Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The power of No, or another deeply satisfying start-up pleasure

I hear that there used to be a time when there were plenty of pitches to go around. Big agencies only bothered with big clients, leaving the start-ups and aggressive small companies for the boutiques and creative shops. I'm not sure if this golden age ever existed, but it's certainly long gone now. We all know that in the increasingly competitive business of marketing almost everyone goes after almost everything that has any potential for financial or creative impact. If you work in a big agency, or one beholden to a holding company and its shareholders, you know what I'm talking about.

One of the major pleasures of independence is being able to be more picky both about who you pick as a potential client and how you seek them out. And sometimes, the very act of being picky helps you find better clients.

Laments about the agency pitch process are a perennial source of content in the trade press (e.g., here and here). The most common complaints: it's a waste of time, energy and money, it's an artificial process that doesn't create meaningful ideas, agencies give away ideas for free. But no matter how loud or frequent the outcry, very few companies are willing or capable of refusing to participate. The stakes are too high to opt out.

So for someone like me, who has been through at least 100 pitches, there is something deeply refreshing about saying, "No, thank you" to yet another pitch with spec creative. And more refreshing still by far are the clients who see that No as an marker of principle and distinction in the marketplace. A sign, in other words, that the agency is trying to approach the challenges of the marketplace in a new way. Which is all to say: saying No can be a very useful way of identifying clients you'd enjoy working with.

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