There is an agency on the market that has consistently produced the kind of work I am looking for, and after a series of meetings, I am certain I'd like it to handle our business.
I fear, however, that without a competitive pitch I would appear sloppy to my bosses. But at the same time I don't want to waste the energies of the other agencies I would invite to compete. What do you suggest?
A: The first thing you should do is read the question immediately below. I will pause for a moment while you do so.
Although one small detail persuades me that the retailer referred to is not in fact you, it very well could be. So let us suppose that you go ahead and invite a couple of other agencies to compete with your closet favourite simply in order to avoid seeming sloppy to your bosses. And let us also suppose that one of the agency CEOs, as threatened below, "confronts" you. How do you respond?
Here are two alternatives.
A. "Thank you for raising this matter. You are quite right. I have invited you and one other agency to compete for my business simply in order to avoid appearing sloppy to my bosses. Since I have already determined the destination of my account, the higher the quality of the work you present, the more you will embarrass me. And, no: I'm afraid I can't pay you a participation fee. It's against company policy."
B. "Thank you for raising this matter. In the light of the recent behaviour of some of my competitors, I quite understand your concern. However, I can unreservedly assure you that the competition is entirely open, that no agency is currently favoured, that the decision lies not with me alone but with my company's adjudicating panel, and that our final choice will be determined purely on the basis of the work presented on the day."
Now, before making your selection, first consider which of these two responses you would prefer to see quoted verbatim in the trade press - since you may be sure that they will be.
So. Do you tell the truth and condemn yourself to ridicule and career arrest? Or do you lie through your teeth and risk the lifelong contempt of your spouse, your colleagues and very possibly St Peter?
There is, of course, a third option. You go to your bosses, tell them that you're certain (your word: see above) of your unilateral decision and that you're happy to be judged on the outcome. (It is, remember, in part what you're paid for.)
You might even start a small and much-to-be applauded revolution. Just be certain about your certainty, that's all.
Q: Last week my agency was invited to pitch for a major retail account. However, I have reservations because I understand that the retailer has been holding secret talks with another shortlisted agency for some months. The whole pitch sniffs of being a done deal, with my agency (as well as a third that has also been invited to pitch) being used to make the marketing director appear thorough.
Should we pitch and hope that the best work wins, or should I confront the marketing director?
A: See above. It may be a done deal and there again it may not. You'll never know. But do you really believe that confronting the man will ever elicit response A? And what do you do when he comes out with response B? Short of an industry-wide boycott of all competitive pitches (which the EU would certainly deem illegal and would in any case hold firm for rather less time than the length of the meeting it took to agree it), you're on your own, baby. Sorry.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at email@example.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.