Beware of third person people

I first became aware of third person people while watching the egomanical Reggie Jackson brag about his exploits throughout the late 1960’s, ‘70s and early ‘80’s. 

Whenever he was interviewed after hitting a walk off home run, the superstar would always begin by saying, “Reggie was expecting a fastball outside in that situation so Reggie simply hit the ball where it was pitched. Period.”

“Seinfeld” beautifully captured the absurdity of the third person self-brag in the classic “Jimmy” episode in which Jimmy inspires George Costanza to begin referring to himself in the third person.

I mention Reggie, Jimmy and George because it was one year ago today that our Peppercomm new business team pitched Clyde Tolson (not his real name, but FBI aficionados should make an immediate connection). Clyde was a third person person.

Clyde was the CEO of a fast-growing, deeply funded software company that was in search of a strategic public relations partner. Clyde’s CMO invited us to travel to Austin to pitch Clyde and the business.

When I asked if the prospect would be willing to share the travel and hotel costs I was told, “Clyde doesn’t believe in that. If you want Clyde’s business, you’ll demonstrate it.”

That should have told me all I needed to know but, frankly, last December was a lean month and we were hungry for new business.

Fast forward to pitch day. We were told by the CMO that we’d have one hour with Clyde and to be sure to leave time for Clyde to ask questions. Duly noted.

We arrived a half hour early and were ushered into the conference room. We sat for 25 minutes before the CMO and a consultant who was managing the agency search entered the room.

The CMO said Clyde would be a few minutes late.

Fast forward another 25 minutes. Enter Clyde, stage right.

Clyde introduces himself, tells us to begin our presentation but added, “Clyde needs his lunch first.” So we watched as Clyde’s personal assistant entered the conference room carrying a silver tray containing Clyde’s bowl of soup and a glass of sparkling water.

Clyde ate as we rushed through our truncated pitch deck.

At the end, Clyde said, “Clyde needs you to understand that ANY PR effort is about Clyde first and the company second. Got it?” Apparently Clyde had his sights set on running for political office in 2020.

We nodded and rose to shake Clyde’s hand as he left the room.

The CMO and search consultant said we’d done a great job and thought we’d answered Clyde’s questions thoroughly.

When I asked how soon they’d make a decision, the CMO replied, “Yesterday. Clyde wants to get going right after the first of the year.”

Well, guess what? We never heard from the CMO, the search consultant or the legend-in-his-own-mind Clyde. We called. We e-mailed. We prayed. Nada. Radio silence.

We’re still waiting for someone at Clyde’s business to extend the common courtesy of telling us WTF happened.

Repman thinks Clyde was on a fishing expedition and wanted ideas from unsuspecting agencies like mine. Repman thinks Clyde never intended to hire a firm.

Repman sees this as a cautionary tale that extends far beyond the business world. Caveat reader: Beware of anyone who refers to herself/himself in the third person. Life is far too short to feed the oversized egos of others.

Do you have any third person tales you’d care to share? Repman would love to hear them.


9 thoughts on “Beware of third person people

  1. I have learned to beware of the ‘political guy,’ who will cannibalize his own team members to curry favor with the client. He inevitably thinks he’s smarter than everyone else in the room, monopolizes every client conversation preventing junior staffers from speaking and is quick to take credit for EVERYTHING…He generally has an exceptionally high EQ, capable of reading people non-verbally and manipulating them and circumstance with ease. He’s smart too….and he’ll be the first to tell you so!

  2. 1) I understand needing business, but you know better. Going to Austin with no expenses covered was the first bad sign.

    2) Please let us know if Clyde Tolson runs for office…or if he’s caught in a highway sting operation by the Texas Dept of Public Safety. He sounds like the type.

    • Understood, Peter, but Steve was hurting for new business at the time. Happily Steve’s business is robust now and he no longer has to deal with the Clyde’s of the business world.