Yesterday, fellow crayonista Adam Broitman and I participated in a mock new business pitch "shoot out" at the iMedia Financial Marketing Summit. In a nutshell, we were provided with a fake (but plausible) RFP from a hypothetical banking giant, and charged with crafting and presenting our response to a panel of three marketers/judges (the Simon, Paula and Randy of financial marketing), in front of a roomful of conference attendees. One other agency -- Geary Interactive -- would do the same and, at the end, the judges would choose a winner.
Adam and I lost (I suppose people still find it difficult to take a chance on the future of marketing.)
In truth, I expected us to lose. After all, we're a six person company slammed with pressing client deliverables and lots of real new business activity -- the mock pitch was a fun diversion but I can't say that we had the time or energy necessary to knock this one out of the park. But more importantly, everything about the mock pitch process put us (or me, at least - I don't want to put words in Adam's mouth) well outside our comfort zone.
Here's the rundown:
For starters, crayon doesn't pitch. I don't mean that we don't write proposals, or stand in front of prospective clients and put on a dog and pony show (for anyone wondering -- Adam was the dog, I was the pony.) Of course we do. But we tend not to get involved with the traditional agency pitch process of formal RFPs, cattle call shortlisting and final stand-up presentations evaluated head-to-head against the comparable work product of a batch of other agencies.
Which leads me to point two -- the reason we generally don't do this is that we're not an agency. We're a strategic consultancy. Now, some of you would probably question whether I might be splitting hairs but, trust me, I'm not. We quite simply don't exhibit many of the hallmarks of the "traditional digital" shop -- no creative team, no designers, no developers, no media department, etc. We're strategy guys through and through and, while we absolutely bring programs to life on behalf of our clients, we aren't the company you hire for straight-ahead tactical execution. We don't do most of the things agencies do, but on the other hand we believe that we do the one thing we focus on (conversational marketing) better than anyone else on the block. We know that putting crayon head-to-head against more traditional agencies is somewhat akin to putting apples up against armadillos. Neither is inherently better than the other (although I wouldn't suggest baking an armadillo pie); but they are indisputably different things.
By this point you shouldn't be surprised to learn that the RFP itself was a losing proposition for us from the outset. Without getting into the details of the faux marketing challenge, the requested response should have included a redesigned website, banner comps, new taglines, an online media plan, even revamped ATM screens. While we did address some of those things (albeit with a uniquely crayon spin), we mostly focused on a strategic approach to conversation and a series of social media programs that would allow this hypothetical bank to engage their customers in open dialogue about providing the best possible banking experience. We're smart enough to know that our recommended approach wouldn't/couldn't/shouldn't replace the more traditional digital marketing efforts outlined in the RFP, but we did (and do) believe that the challenge presented in that same RFP called for a concerted new marketing push. And besides, conversational marketing is what we do. We wouldn't pitch Flash work or banner buys to a real client; why would we pitch them here? Of course we knew that we were an odd fit for this "assignment" but we certainly wouldn't shy away from something just because it's outside our comfort zone -- even if that means tweaking the input and approaching the challenge in our own way.
And this brings us at long last to the matter of a suit and tie. The event was at NYC's fancy schmancy Metropolitan Club and, thus, had a business formal dress code. And I'm just not a suit and tie kind of guy. In fact, it is a rare occassion when I wear a suit even without a tie. I work from home, my clients are generally business casual. I'm all about the t-shirt and jeans -- collared shirt and jeans for most client meetings. In the grand scheme, the dress code probably seems like a minor thing -- and it is; but it's yet one more thing that put me outside my personal comfort zone. Sure I looked devastatingly handsome (that's a joke) but I felt slightly foolish and more than a little like I was a kid dressed up in daddy's clothes (trust me, when you're almost 40 you don't want to ever feel that way.)
So, yup, we lost. Did we lose because we were operating so far outside our comfort zone? Did we lose because our recommended solutions forced the panel of judges (senior financial marketers who -- let's face facts -- are probably used to more traditional approaches) outside theirs?
Or did we lose because, although we were outside our zone, maybe we didn't stray far enough from the outer edges. After all, we presented a recommendation that was quintissentially crayon. We were true to who we are and we presented work that falls right inside our core competency, even though it was mostly outside the scope of the RFP. Sure, we probably lost because Geary, being a proper interactive agency, was better suited to the job or simply did better work (the two competitors didn't get to see each other's presentations.) We probably lost because we didn't address the brief head on.
So what if Adam and I had taken off our comfy colorful crayon hats for a few minutes and put together a presentation that tapped into our pre-crayon experience (we're both reformed media planners, ex-agency guys and know a thing or two about building sites) to give the (hypothetical) client exactly what they were asking for -- even if, in our hearts, we believed that what they wanted wasn't what they really needed? Maybe, in that event, we would have kicked Geary's butt.
In the end, that may have been the right decision. On the other hand, it would have made me really uncomfortable to take that route. Then again, what's one more thing? Compared to the necktie, it might have been pretty easy to handle...