How Not to Win Business (and Lose Influence with People)

I am currently sitting on a plane flying back from a business trip to NY and was trying to read a magazine but am so bothered by something that occurred last night I had to get out my laptop and write it down so I can move on.

In recent weeks my CEO has forwarded me a couple emails from a guy who runs a PR firm in NY. I would actually really, really love to say exactly who it is but I won’t. He’s been reading about us in the news and is doing what agencies do when companies keep getting larger and larger on their radar, they start trying to work it to win the business.

Thing is, I have a PR agency. Or had. I’m pulling everything in house for a number of reasons, especially economic (hello, PR recession) so I had replied and said, thanks but we’re good for right now.

Now here’s something right away. I’m listed on the site as running the PR but said person, let’s call him Jack Ash, kept contacting my CEO. Not the person making the decision though it might seem like it if one were to assume (and you know what they say about assuming, don’t you?) OK, fine, fair enough. Maybe our website is hard to locate or even my email (which is on the press page.)

At the end of January Jack emailed my CEO this:

Do you ever hire a PR firm or consultant here in NYC? We exchanged ems a few months back.. {your company} is huge now… saw you were looking for PR people a while back too.

My CEO wasn’t looking for PR people. I was. And I was looking for a manager in LA to work in-house. But I digress. My company just won a nice high-profile award for Company of the Year, which we accepted earlier this week. It was a lot of work on my part as well as the rest of the company to bring it home, but it has always been part of my larger PR strategy to win it.

So Jack, decides to post a congratulations on my Facebook wall (vs. messaging me) and then take the opportunity to pimp his own company by letting me know that his firm can get me in touch with x,y,z reporters (all of which I already have relationships with.) Now anyone who has read my past columns knows that, to me, media is just one part of PR (and certainly NOT the reason I’d hire a PR agency.)

So I replied directly to Jack on Facebook with a message that basically looked like the below. I’d cut and paste the original but I was so turned off I deleted it.

Dear Jack,

Thanks for reaching out but I’m going to be bluntly honest. I’ve never understood why PR agencies reach out and offer to help with something that a company is clearly already doing a really good job at. And this was even at the agencies I worked at! We’re set right now with all those reporters that you listed and some. I’m currently pulling all resources in house and don’t anticipate working with an outside agency in the foreseeable future. That said, if I should ever be considering I will definitely keep your firm in mind for the RFP process.

Now this is where it took a turn for the worse (for him, not me.) This was the reply he sent:

If I thought you were “set” I wouldn’t have reached out. Why do you think companies like Yahoo, Google and Apple hire PR agencies? You really are full of yourself.

Um. Excuse me? So I replied and basically said I wasn’t trying to toot my own horn and that I didn’t say I was “set,” I said I was set with those reporters he listed. And that if he wanted me to consider his firm it would be wiser to make recommendations on what I am missing or could be doing better instead of telling me he can connect me with people I already know. And then I de-friended him and blocked him on Twitter.

So to re-cap: Jack Ash trying to win business of hot company that is “everywhere” (that didn’t happen by accident, Jack;) I say no thanks and am honest why; he insults me; I delete him and now have an incredibly negative perception of this person’s professionalism, of which I shared with my CEO – who for one, doesn’t even know the guy – and my VP of Marketing whose response after reading the exchange is not fit for this website.

There are several things that have been bothering me about this so I thought I’d turn the whole experience into a post that can serve as a learning experience for any agencies out there trying to chase a “hot company” as a new business lead.

1. If you find a company you’re interested in make sure you are talking to the decision maker. The CEO may run the company but in mine I am the final word on anything to do with PR. So stop kissing his ass and start learning about the one running the PR and figure out the best way to get through to me.

2. Do your homework. You’re a PR person you know this is at the center of everything we do. If someone spent 5 minutes googling me they’d see that I am very vocal about PR and have over a decade experience representing top brands (including Apple, thankyouverymuch.) He would have read on my blog that PR to me is much more than media relations. So coming at me in a self-serving public way of my FB wall and telling me you’re going to bring me value from press intro’s (I already have, something else he’d seen if he’d done more homework) then maybe he would have taken a different tact and I wouldn’t be writing this right now. I hope he asks around about this “full of herself” PR person because I’ve worked damn hard for over a decade to develop a very strong reputation in the PR industry with an equally strong track record. Something he didn’t take the time to find out.

3. Be creative. Think bigger picture. If a company is already well on a high trajectory path, what can you, as an agency, add to the mix if there’s a strong PR program already in place? What do you see my needs being in 6 months or a year?

4. Pitch appropriately. Pimping his firm on my wall was a big mistake. Kind of akin to those folks who comment on blogs only to pitch their services and then link to it. No one likes those people.

5. Let them know you’re in it to win it. I told Jack that I didn’t need help with those media he listed. Which is 100% true. He replied I was full of myself. Instead he could have taken a different approach (especially if he’d done his homework) and come back with other p.o.v. I hadn’t considered. Or appealed to a pain point of working in house or trends in the economy or my company’s industry that will make his service a necessity to me. Instead he shot-gunned an answer and in the process burned a bridge and the surrounding mountain it was attached to.

I’ve consulted with several PR friends about this for their opinion and every single one had the same reaction – utter disbelief. Let his mistake be your lesson.

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