Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Adventures In Advertising: How An Agency Blew A Winning Pitch

Many years ago, when ad agencies first became enamored with lifestyle marketing and psychographic research, I worked at Kenyon & Eckhardt (which disappeared into IPG).  The agency had developed a methodology doing this kind of research in order to target its advertising to the appropriate audience (Well, sort of – most of our clients did not see the cost/value benefit, so, despite it being part of most new business presentations, few, if any, clients participated. I subsequently discovered this was true of most clients at most agencies.).  At any rate, we were pitching Holiday Inn and had made it to the finals, actually without discussing this particular research technique.  It was was decided that we would save it for the finals.

There were two other agencies pitching against us. I don’t remember the third, but the second was Y&R.  We were given eight weeks to make a final presentation. The presentation could be anything we wanted it to be, but not creative (which had already been shown, without the benefit of the research).  Among those at the meeting would be the Chairman of Holiday Inn, who had not previously been involved.

I worked for a wonderful man who was head of account management.  His name was George Milliken.  He came up with a great idea.  I would spend two or three days a week in Memphis with the advertising and marketing people at Holiday Inn; George would fly down and spend overnight on a regular basis.  During the weeks that I spent there, I really got to know the entire group in Tennessee, from the CMO and Advertising Director and all their various marketing people. I even met the CEO and Chairman on several occasions.  I helped them do analysis and other chores and participated in marketing discussion.  I became very close to them, as did George.  It was a great strategy and a lesson in how to do a successsful new business pitch.

On our last visit, as both George and I were leaving, a week before our final presentation, they told us how much they liked us and told us that we had the account.  One caveat:  during the final presentation, we were told not discuss advertising research with the  Holiday Inn Chairman because he did not believe in it and thought it was a waste of money.

George and I created an agenda for the meeting. During rehearsals, the senior management of the agency was very upset that we did not want to present our research methodology; they couldn’t believe that the client didn’t want to know about it. (I think it had been alluded to in the earlier presentations, but was not part of them.) The research director actually agreed with George and me and felt that getting the account was more important than discussing something which the client did not want. George stressed to the agency Chairman and ECD that all we had to do was make nice, be smart and stay away from the research. Believe it or not, it was an argument.  But we succeeded in convincing agency management that doing what we wanted was the best course of action.

The entire marketing and executive staff of Holiday Inn came to the meeting.  It was well choreographed and went smoothly.  In fact, it was going so well that the creative director became overly confident and asked our research director to discuss our research capabilities. It was idiotic. I couldn’t believe it.  The marketing people gave George and me quizzical looks.  George tried to finesse it by saying that we just wanted them to know about this as a possible resource.  But there was no way to stop the research discussion. The research director, reluctantly, but briefly spoke about this kind of study and how it might help the client better understand and target his advertising message.

While he was talking, the Chairman of Holiday Inn interrupted and asked how much it would cost.  The answer was given.  At the time it was a lot of money.  The Chairman of Holiday Inn replied with a speech I will never forget.

“Last year we filled millions of bed nights. 90% of them were in cities like Ames, Iowa, Evansville, Indiana and Lubbock, Texas where we are the only game in town. In big cities like New York we are there because we have to be. Gentlemen, have you been to our facility on West 57th Street?  If you sit in the lobby there and watch people cheek in and out you will know exactly who stays there.  It won't cost more than a few dollars for a taxi.  We don’t need research to understand our business or our customers.  In fact, if you don’t think that we would rather be staying Park Avenue at the Waldorf Astoria then that  place (he actually used a foul description) on West 57th Street, you are crazy.  So, gentlemen, if you need to use research as a crutch for good work, we will not be doing business with you.”

With that, he stood up and walked out.  His group, of course, followed.

The agency Chairman looked at George and I and said, “He is an idiot.”  Maybe so, but we were warned.  
It was about 11:30 in the morning.  The meeting had lasted only about 45 minutes.  George and I went to our favorite restaurant and had a liquid lunch and then we both went home, devastated.

That is how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  I believe Y&R kept Holiday Inn for many, many years.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License