Sep 30

And I thought Wikipedia was bad

We were one of the 55 hapless public relations firms that responded to an initial RFP from Wikipedia. That's not a misprint. Wikipedia invited 55 firms to submit proposals. We actually did fairly well, making it to the 'semifinal round' of eight or 10 firms.

September 30 - Zappos_Logo

I was stunned to learn Wikipedia had spun so many wheels at so many agencies. But, the W types are pikers when compared to Zappos. According to the current issue of Ad Age, Zappos invited 100 ad agencies to pitch its business! Can you believe that? And, after a year of sifting through the proposals, they ended up selecting Mullen for what turned out to be a meager ad budget of only $7 million.

Some might attribute these fishing expeditions to inexperience or indecision on the part of the prospective client. I don't. I think it's a combination of hubris and insensitivity. Inviting 55 or 100 firms to pitch one's business is cruel and unusual punishment, and certainly no way to conduct business or treat one's fellow human beings.

I'd like to think the Wikipedia and Zappos cattle calls are one-offs. But, something tells me this sort of boorish behavior is becoming the norm and is just another manifestation of an overall societal meltdown of civility and decency.

Jan 14

Looking for love in all the wrong places

Surveys about client-agency relationships are a dime a dozen and tell you what you already know. To wit,Reardon
clients are unhappy with their firm’s strategy, creativity, execution and responsiveness. Probe a little deeper and you’ll find concern about agencies simply not understanding the business of their client’s business.

So, as I reviewed yet another one of these surveys from a Cincinnati-based group called Reardon Smith Whittaker, I was taken aback by one ‘new’ finding: forty percent of client respondents said they ‘look forward to’ or find it exciting’ to search for a new agency. Can you believe that? Do they have no idea how tortuous new business pitches are for agencies? These respondents would be right at home in Gitmo or most any concentration camp of the 20th century.

‘…Enjoying and looking forward to…’ agency reviews is a clueless remark for many reasons, including:

– The inordinate amount of time and resources an agency has to devote to a new business pitch
– The business disruption caused by agency searches to both client and agency organizations
– The fact that an agency search means the prior firm, and the client conducting the search, failed to achieve the business communications goals.

For me, this last point is what rankles most. Enlightened corporate communications departments realize that success (and failure) should be shared. Sadly, there are still too many client-side personnel who will claim credit for success, but point the finger at the agency when things go south.

Obviously, there are some bad firms, but most provide a similar level of service. So, what’s the real issue? Usually, it comes down to staff turnover on the agency side (a big agency problem) and a corporate communications department that is either too far removed from the organization’s strategic decision making to connect it to PR, or simply too lazy to do much more than enact a purely tactical, media-by-the-pound campaign. Either way, senior management gets antsy at some point and demands a new PR firm. And, the communications department readily accedes because, ‘hey, it’s fun and exciting’ to do an agency search.’

Don’t get me wrong. Agency searches are critical when a client is looking to re-position itself, take the business in a new, more strategic direction or, if the PR firm really has failed to live up to its end of the bargain. Sadly though, most are fishing expeditions that may be fun for the ‘angler,’ but pure torture for us ‘fish.’