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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

You Never Know Who Is Interviewing You

No one should ever assume one interviewer is less important than another.  There is always a reason why a company puts someone in the interviewing loop.

Many candidates, particularly senior executives, have confessed to me that they blew interviews because they considered the people they were talking to be irrelevant or inferior.  This often happens when senior executives are asked to meet human resources people towards the end of their interview process. While these interviews may be more courtesy than real, a bad or dismissive attitude can cost a job. 

One very senior human resources candidate told me a story which illustrates this point.  He was almost through the interviewing process at a major company.  He had one final interview. His last interview was with an older person who was nearing retirement and had had this job many years before.  He took this interview for granted - it was at the end of a grueling day of multiple interviews and the candidate just assumed that it was a courtesy interview with the outgoing person. He told me he may have been dismissive.

Unfortunately, he got dinged by the interviewer who thought he was rude.  My candidate confessed that his obvious disinterest in the interviewer cost him the job. Ironically, my candidate was a very senior (and expensive) human resources executive; he told me that he learned a big lesson from this error in judgement on his part. 

When I was an advertising agency executive, Ii was once on an interview to become head of account management at a small agency. While I was waiting for the CEO whose name was on the door, i was brought into a small room which looked like a den. A disheveled woman came in and offered me soda or coffee. She sat down to chat with me while I waited to be interviewed by the CEO. After about ten minutes of chit-chat, I realized she was interviewing me. I had no idea who she was and she certainly didn’t look like an executive.  She actually was wearing a dress, but had stockings rolled down to her ankles. Finally the CEO came in and she sat through his interview with me.

It turned out that she was both the office manager and the CEO’s girlfriend.  I was totally turned off and uninterested in the job. But the point is that anyone who meets you from a company may have the ability to ding you.

These days of casual clothing, people come to meet me, especially on Fridays, wearing ridiculously inappropriate clothing.  One young executive actually told me she would not dress this way on a “real” interview.  Little did she understand that meeting a recruiter might be far more important in the long run than any single person she might meet at a company..

There is no such thing as a courtesy interview.  Anyone you interview with may have the ability to ding you and, on the other hand, could introduce you to other people within (or out) their company.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Adventures In Advertising: Perception Is Reality

Once upon a time, I took a job as senior vice president and head of account management at what turned out to be one of the worst ad agencies, ever (I stayed less than six months).  Therefore, all names will be left out.  But this story happened exactly as I am reporting it.  And it is funny.

The creative director was well known; he wrote a column for one of the advertising publications and he had written and published a book about advertising. It was rumored that one of the account supervisors reporting to me was having an affair with him, but no one knew for sure.  What I did know is that anything I discussed with the ECD somehow got to the account person before I could tell her.  And, of course, anything I told her, he knew before I could tell him.

One day, we were all at a client sales meeting in the New Jersey suburbs.  I was due to present something to the client sales force at about 3pm.  The client was nice enough to have an agency suite.  At about 2:30 I realized that I had left my notes in the room.  

So I walked back to the room to get them.

I unlocked the door and walked in to retrieve my briefcase.  And what did my eyes behold?  There, to my surprise, was the creative director and the account supervisor naked on the bed, going at it.  She was on top, sitting up.  She tried to cover herself with one hand and looked straight at me.

She said, very seriously, “This isn’t what you think.”  Honestly, that is what she said.  I looked at both of them and said, “Yes it is.  It is exactly what I think.”  I got my briefcase and left, smiling all the way back to the meeting.

It was never discussed with either of them again.

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