Once upon a time, there was a great big, evil executive search firm that, coincidentally, was in search of PR representation.
And so, they invited three agencies to pitch their business, one of whom was a humble, midsized firm with, perhaps, 100 souls in three offices: New York, London and San Francisco (That would be us, kids).
While the midsized firm was flattered to have been invited to meet with the great, big evil executive search firm, they worried about their lack of a global footprint (Kids: global footprint is one of those nauseating business terms that has unfortunately entered the lexicon).
Anyway, the big executive search firm said not to worry. They were solely interested in smart, strategic representation in the States.
So, the humble midsized player submitted a proposal that caused great glee among the big, bad search consultant decision-makers. They loved it, they said. And, they invited us to visit their galactic headquarters and walk them through our plan. And, that’s when the clouds covered the sun and the evil empire struck.
“Tell us about your boots on the ground in places such as Germany, Poland and the Low Countries,” demanded one marketing officer. “Yes, and tell us how you’ve handled identical assignments in, say, Russia and Ukraine,” hissed another.
We exchanged panicked looks with the woman who had assured us a global footprint was immaterial to the evil search firm’s decision. Predictably, she looked away (Kids: Lots of adults won’t look you in the eye when you’ve caught them in a bald-faced lie).
A few days later, we were told that Burson-Marstellar, with its 4,514 global offices, had been chosen instead.
Now, children, let’s fast forward and time travel to early August of this year.
The very same great, big evil executive search firm called us again!
They said they had two new projects that were strictly limited to the states, knew they’d made a mistake in their agency selection last time and would only be seeing a few firms “of our size.”
Wary, but salivating at the size of the prospective budgets (Money talks, kids), the innocent PR firm fell for the very same trap.
We poured hours and hours into developing creative ideas, submitted them in a handsomely bound packet and were invited to pay a visit to the empire’s Chicago office to present the plan.
Ah, but just days before the meeting, the evil executive search firm’s lead marketer had sent us a casual note that read, “Oh, and by the way, be prepared to address your capabilities in China.”
Needless to say, this nasty, nauseating and nonsensical last-second curveball caused great consternation in the agency’s hallways.
These guys had lied to us once before and now, at the last second, it appeared they were about to double down.
But, one of our brave leaders stood tall and said, “No. No, we shall not journey to Chicago unless I first speak to these evil marketers and tell them we will bow out now if the dreaded global footprint is, in fact, critical to their needs.”
And, lo, the naive PR firm took the bait (“Of course we’re not looking for a global firm, or a firm with a presence in China. We’re just curious to know if you’ve ever handled client events there,” said the oh-so-pleasant marketer in an-oh-so-pleasant tone.)
So, it was on to Chicago and let’s win there (Kids: Those were the final public words spoken by the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He was President Kennedy’s younger brother and, sadly, like Jack, was also assassinated).
Anyway, our video-conferenced team (half of us went to Chicago. The others stayed at home in The Apple) was whipping through the presentation and receiving lots of ooohs and aaaahs from the search firm marketers. Then, all of a sudden, the evil CMO (who had arrived 20 minutes late and was Skyping in from Dallas) spoke up and said, “What about key international markets. How would you handle managing the news from these U.S. events in, say, Beijing?”
Uh oh, thought I. Here we go again.
But, our heroic, on-site team leader handled the goal question flawlessly and the meeting moved on to a successful conclusion. In fact, the NYC representative of the evil search firm told me, “You killed it and ran rings around the other agencies. I’d like a scope of work on Monday.”
So, we followed up on Monday with a few questions in order to properly create the scope. We received a terse note back that read, “Let’s hold off on that until we’ve had a chance to meet with the other agencies.”
Say what? The evil search people had just said we’d crushed the other agencies. So, how could there be another batch of other agencies? And, they said they were champing at the bit to begin with us. So, why the delay? These were perplexing thoughts, kids.
And, so began the requisite two-week period of total radio silence that, while it sounds oh-so-quiet speaks oh-so-loudly.
Then it arrived. The dreaded “Dear Agency” letter (Kids: Losing firms in every new business pitch receive Dear Agency letters that extol their energy, enthusiasm and creativity but, then, quickly move on to say that, alas, the evil prospect has “gone in another direction” and selected a different firm.) Gone in another direction is just one more of those hated business expressions that will one day make you cringe the way it does me.
In this case, we were told the winner had come up with a stronger theme and, yup, you guessed it, had stronger GLOBAL capabilities.
So, kids, be advised: While you will meet many people in business who will say one thing to your face and then do something entirely different behind your back, it’s rare to find one so devious and so deceptive as to do it twice within the space of 36 months.
I’d like to believe that Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee and Arthur W. Page have set aside a special place in PR hell for true villains such as these great big, evil executive search types. (Kids: Those three gentlemen are considered the founding fathers of modern PR). If so, their punishment should be a trip through eternity retracing the exact same global footprint day after day after day.