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Just add hot water…

Time for a true and funny story and, as it happens, the learning of one my new favorite phrases: Chocolate Teapot. What the hell is a chocolate teapot you ask? I’ll get to that. But first the story…

Partly because of my agency’s history and also our Bay Area location, at gyro we handle a lot of technology clients. On our roster we have some of the biggest tech firms in the world and just as many small. All of them are dear to us. The big ones keep us honest. The small ones keep us sharp. Or is it the other way around? Suffice to say, we are fortunate for having all of them.

Like any agency, when a RFI (Request for Information) and/or RFP (Request for Proposal) comes over the transom we quickly assemble the management team to see if the company would be a good fit –for both parties. Like any agency, we are reluctant to pass on new business. It happens. But usually we at least opt to meet the prospect.

A while back a query arrived from the new CMO of a technology company based in New Zealand. The fellow was planning on expanding operations in the US and was looking for an agency to help him to it. Without naming names, his company did have credibility as a going concern in its country of origin. The business model intrigued us. We scheduled a meeting.

So the guy comes in. He’s a nice enough person and the senior members of the agency carved out two hours for credentials and conversation. We had coffee service and bagels and everybody was up for the meeting. After going through our “creds” we got into the man’s business, talked strategy and outlined various scenarios we thought might be of interest to him. A spirited and fun discussion followed.

Somewhere along the way the man uttered the expression “chocolate teapot” as in ‘the website was as useful as a chocolate teapot.’ I’d never heard the expression and neither had my colleagues. We all appreciated the poetry of it. Pour hot water into a chocolate teapot. Useless!

Two hours go by and the man is completely engaged –a good thing- so we all silently agreed to go over our allotted time. About three hours in our Managing Director steered the conversation to the sensitive topic of budget. We rightly assumed we had a willing prospect and besides, at that point, what else are we going to discuss?

This charming, bespectacled New Zealander replied, “I have five or six thousand dollars to play with.”

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You should have seen our faces. Our smiles looked like they had been carved out by a plastic surgeon. Not to be crass but if one added up the salaries in the room and multiplied them by three hours we’d already eclipsed that number. With politeness we resolutely ended our meeting.

Afterward, one of us joked: “Well, that was about as useful as a chocolate teapot.” Though thankfully seldom used, the phrase became part of our vocabulary. Which, I guess, is the icing on the teapot.

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Like a Cat 5 in NY…

I’m writing this on a malfunctioning computer attached to a malfunctioning human being on the long flight to San Francisco from New York. Regarding my computer: Upon pulling a wad of printouts off a table in the “war room” my laptop fell to the hard, wooden floor. I thought it had survived but now I’m not so sure. All my web pages keep opening up in extreme grandpa close-up. And while this does make my tired eyes happy it is also causing pandemonium on my desktop. I highlight this banal fact primarily to segue into my postmortem post on my pitch in NY, or PMPMP.

Quite a week. Or was it two? Without naming the client, three of gyro’s offices (including mine in San Francisco) participated in a whirlwind global pitch in New York. Hardly my first rodeo but by any standard this pitch was a doozy, replete with all-nighters and lost weekends on both coasts -pretty much everything you’d expect from just such an activity.

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“I’ll kick your ass for putting down my work!”

Except, remarkably, for fighting. Given how many sleep-deprived Type-A’s were involved I’d have expected more clashing and scheming. I’m not saying we were saints but I’ve seen these pressure cookers go off like dynamite in a microwave. Didn’t happen. Not to be a homer, but maybe there is something to this “Uno” culture we talk about at gyro.

Cut to Friday, when we delivered a big, careening hurricane of people and ideas. Prior to that, the pressure had been building all week and as the first bands rippled through our offices the energy became palpable: people running around, printing docs, yelling into phones. Then when the client finally came off that elevator: total quiet. In the eye now. Hush. The adrenaline crackling like electricity… kaboom! 90 minutes of full-on energy. The pitch.

And then, just like that, it’s over…

A bit later, sitting in the cab to JFK, I find myself feeling depressed. Not because we did a bad job. Frankly, I think we killed it. So why? Did I miss the crazy camaraderie? The caffeinated late night writing sessions? The crap take-out? My colleagues?

That’s part of it. One can’t help but develop a corps d’esprit. But there’s also a strange sadness that isn’t so easy to describe. My business partner calls it “post pitch depression.” It’s a perfect name for it. After all, we’d gone through a protracted labor and given birth to three ideas (triplets!) in front of parents who may or may not even want them!! Intense!!!

Understandably, I am spent and a little shell-shocked. I don’t drink alcohol anymore but I most certainly would if I could.

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She liked her captors, too.

A pitch is a force of nature. For all of the stress and pain it causes, they also create a Stockholm Syndrome among the participants (me anyway).

I don’t want it to end even though I desperately want it to end. I love my teammates even though I want to kill them. Weird shit like that. Post pitch depression. I’ll get over it. And there will always be another.


What’s it gonna be?

I’m working with an art director/partner on some pretty terrific projects. It’s good to be thinking and writing about clients again. More on that later…

Meantime, my partner suggested our goal be building relationships with clients, not just doing “projects” for them. Relationships, he reminded me, are longer term, healthier and just plain better.

That’s the theory anyway. And it used to be the practice. But not anymore. Not for a long time. When clients hire and fire agencies willy-nilly; those aren’t relationships they’re hook-ups or, worse, prostitution.

Which begs the question: Are we agencies “johns,” and dumb johns at that? We eagerly get into bed with each new client thinking this is “the one.” We will grow old and happy together. In order to insure that we staff up, open a regional office, promote the members of the pitch team. Ha. Within seven months the client is indifferent to us or even mad. Maybe we’ve done a campaign they don’t like. Maybe they’ve been hit on by another agency. Probably both. After nine months they put us on notice. The next quarter we’re fired. Few agencies and clients are exempt from this contempt. It’s more than merely a trend. It’s the way it is.

On the other hand, maybe we agencies are more like reluctant prostitutes; after all we are getting paid…sort of. But even then we want to be loved for our personality and willingness to commit. But the client wants it fast, cheap and AWESOME! Against our instincts, we try to accommodate. We are good girls. We don’t want to be dumped. If we fail the client will find another eager beaver willing to turn a trick.

And so the idea of projects becomes evermore desirable. Projects have a beginning, middle and end. They can be accounted. Unfortunately, it begs the question of why agencies need half their staff. Planners? What pray tell, are we planning for –to get fired? Grooming an account executive to hold a brand manager’s hand seems silly given they don’t want to fall in love. As for the rest of us, it seems the wisest course –better said, the only course- is to put as small a team as possible on the business and swing for the fences. Hit a homerun and maybe we’ll keep the account. If we’re let go we’ve got minimal overhead to “reorganize.”

As someone who grew up at a long-term idea factory, I bristle at the ‘wham, bam, thank you Ma’am’ approach but what’s a girl to do? Oh, I know: show your cleavage in social media and whip out the digital.

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