The donnybrook began when the CMO of a company that already had agency representation, and was about to do a “brand refresh,” asked for any, and all, creative ideas.
The responses were VERY telling:
- Two people immediately pitched the woman’s business.
- Several asked for additional information in order to provide more informed ideas.
- I was one of several people to push back and say, “Sorry, I’ve had more than enough negative experiences with ‘prospective clients’ who pick your brain, pay you zilch and then later either fall off the radar screen completely or send a vague note informing participants in the dog & pony show that the search has been put on hold.”
The CMO in question is indicative of the rapidly increasing number of prospects who see nothing wrong with asking for ideas to launch an entire creative campaign and then taking the ideas and implementing them themselves. It’s the type of story that responsible PR trade publications should be telling, but aren’t.
We do our very best to avoid fishing expeditions but, sometimes, the prospect’s assurances to the contrary seduce us into investing time and money in creating a speculative campaign.
The most egregious recent example occurred when a prospect who said she “absolutely wanted to work with Peppercomm,” insisted two of our employees give up their weekend to attend an industry conference. The prospect insisted it would enable us to write a far more strategic plan.
I was beyond skeptical and asked the prospect to cover one-half of the out-of-pocket expenses. Rejected. That should have told me right then and there that these people were playing us like a fiddle.
Instead, I allowed our executives to attend the event, ate the OOPs, submitted a proposal and, guess what? Everything was put on hold. We’ll receive a response to our inquiries for an update with something like this, “You are still top of mind. We hope to make a decision soon.”
Right. And, Donald Trump will begin treating our allies as friends and authoritarian regimes as enemies.
Since the trade publications conveniently overlook these ongoing assaults on agencies (hey, the serial prospect might buy ads, send in pricey awards submissions and buy tables at their events, so why rock the boat?), I think we should press the PR Council and other trade organizations to strongly advocate against what I would call “Grand Theft: Ideas.”
There ought to be a law.