Jul 02

Let’s go, on with the show!

I must admit to loving Consultant Robb High’s lengthy list of agency marketing mistakes. His latestSpeech
missive homes in on the need for strong agency ‘performers’ in new business pitches.

Robb writes, and I agree, that 90 percent of all new business decisions come down to chemistry. You either ‘connect’ with the prospect or, as Peppercom’s Deb Brown likes to say, ‘…pack up your tent and go home.’

High suggests that top agency pitch people should enroll in acting classes to improve their skills. He’s absolutely right. Having taken two Upright Citizens Brigade improvisation workshops and a week long American Comedy Institute course, I can tell you the training makes a huge, if subtle, difference.

Improv teaches one to react spontaneously to word and phrase prompts and work as a team to help one another construct a skit. Stand-up comedy trains one in pacing, eye contact, reading non-verbals and interacting with hostile or passive audiences (give me a hostile audience anytime, btw. There’s nothing worse than staring at a roomful of blank stares).

All that said, I do disagree with High’s assertion that only the ‘A’ team should attend new business pitches. Such a strategy leads to the classic big agency bait-and-switch complaint we hear so often from disgruntled prospects (i.e. ‘We were pitched by the stars, but ended up getting 22-year-old juniors working on our business.’). The far better course of action is to enroll agency fast trackers in acting, improv and comedy classes.

The deeper the talent pool, the more flexibility senior management has in selecting the best pitch team. And, who knows, maybe there’s a budding Marlon Brando or Eva Marie Saint somewhere within your agency. All they (and you) need is to recognize the enormous personal, professional and organizational benefits of acting classes. Now then, has anyone seen my make-up case?

Jun 03

If it was easy, we’d win all the time

New business pitches can be just like dating. Sometimes, it’s love at first sight and other times, its hellEasy_2
on earth.

But, as Marketing Consultant Robb High correctly points out, a romance is more likely to flower if you avoid some obvious mistakes.

We’ve committed some of these gaffes, and many others as well.

Recently, we did everything right and won a competitive pitch against large agencies. Then, we turned right around, violated every rule in the book, and handed a ‘sure’ thing to a competitor.

We were prepared for the first meeting. We’d rehearsed three times, relied on a few visual supports (but, no powerpoint) and made sure we could hit our proposal’s high points in 20 minutes or less. The end result was magic. We knew we’d nailed it as soon as the meeting concluded.

We were unprepared for the second opportunity. We didn’t rehearse, relied on an endless powerpoint presentation, brought the wrong ‘team’ to the pitch and allowed the conversation to meander.

Our crack Strategy Consultant Darryl Salerno listened to these two tales and advised us to be more judicious in the future. He suggested that when we do commit to pitching a piece of new business, we should go all out: that means rehearsing, assigning a team leader, staying away from dull powerpoints and choosing the appropriate account team.

Darryl’s advice, like High’s, may sound academic. But, the best and the brightest agencies often fumble when it comes to new business fundamentals.

Hey, if it was easy, we’d win all the time. But, what fun would that be?

May 29

Synarchy sounds like anarchy to me

Those legendary ‘unnamed sources’ that journalists love to quote say WPP may name its specially created,Stress
Dell-exclusive agency Synarchy. Anarchy is more like it.

The agency, code named DaVinci, won all of Dell’s estimated $100 million in annual revenue last December. At the time. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell said DaVinci would have 1,000 employees in place by March 1. They would be culled from the holding company’s various units and constitute a ‘best and brightest’ team for Dell.

Well, guess what? WPP/DaVinci is 400 employees short and two months late. Dell’s spokesperson says it’s no big deal and WPP says it’s looking for quality, not quantity. Yeah right. Another one of those unnamed sources, a recruiter, summed up the DaVinci/Synarchy opportunity best: ‘Lack of a culture, lack of variety, lack of a career path. And then on top of all that, this specific client.’ Talk about lose-lose-lose.

There’s no way a truly talented agency person would work for DaVinci/Synarchy/Anarchy. Agency work is all about variety. One works for a professional services client in the morning, a consumer goods company at lunch and a Fortune 500 organization in the late afternoon. One has a crisis. Another has become an also ran. A third aspires to become a more socially responsible outfit. Every day is fresh and new.

Imagine being an agency guy and living, eating and breathing nothing but Dell all day long. Every single day. Ugh. Mix in the reality that clients come and clients go, and one has all the ingredients for a dead end career move.

I can’t speak for the 600 Synarchians (Synarchites?) already in place, but I’d strongly advise the 400 other applicants to think long and hard before signing up. This particular DaVinci is anything but a work of art.

May 20

It was over before it began

Guest blog written by Jackie Kolek.Call_2

I had a truly bizarre call with a new business prospect last week, let’s call them Company X.  Sadly, it was not the first time I have received these types of calls.  We were contacted by Company X, who told us that they were looking for a new agency.  Great.  The prospect sent us a link to their web site and a backgrounder on the company.  Terrific.  So, we set up a call to get a download on their business and tell them a little bit about our agency and our relevant experience.  All sounds good up to this point, right?

Yet, when I got on the phone with Company X last week the senior PR communications person immediately asked me to tell them my thoughts on their business and give them my recommendations on messaging and strategies for a PR program.  WHOA.  There are so many things wrong with this scenario that I could go on forever.  For now, I’ll focus on the two most critical flaws. 

First, the junior person who we were dealing with probably had not set expectations internally with her boss or bosses.  They most likely ordered her to go find a new firm and didn’t give much more direction than that. While we had spoken and exchanged a few emails, we clearly agreed (in writing) that we would do a 30 min call to get some more background on Company X and tell them about us.  Obviously that had not been communicated on Company X’s end and they were expecting us to come in with a specific proposal for them.  Even if that was a good idea, this disconnect immediately put us at a disadvantage with the decision-makers and probably didn’t make our junior point of contact look good either.

Second, and most disturbing, is that Company X was looking for us to deliver thoughts on messaging and strategic recommendations before we’d ever had a real conversation with them.  Without the benefit of hearing the client’s business goals and growth objectives any sort of communications recommendations would have been superficial and meaningless.  Sure, we could say "you need to be on the cover of the Wall Street Journal" but what does that mean?  First and foremost, we need to understand the client’s business in order to identify how communications can help them achieve those goals.  Are they looking to break into a new target audience?  Raise their profile with potential investors?  Recruit and retain better talent?  Reposition themselves in the market?  Fix a tarnished reputation?

When I explained this to the senior marketing person at Company X, her response was "any firm we hire should be able to answer these questions."  Well, enough said.  We told Company X that we were probably not a good fit for their needs.  I am sure they’ll go hire some firm who will tell them whatever they want to hear in order to win the business.  And in six months time, Company X will be shopping for another firm.

May 15

Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight

Why do some relationships last a lifetime while others go south in a fortnight?Heart

Whatever the reason, it always hurts when a personal or professional relationship sours, especially when one is the ‘dumpee’ as opposed to the dumper.

We just experienced a truly mysterious parting of the ways after only 45 days. What made it mysterious was the total absence of warning signs. There was no heads-up, no request to move someone off the account, no complaint of too little coverage or too many reports. Nothing, nada, zilch.

Instead, we received a Friday afternoon ‘cease and desist’ e-mail from the CMO. Since I’d had a warm relationship until then with CEO, I immediately asked him what had happened. He didn’t know. The decision had been made without him. Hmmm. Now, that’s really interesting.

When we finally were able to speak with the CMO, we were told our account manager hadn’t been visible enough. Oh. OK. So, why can’t we fix that? No response. We asked: why end things after only 45 days? Both parties lose in that scenario. No response. Just a curt ‘We think it would be best for both parties to end things.’ Oh. Sure. Ok. That makes perfect sense.

Paul McCartney once wrote: ‘Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.’ He was oh so right. And, when it does, it hurts.

Apr 08

When the aircraft carriers sail into your waters

Economists and pundits alike are quick to point to telltale signs of an impending Recession. Some citePr
housing starts. Others look at consumer spending habits. Me, I look at what the large PR agencies are doing. And, when I experience what I just experienced, I know that, yes Virginia, the economy is indeed heading South.

The experience I’m referring to was a recent new business pitch for a Web 2.0 start-up. We were up against a few other midsized firms as well as one aircraft carrier (that’s inside PR speak for a large agency). The prospect loved our ideas, loved our team and called to tell us we’d won. Yay! Break out the champagne! Or, based upon the smallish-sized budget, break out the Bud Light! Regardless, it was time for a mini-celebration.

And, then, things changed. A day or so after we’d been told we’d won, the prospect called to say they were "still reviewing a few other proposals." Oh. Then, another day passed and we were told it was between us and another top midsized firm. Uh oh. Finally, the prospect called to say they’d selected the aircraft carrier. Apparently, the large firm’s CFO had called the prospect over the weekend, committed to an amazingly small retainer and guaranteed, in writing, that the firm would invest $50k in time of their senior account manager. I told the prospect we couldn’t and wouldn’t compete with that.

So, what does it say when the big guys are willing to compromise the rest of the playing field by slashing fees and giving away their time? In my mind, it cheapens our industry and belittles our value add. It’s also probably a pretty good economic indicator of what the big guys are experiencing now and what might lie ahead for the rest of us. If so, batten down the hatches and be prepared for more aircraft carriers to start sailing into your waters.

Mar 03

When a new sheriff comes to town

We were just gunned down by the new sheriff in town. Sheriff

He’d arrived before the holidays, carrying the title of chief marketing officer and maintaining a very low, almost secretive, profile.

Townsfolk and hired guns alike were nervous. What would the new sheriff do? Would he maintain things as they were, or would he come out with his six guns blasting?

As the town’s resident hired guns, we made the first move. We unstrapped our holsters, stuck out our hands and e-mailed a great big ‘Howdy, partner.’ The wind howled and the dust swirled, but there was no response. We sent more notes, fired off reports and even left voice mails. Dead silence. To quote an oft-used Western phrase, ‘It was quiet. Too quiet."

It became obvious the new sheriff wouldn’t give us our day in court. And, so, we kept our noses to the grindstone, churning out work and hoping the dreaded ‘Dear agency’ letter wouldn’t come blasting through our firewall.

Finally, inevitably, it was high noon. The lawman struck with a swift and deadly vengeance. We were dead before we could hit the reply button…The reason? ‘The town needed to re-think things and move in a different direction.’ It was the usual new sheriff talk. But, it still hurt.

Why do so many new sheriffs hang the hired guns without a fair trial? Even worse, why do they let us dangle in the wind for a few months before pulling the trigger?

Ironically, many such lawmen eventually lose their jobs and one day come blowing through our office like tumbleweed. When they do, we push back our stetsons, put our boots up on the desk and sigh, ‘Sorry podner, but we have nice, law abiding publicists here. There’s no need for your type in our town.’

Feb 05

What you don’t know can hurt you, your career and your organization’s image

The marketing geniuses at Woolworths (now a UK company with no stores in the US) must150014678lolitaposters
have skipped their English Literature class en masse while growing up. How else to explain their total ignorance of the blockbuster book and movies, ‘Lolita’?

Woolworths just had to recall an entire line of girls’ bedding named after the ubiquitous and promiscuous 12-year-old heroine of the Nabokov novel, Lolita.

Parents were justifiably outraged at the mere thought of purchasing bedroom furniture that celebrated the antics and acrobatics of the pre-teen tart. And Woolworths’ defense? They’d never heard of the character, the book or the movie.

One would have to lead a fairly sheltered life to have missed the any of the movies, starting with the "original" featuring a comely Sue Lyon as Lolita, a sinister James Mason as her paramour Humbert Humbert and a pathetic Shelly Winters in an Oscar-nominated performance as Lolita’s mother. But, then again, the mass ignorance at Woolworths could merely be indicative of a prevalent and disturbing trend among marketers of a certain age (read: youngish): if an event happened before they ‘came of age,’ it simply didn’t exist.

The losers? The young girls, their parents. Woolworths’ image and reputation, and all of us. Which is why I urge young people to read, read and read some more. The more you know, the smarter you’ll be. The smarter you are, the less likely you’ll be to make foolish mistakes that can derail a career and sideswipe a corporate image.

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.’

Nov 29

When BusinessWeek suggests you’re irrelevant, it’s time to go to plan B

The current BusinessWeek cover asks a question I’ve been wondering about for some time: ‘Is Madison  Avenue racing towards irrelevance? I’d say so.Business_2

Traditional advertising is in a freefall as documented by the BW article. Growth has slowed, profits are down and clients are going elsewhere for solutions. Why? Because the big ad shops like Saatchi, which is the focus of BWs profile, simply aren’t retrofitting their basic model fast enough to keep up with rapidly-changing consumer buying patterns.

Saatchi’s recent campaign for JC Penney is cited as a textbook example of advertising’s growing irrelevance. Despite crafting a campaign that dazzled the ad industry and will, no doubt, win countless Gold Lions at Cannes, the effort did absolutely nothing for sales. Nothing. Why? Because consumers have far too many other sources of information today and don’t have the time for, or trust in, advertising.

BW says direct mail, media buying shops and interactive agencies are the big beneficiaries of advertising’s decline. And they are. But, so too, is PR. From everything I see and read, more and more marketers ‘get’ PR and understand its far more powerful and credible strategies for connecting with fickle, web 2.0-enabled consumers.

So, what’s a poor ad man to do? BW says Saatchi’s CEO Kevin Roberts is contemplating everything from ‘green communications’ to ‘retail design consulting.’ Ouch. How do you spell desperation?

PR has long been seen as advertising’s poor stepsister. So, it’s hard to shed many tears for all the high and mighty creative geniuses whose ‘breakthrough’ work simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Maybe some of them can find jobs in direct mail, interactive or, gasp, even PR?