Q: Last week in a typical snake-in-the-grass move, an account we
were pitching for - a public organisation - was pre-emptorily awarded to
one of our rivals. In the ensuing hoohah the client saw sense and
ordered a repitch. The difficulty is that the rival agency already has
part of the client's business, and everyone knows it makes sense to keep
the two bits together. This means that whatever decision the client
makes could make them look even more foolish. How can we leverage their
A: Before reading any further, let your eyes drop to the next question.
OK? Interesting, don't you think? Now we can begin.
The first and most fundamental fact that both you and your rival agency
must grasp is that there is no such thing as a client. Even simple,
profit-driven commercial clients are multi-layered and multi-minded.
When a client is also a public organisation, the scope for ambiguity,
indecision, point-scoring, private briefing, recrimination, U-turns,
mutually irreconcilable firm commitments, internally contradictory press
releases, gross favouritism and general fuck-up is multiplied
exponentially. By the sound of it, your potential client(s) employed
each of these options with some skill. So you raise the wrong question
when you ask: what's the best way for us to leverage their predicament?
Within that bowl of spaghetti that is their corporate headquarters,
there will as many different predicaments as there are people; and
indeed, there will be some who are positively relishing the predicament
since it spells serious trouble for an over-confident colleague.
Given all this, you must come to terms with the fact that you can't
please everybody. Through their own machinations, the client has ensured
that, whichever agency they finally appoint, it will be bitterly
resented by most of them. You should find this fact liberating.
Get your best planners to work - not on communications strategy but on
Client Egg-On-Face Analysis: which individual in a senior position
stands to be most terminally humiliated should this farce continue? Then
get your best creative team to work - not on advertisements but on the
press release announcing the appointment of your agency. This should
clearly distance the identified senior person from all previous
decisions and demonstrate that the appointment of your agency, alone
among the contenders, is manifestly in the public interest. Then, in
private session, allow the identified senior person to have sight of
this, his escape hatch. The business is as good as yours.
Q: Last week, in a deft piece of new-business brio, we scooped a large
chunk of business for a public organisation from under the noses of our
rivals. In the ensuing hoohah, the client has now taken fright and we've
been forced to repitch - with us painted as everyone's snake in the
grass. How should we approach this?
A: It will save us all time if you'd be good enough to read my previous
answer. OK? Thank you.
According to your rival you are already the incumbent agency of record
for part of this client's business. Because "everyone knows it makes
sense to keep the two bits together", they believe this fact is greatly
to your advantage; but they are wrong. Your day-to-day contact is almost
certainly not the day-to-day contact responsible for the part of the
business for which you are now repitching. Each will be fiercely
possessive and deeply hostile to the thought of sharing an agency,
particularly if it is clearly in the public interest to do so.
Your strategy is clear. If you do not already have an agency within an
agency, invent one this afternoon. Offer both day-to-day contacts two
quite separate account handlers, each with access to quite different
letterheads, making it discreetly clear that they detest each other.
Then draft a press release demonstrating the benefits of this
arrangement to the taxpayer. The business is as good as yours.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, a director
of Guardian Media Group and WPP. He also writes a monthly column for
Management Today. A compilation of his business advice, Another Bad Day
at the Office?, is published by Penguin on 5 November at £5.99.
Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com, or Campaign, 174
Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.