Call me a curmudgeon. Call me old-fashioned. Call me out-of-step. But, damn it, call me or at least send me an email after you’ve requested a proposal and had ample time to look at it.
This is more than a lament. Six times in the past two years, I have been asked to submit a plan, been involved in meetings and met all the required deadlines only to receive no response from the potential client. No acknowledgement; no return of telephone calls, and no explanation. These aren’t cold calls. I don’t do cold calls. These are businesses calling me.
In talking with colleagues, we see an unpleasant trend developing as all have been involved similarly with increasing frequency. We are perplexed.
Having been a relatively successful PR consultant for two decades and, prior to that, having held some fairly senior corporate positions at American Express, MCI Communications and First Data Corp, I am not a neophyte at this. And, modesty aside, what I submitted (sometimes as part of a team and sometimes as a sole practitioner) deserved, at the bare minimum, an acknowledgement.
Three of the proposals in questions were in answer to RFPs and all involved at least one onsite meeting, often several. In a couple of instances, the initial meetings were extended and additional staff was called in because the “client” found the discussion “on point,” “refreshing,” “something that we haven’t heard before.” Maybe I’m really out of touch, but those words sounded pretty encouraging.
I don’t begrudge that presentations for major projects incur costs which are not recouped when the bid isn’t won. However, it is disconcerting when potential clients seemingly disappear and, by inaction, assert that even a simple response is beyond them.
So what to conclude? First, the concept of “professional courtesy” may have seen better days. Or maybe I’m just unlucky. Maybe, I’ve run into the only six clients in the country who didn’t get the memo (or the training) that says when one asks for someone’s time and expertise that a professional approach would involve “getting back to them.”
While I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I wonder if these folks got their training in the accounts payable department.
In one instance, the RFP was from a well-funded major music and entertainment site affiliated with a state university in Northern California. After many attempts at getting a response, my colleague was finally told that the RFP had been withdrawn. Of course, no one had thought to inform us of that. If you want a stalking horse to measure your current agency, don’t ask for a 20-page proposal and tons of “documentation” and then simply descend into a soundproof bunker.
In another case, a major San Francisco non-profit requested a meeting that stretched from one hour to three when the CEO brought in the CFO because “there was much to discuss.” After the meeting, the organization requested a proposal and we delivered one. Then, silence, as if the meeting and plan never existed. Months later, word filtered back that the organization had used the information as “food for thought.” Silly us, thinking that we were something more than a veritable amuse bouche
Then there was the case of a groundbreaking LGBT center, also in Northern California, that was seeking a national, ongoing program. Several long telephone calls and an extensive meeting resulted in a request for a proposal, references and a budget. Then that silence thing again. Emails were ignored; telephone calls went unanswered.
Maybe PR people ask for too much. Perhaps, exchanges longer require common courtesy, and I just didn’t get the memo. Of course, I shouldn’t complain because I have a solid client base and learning about new businesses and endeavors should be reward enough. Right?
Twenty years ago, I worried that I would be called in by companies that lacked the resources to foot the bill and I screened them for this concern. Now, it seems, I may have pre-determine if they are professional enough to even respond to what they ask for.
Live and learn.
Gary Tobin is principal of Tobin and Associates.