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.