As April Fool’s Day fast approaches, I have been reflecting on the days when agency life mimics that TV box set starring a certain Mr Don Draper all too uncomfortably. When random defeats leave you speechless.
Most of my Draper-esque conundrums played out in the pricing, pitching and proposals process. Primarily when, well meaning clients briefed us on one, very exacting and challenging brief and then, awarded the business to another agency on their barely recognisable response.
An incentive trip for a high-performing sales team in February to warmer climes but not –absolutely not – more than a three-hour flight from the UK. Awarded to the agency that proposed Dubai.
A product launch for a hush-hush, mobile application with a need for high visibility in a Central London location with high footfall. Awarded to the agency that proposed Pinewood Studios.
A five-day, five-site, Parisian product launch to promote a new range of cosmetics. Awarded to the in-house team and held on a manufacturing site in the Home Counties.
These are real scenarios.
I believe that a client has the right to change his or her mind. Except that, in these instances, I don’t believe that the client opted for a different location, venue, creative (delete as appropriate). I think that, in every case, the budget moved (albeit mostly downwards) and that the client was unable to re-brief as the initial brief was given without any realistic expectation of price.
Some of my very best holidays were spent with my sister as she moved from location to location with various aid agencies overseas. I, faithfully, visited her in each location frequently removing her from the horrors of frontline aid work to a neighbouring country able to boast both shops and spas. On one such trip, we left Bangladesh and arrived in Nepal. In a small convenience store, my sister wandered from aisle to aisle saying “look, price tags” and filling a large shopping trolley with goods. In Bangladesh, where every purchase is subject to negotiation and look-I’m-walking-away stand-off tactics. It was relentlessly exhausting.
And so, back to my point. I know that it is impossible to speculate on price when event design and delivery has so many moving parts. But to not give any indication of what your agency might charge, is to leave far too much to chance. And, even internally, colleagues tasked with sales and business development find themselves fighting blind on a brief.
Like us all, I have the brands I browse, the brands I buy and the brands that I believe are frankly, too basic for my tastes. But that is because I buy on quality and price. Imagine how many of your prospective clients don’t come to you because they think that they can’t afford you. I am willing to bet that it is as many as come to you because they believe that they can.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Losing out on a piece of business on a less-impressive creative response is a shocker. But losing out on price is worse. Because that, in theory, can be avoided.
That of course, depends on clients having a grasp on the reality of what design and delivery might cost. I’ve pitched business to government clients where, when I’ve deducted the cost of proposal and pitch, removed all commission and handling fees and, reluctantly, culled the onsite team, we would have sent out junior event co-ordinators at less than minimum wage.
And so, when Elon Musk launched his car into outer space I was horrified. How many more clients will send us briefs demanding the impact of a Telsa-style product launch with an Aldi-style budget?
What would a certain Mr Don Draper say to that? April fool perhaps?