Bad Business 201: answer the phone

A few months ago I was in job-hunt mode, and during that period I had chats with a number of companies around Denver (mostly PR and Marketing agencies). In August I accepted a new position on the client side, running a wide range of marketing and PR stuff for a locally based financial services firm.

One of my very top priorities (along with assisting the VP of Marketing with a full-blown rebranding and heading up a complete redevelopment of the corporate Web site) was leading the search for a PR agency. I’d talked to most of the shops in town while doing my job search, so I had a decent idea what was out there, and a couple of the places I had talked with struck me as strong possibilities for my new company. So I put them on my big list and then called them to see if they were interested.

In both cases I got voice mail. I left a message saying hi, this is Sam Smith and I have an opportunity I think you might be interested in. Give me a call, etc.

Neither called me back.

Why, I wonder? Well, that’s obvious enough – since I didn’t say I’m running PR for a new company and we’re hunting for an agency, they probably thought I was hounding them about a job again and found it easier just not to return my call.

Obviously they both wouldn’t have gotten the business, and maybe neither would, but it’s extremely likely that one of them (maybe both) would have made the final round and been invited to present to the CEO. At that point, either might have won the business; my opinion mattered, but the CEO is the only guy in the building with a trump card.

If you’re cynical about my motives, you might be wondering why I played the game the way I did – why not be clear about my new position and why I was calling? Was I looking to dog somebody for not hiring me?

Hardly. Just because you don’t hire me doesn’t mean you’re not perfect for a situation down the road, and I’d be a moron to let that kind of junior-high pettiness get in the way of something that could make me more successful.

No, I did it that way because it was an opportunity to learn something important about the agencies in question. If they’re only going to take my call when I’m waving money in their faces, I don’t want them on my team. That’s not how genuine relationships work, and if you’ve been at this business for awhile you can smell that level of insincerity a mile away.

Reporters can smell it, too. It’s hard enough to build a solid relationship with a reporter or editor as is, and when they figure out that you only call when it’s about you, they stop taking your calls. (I have since learned that one of these two agencies has made its way onto the PR Spammer’s Blacklist, which I take as strong corroborating evidence for the point I’m making here.)

So those two agencies didn’t get to pitch, they didn’t get to meet the CEO, and they didn’t get the business of a company that’s going to absolutely blow up in the next two years.

My case isn’t going to change the world for anybody, but I can’t be the only one. I wonder how many other companies out there are hutzing themselves because they refuse to pick up the phone?

In the end, we hired a great agency and are very happy with how things are coming along. As a side note, they’re one of those firms that didn’t even bring me in for a chat. Remember that the next time the phone rings…

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