.S. of A.

But, we were wary of entering the fray after discovering the three other “midsized” firms were owned by global holding companies. That’s big (pun intended) since it enables them to confidently state they could seamlessly provide services in 31 countries, three protectorates and one undiscovered island.

We raised the issue. Not to worry, said the procurement officer, who added, “…this is strictly about your ability to heighten our brand awareness in the U.S.” Yeah, sure, and Trump University is more highly rated than Harvard and Yale combined.

But, since we’d come highly recommended by a former client who was serving as a search consultant for the process, we invested the usual, countless hours of brainstorming and absorbed significant out-of-pocket costs to give away our best ideas for free.

We ended up presenting to some 30 client-side decision-makers who not only represented various functions BUT various regions as well (Cue: anxiety attack).

When we’d finished presenting the majority of the program, Frau Blucher, sitting at the far end of the table, cleared her throat and asked, ‘Vat are your capabilities in the BeNeLux countries, ya?”

That’s when I knew our goose had been flayed, cooked and was being served without the usual trimmings. Our London colleague explained how we handled the historic Low Countries through our affiliate network, but the assembled client team yawned and immediately reached for their mobile devices.

After the meeting, the team began evaluating how we’d done. One gave us an A. Others scored our performance as an A-minus at worst. I told them it was a B-plus at best, citing a few other hiccups as well as the 800-pound gorilla otherwise known as global capabilities.

Sure enough, after telling us they’d be making an immediate decision, we waited three weeks for the perfunctory “Dear Agency” letter.

But, this was the truly weird part. After thanking us for our free ideas and spending our own dime to chase their business, the procurement officer added this line:

“Should we be unable to come to a financial agreement with the two finalists we have selected, we will be back in touch to discuss how we might work together.” Say what?

That’s like a guy dating three women on three successive weekends, picking the one he liked best and then texting the other two to say, “It was me. Not u. But, if Sharon sucks, I’ll be back in touch.”

After word: These are the types of horror stories you WOULD read about in the ad trades, but NEVER see covered in our beloved PR rags.

That’s because, as noted in previous blogs, the journos who cover our field are laser-focused on pleasing the large corporations and global agencies. To do otherwise would be to threaten an amazingly lucrative business model that sees the target audiences plunking down hundreds of thousands of dollars to reserve tables and place advertisements for the multiple awards programs naming them “best” this or “best that” of the year.

The PR industry needs a trade version of the Boston Globe Spotlight team that uncovered the Catholic Church scandal. But, why bite the hand that feeds you?



#Frau Blucher



9 thoughts on “Should the winners be unable to perform their duties…

  1. Thanks, Julie. Sadly, companies will continue to abuse agencies as long as agencies allow companies to get away with it. And, since none of us back down and refuse to play the game, we get played. “Ah, sweet mystery of life I’ve finally found you…”

  2. “Yes! Say it! He … was… my… boyfriend!”
    Steve – love your honesty and “keep it real” style…
    There is a special place in hell (below the lowest rung of Hades) for clients like these who enjoy picking the brains of agencies for free ideas. #ShameOnThem

  3. Peter: We do our best to minimize these nightmares, but we also empower (hate that word, btw) our senior executives to use their gut instincts to decide on a go/no go for these pitches. This was tricky since a former client did, in fact, highly recommend us and told us global capabilities wouldn’t be an issue. In my heart of hearts, I didn’t like the vibes, but also didn’t want to just issue a flat out “no” to the senior executives who were pushing for us to pursue it. Very tough decision each and every time.

  4. I always enjoy reading your stories about business development mishaps. The best tragicomic figures seem to be the anxious procurement types justifying their existence to clueless MBA types.

    I have a question though: I’m sure you look to minimize these experiences. Has Peppercomm changed its parameters for business development when facing newer scenarios similar to this?

    For me, lacking time & resources on my multiple endeavors, in many cases it has to come down to “vibes.” I often reject things based on 25+ years experience, including mishaps that Ed, you and I share some culpability on.

    I will argue with partners/colleagues that the opportunity cost of winning and/or working the business will earn the equivalent of minimum wage — and not the new proposed one. I made this decision after a particularly bad experience 6 years ago and have never regretted it.