Every advertising person has stories about how their agencies have blown new business pitches, often because someone said or did something stupid. There is a classic story about an agency which pitched a car account but not one person showed up at the client’s office driving the client’s brand. There is another story of an agency pitching a watch account, but the president showed up wearing a Rolex.
(I would love to collect your stories if you can top the one that follows. I know a lot of them are funny in the telling.)
When new business prospects come to visit a prospective agency, they can always sense and feel whether there is good chemistry among the agency participants. In many cases, even agency principals who do not like each other, are able to hide their antipathy towards each other.
Not this one.
Not this one.
A mid-size shop that had a history of good work was pitching a food manufacturer which had allowed its agencies to do excellent creative. The account is one that would have been perfect for this particular agency. The agency had been trying to get this client in for a very long time. They finally got the client to come in to the agency. The first meeting was a credentials presentation and was attended by seven people – two from the client, the agency president, the agency chairman (a co-creative director), the vice chairman (also a CD), the head of account management and the head of strategy. The agency had rehearsed the pitch well.
The meeting was intentionally informal with everyone casually sitting around a conference room table; the entire meeting, including the seating, had been carefully orchestrated. But, as things happen, early in the meeting, the client asked a particular question, the answer to which had not been rehearsed. The president responded with a statement that had nothing to do with what had been rehearsed or what the agency wanted the client to know. It was way off script. To make matters worse, he talked and talked. The more he talked, the more the agency participants were shocked because this particular response actually killed the entire agency positioning and the remainder of the presentation. No one knew what to say. And the president droned on and on.
There was no recovering from this particular gaff. In one way or another, everyone from the agency tried to get the president to shut up: one person subtly tugged on his pants to get him to stop, another made the cut sign, crossing his index finger across his throat. The president kept going. Finally, the chairman had a solution. The chairman was so flustered and angry that he picked up a pen and literally heaved it at the president, calling him an ass-hole, right in front of the client. He, like everyone else in the room, knew that the pitch was dead. But it did shut up the president.
The two clients looked at each other and nodded. With that, they got up and walked out. The senior client made a great comment: “We appreciate an agency that can argue and disagree with each other. But we cannot and will not work with people who obviously hate each other.”
End of story. The entire meeting lasted only about ten minutes.