On the campaign couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 01 November 2012 08:00AM

Q: Dear Jeremy, have you any pitch disaster stories you could share? My team has just screwed up a really important pitch and I was hoping to take comfort in the knowledge that it happens to everyone - even the greats.

On the campaign couch ... with JB

A: I've written about this before, as recently as 1987. I expect you remember it, but the younger members of your team may not. I hope it brings them comfort.

Towards the end of the 60s, I was summoned to New York to prepare for an extremely important new-business presentation to take place two days later in Elkhart, Indiana. My role was to represent The World. I'd never been invited to represent The World before so I was naturally gratified. (The World, it turned out, was all those bits that weren't the Americas.)

It was very cold in New York and I was glad of my new overcoat as I walked to the office. I'd been told to get there early because we had only one day to rehearse and we had to be slick and seamless. The account was a global one, all the most senior clients from around the world would be present and a great many million dollars were at stake.

Tom was in a meeting and so was Henry. And so were Kevin, Bob and Bill. They were all in different meetings. We finally got together at LaGuardia, late that afternoon.

Kevin handed out the tickets. There was one for everybody except The World, so I trotted off to buy my own. It had started to snow.

We were the last commercial flight to land at O'Hare that day. Our connecting flight to South Bend had been cancelled so we checked into the Ramada Inn. Henry and I stayed up drinking stingers. When we discovered that the mains water supply had frozen, we checked out again. By then, my new overcoat had been stolen.

It was after 2am when Henry and I checked into the Flying Carpet Motel. Henry found the piano bar, ordered stingers and fell into conversation with three tax lawyers. Not a lawyer and knowing nothing about corporate tax, Henry offered them advice. Impressed, they called him sir and bought him stingers.

He was still accepting them graciously when I went to bed at 3.30.

We took off for South Bend early the next morning in a gentle blizzard. It was precisely the time we should have been starting our presentation in Elkhart, Indiana.

After 20 minutes, we learned that the airport at South Bend had been closed and that we'd be landing instead at Fort Wayne. Henry was strangely silent and Tom went through his notes, his lips moving very slightly as he did so.

We were the last commercial flight to land at Fort Wayne that day.

Kevin called the prospective client to explain our predicament and came back with the news that the client's company, QueenAir, would be sent to fetch us. It could fly under the weather at 800 feet. Henry announced that he was going home.

The QueenAir had only four seats so Kevin sat on the toilet.

By the time we got to Elkhart, all the key clients had left for the weekend. There were just two in the meeting room, both junior. Tom, leader in Henry's absence, started our presentation. "At J Walter Thompson," he said doubtfully, "we are international, resourceful ..." There was then a small pause as he turned over his reminder card. "... and dynamic."

Bill took us through Pepsi-Cola advertising in Latin America, country by country.

One client left the room just as Bill got to Chile. As Bill finished, the second and last client left. It was now my turn.

"I think you'd better start anyway," Tom said.

For ten minutes, I spoke enthusiastically about The World to Tom, Bill, Bob and Kevin. They listened loyally.

As I was showing an After Eight commercial, one of the clients came back in and Tom asked him if he had any questions. He had only one: "Are you hoping to get back to Chicago tonight?"

Back at work in London the following Monday, I got into the lift. "How did it go?" they asked.

Q: How can we capture the Olympic spirit in the office and keep the momentum going?

A: Very simply.

Win things.

Q: In your opinion, which word did Team GB members most overuse when interviewed either before or after their events?

A: Obviously.

(Obviously.)

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.

Telephone (020) 8267 4919

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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