The rise of the deplorable prospect

This post is dedicated to Peppercommer Carl “Union Jack” Foster.

71802598This past Summer was beyond bizarre in so many ways for me personally, my agency and my country (Note: I have papers proving I’m an American citizen).
Today’s bizarre subject is the alarming rise of absolutely deplorable conduct on the part of prospects. It’s always existed but, like certain campaign rallies, seems to have reached a crescendo in the past few months.

Here’s the most recent example:

Prospect invites us to pitch a major new product/service offering. Tells us we’re on the short list. Puts us on a tight time frame to prepare the pitch and emphasizes two critical needs: a highly creative launch idea and extensive media experience.
Prospect team (including the company president) shows up at our digs.

Presentation goes swimmingly. Prospect, especially the president, loves our “big idea”.

Meeting concludes with CMO saying, “Impressive, but let’s ideate on a really big idea. What other thoughts do you have to share?”

We asked for a few hours, and promised we’d cook-up another kick-ass idea (all gratis, needless to say).

And, we did. It was brilliant. It dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s of every single strategic parameter the prospect hoped to achieve on launch day.

We immediately sent the CMO our idea.

And, that was that. No response. No “Thanks for the quick turnaround. We’ll review and revert” (one of my all-time favorite consultant-speak phrases, BTW.) No nothing.

Our point person sent a follow-up note to see if the CMO had any questions. No response. I already knew in my heart of hearts that we were dead (because this sort of deplorable prospect behavior has become de rigeur).

The days passed. The silence was deafening (I’d love to know who coined that phrase. Positively brilliant).

Cutting to the chase, our point person continued to e-mail, leave voice mails and do everything short of showing up in the lobby of the prospect’s building and ambushing the CMO on the way in or out (I may still make him do so, but ask that he videotape the prospect’s response. Guarantee it would be YouTube-worthy).

And, here we are. Weeks after that one meeting and that one request for one big idea.

I’d kill to out this prospect and list the CMO as positively toxic to agencies.


A.) That’s not the way I play the game.

B) If I actually did so, I’d be entering the deplorable zone since myself since it would hurt the CMO’s image and reputation.

And, so these deplorable prospects continue to roam our streets footloose and fancy-free with no repercussions whatsoever for putting an agency through the ringer, picking their brain and undoubtedly implanting their ideas themselves.

These are the stories you won’t read about in PR trades (who continue to portray our industry as a latter-day Shangri-La).

But, kids, these are the trials and tribulations that are a reality of the agency world. Sadly, they mirror the very same type of deplorable conduct we’re seeing in the country as a whole.

16 thoughts on “The rise of the deplorable prospect

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  2. Pingback: The Deplorable Prospect: After Word | Rep Man

  3. Maria: Amen. My nieces don’t even respond when we send them $100 each for their birthdays. Shoot me a note (or vice versa) and we’ll arrange a lunch soon.

    Bill No argument re: many CMOs not having a clue about PR, but this particular search was being led by the CMO who insisted on being the sole point of contact.

  4. Perhaps a better screening process for prospects might help. You were talking to the CMO. CMOs are a motley crew that includes MBAs, graphic designers, former event planners, and the like. Few, if any, have the slightest idea of what PR is or does.

  5. Bottom line Steve is bad behavior is just that…bad behavior. And rude behavior is rude behavior. I have been on a rant for several years on the disrespectful way some, not all, children are being raised. I take time, my hard earned money, and effort purchasing gifts for various occasions. Then I wait. You did mention how you waited and waited and wondered right? I know the gifts were received because I had another person confirm- oh they got the package. Hmmmm- the same parents who are posting on FB and texting all day cannot teach the manners of a simple “thank you!?!?”. I am not looking for a Hallmark card here. I am looking for an acknowledgment of my effort. My friend this is a microcosm of your experience. The basis of which is entitlement and rudeness. Your prospect feels entitled to use and abuse your resources. The result is rudeness and a culture that is sadly losing the beauty of respect. On a professional note, my industry is no different. We need to do lunch

    • SO true re: manners! When you receive a gift, say “thank you.” When you receive an invitation, RSVP. When someone sneezes say “(God) bless you.” It’s just polite society.

  6. Thanks for the note, Julie. David Baker’s nonsensical statement notwithstanding, people such as the prospect I described are multiplying at the same levels as the haters we’ve seen spring up in the past year. There’s no doubt in my mind that bad behavior is becoming the norm.

  7. The names change but the story remains the same. Thank you for reminding us we all suffer from the bad ethics, poor manners and deplorable practices of prospective clients who think they have no responsibility or accountability to their prospective partners.

    Right on, Steve Cody. Rightt on, brother.

    • Thanks, Keith. I’d like to think that, were I ever on the other side of the table, I’d be polite, respectful and responsive to the agencies I’m asking to invest serious amounts of time and resources to pitch my business. Prospects who belong in the deplorable hall of fame are no different than the airport gate agent, state cop or motor vehicle employee who use their gig to treat others poorly because he or she can.

  8. “Why buy the milk if they could get the cow for free?” and other things people say after the fact.

    We should have drinks and compare stories. Maybe some will even be funny.

  9. I’d say the prospect did what he could because he could. In other words, his behavior is shaped by the leashes that other agencies–including yours–are giving him. The focus of this story should be more about why you pitched ideas for free in the first place.

    There’s excellent research over at Win Without Pitching that shows a direct relationship between derailing the pitch in some way and actually winning the account. In other words, if you play by all their rules without getting them to bend or see a few things, anyway, your way, it’s not even worth participating.

    I’m blown away that agencies are still pitching their best work for free, not that prospects are behaving badly. They are only behaving badly because we let them.

    • I don’t buy the “interrupting the agency search” nonsense for a minute. We’re constantly competing against the biggest and the best, as well as the hottest agencies out there. Name one agency that’s interrupted the search process and was immediately awarded the business. It’s pretty easy to criticize the quarterback when you’re standing on the sidelines . I’d continue but I need to go interrupt Microsoft’s search for a new AOR.

  10. Steve: the CMO’s behavior is not only deplorable, but unprofessional. After all the gratis work you put into the meeting, at the very least you deserve some closure. I don’t know why companies think this type of behavior is acceptable.