I really have seen it all, including:
- Having to defend an award-winning piece of client business we’d held for five years, and then having their point person begin the pitch by saying, “Well, as we all know, most relationships, personal or professional, end after five years. So, I’d like to thank Peppercomm for their work.”
- A prospect disrupt our smoothly flowing presentation by barking out (with a thick German accent), “So, while my colleagues may have told you this assignment strictly focuses on North America, it’s critical our agency partner has feet on the ground in Northern and Western Europe. So, you will tell us about your capabilities in, say, Amsterdam, Brussels and the other Low Countries, ya?”
- A multitasking senior prospect who, after ignoring our entire pitch, finally sat up, looked over to the director of PR, and asked, “What time does the next presentation begin?”
And, then, there was this recent beauty:
We were cruising through our program, and were receiving lots of smiles and positive nods from the assembled prospects.
The prospect told us they were in search of the ideal firm that understood their culture and their mission, and could deliver both national and regional social and traditional media results. Easy peasy. We nailed slide after slide.
Suddenly, a guy at the end of the table dramatically cleared his throat, and asked, “Who are your biggest clients?”
Our team leader indicated we’d soon be covering many of them in upcoming case studies. The guy shook his head, “Not what I’m interested in. Who are your biggest clients and can you, or can you not, introduce us to the heads of their foundations? We need to raise a whole lot of money and we need to get started now.”
I quickly stepped in, and said, “We represent a wide range of global brands, but most of the work is either branding, communications or crisis. We don’t do a lot of work with corporate foundations, but could certainly find out the proper contacts, and broker introductions.” His arched eyebrows and disgusted sneer, said it all.
I turned to the CMO and gave her a WTF look.
She responded by saying, “Everything you’ve presented here today is strategic, creative and spot-on in helping us generate the publicity needed to reach those foundation folks, so please continue.”
We did, but our pace and enthusiasm weren’t quite what they had been.
Nonetheless, when we finished, every one of the prospect’s employees gave us a hearty round of applause (a reaction even more rare than finding a Manhattan street not blanketed by homeless people).
Anyway, we shook hands, went through the hail-thee-well routine and headed South to Manhattan. We knew we’d nailed the major assignment, but the fundraising guy worried me. If we were competing against a global agency representing thousands of brands (and probably a few foundations as well), we’d be toast, we wouldn’t stand a chance.
And, sure enough, that’s what happened.
As is almost always the case, we followed up with thank you notes, a few examples of fundraising programs we’d done in the past and communicated how excited we were at the thought of launching our themed program as soon as possible.
Two or three weeks later, they got in touch. They’d gone with another firm. “Why?” We asked. “The feeling was you were just too small.” Too small? We’re a $20 million agency with offices in New York, San Francisco and London and some 100 employees!
Too small? And, then it dawned on me. We didn’t possess enough contacts with the right people who controlled the big foundation gift-giving of Fortune 500 companies. The guy sitting at the end had axed us.
And, so while we were told we’d be judged by one set of core competencies we were, in fact, evaluated on a completely different criterion.
I can’t recall anything quite this egregious happening in the past, so maybe I can still be amazed. Amazed at the complete lack of transparency when a client asks an agency to set aside time and resources, concoct an extensive program to accomplish a clearly-stated goal and then find out, midway through the meeting that, well, maybe that wasn’t the program goal after all.
Maybe I’m amazed (Note to my millennial readers: “Maybe I’m amazed” is the title of a Paul McCartney tune).