Monday, September 14, 2009

Tire Kickers - A Little Respect Please?

I haven't blogged for a couple of weeks, partly because I was in the country with my family, squeezing out the last days of summer. It was a wonderful vacation temporarily disrupted by a major etiquette violation I've decided to share in the context of a troubling trend for us entrepreneurs - the professional tire kicker.

An expression from the used car lot, the "tire kicker" is a person who wastes the time of a salesman though he has no intention of buying. We're not selling used cars at Palette PR but we are getting calls from many people who feel that investing in PR might be just what they need to weather the economic storm. Only, they're not sure how much they want to spend, what their objectives are, or when the project might start.

And, before taking the plunge, they need some assurance that it's the right step. This assurance comes in the form of a meeting in which we share our expertise, show examples of past work, talk about how we might help them and try to get a sense of what they're looking for. While we don't get an idea of the budget we are often promised that "while the initial amount will be on the low side, there is great potential for it to be increased if we're successful". This meeting concludes with a request for a two-or-three-page proposal in which we provide some free ideas for what a campaign might look like. A week or so later, we may be asked to come in and present the ideas in person to someone who is positioned as "the decision-maker". We are told that, if we can impress this mandarin, then the business is as good as ours. Sadly, all too often, this person has "difficulty understanding our vision" and asks for another memo with more detail on how things will play out. And on it goes until, after not hearing from them for a few weeks, we follow up with the potential client, only to find out that they have: a) decided they're not interested in PR after all, b) loved our ideas and have decided to do everything in-house, c) decided to work with another agency and haven't had a chance to inform us.

The person who disturbed the tranquility of my recent vacation was one such potential client, looking for PR assistance in an area in which I have considerable expertise. In order to make a decision, he needed a proposal very quickly. In a telephone conversation, I agreed to prepare a document for him within 48 hours. As an agency principal, I am always engaged in building the business so I begged forgiveness from my family, closed the door and put my work hat on. Five minutes after sending it to Mr. potential client, I received the following e-mail: "Thanks but we've already hired someone".

There is a professional way to look for an agency partner and many organizations respect it by clearly stating their budget, objectives and expectations for the project before meeting with agencies. Some work with search firms like Agency Link and some even compensate participating companies for ideas. When the process is over, these organizations call the unsuccessful parties as soon as the decision has been made and, in an ideal scenario, offer meaningful feedback that will help them do a better job next time.

I realize that, in trying times, it's tough to decide where to spend your marketing dollars and the wrong choice can have lasting consequences. But, that doesn't mean you have the right to waste anyone's time on phantom projects that may or may not happen, with a budget that may or may not materialize and the promise of future, more lucrative work that may or may not come to pass.

That's just not good etiquette!


  1. Well put Louise. Fishing expeditions waste the time of the agency and the corporate client team.

    Defined goals and objectives, clear agency criteria, priorities and an established budget are needed before a client engages an agency.

    Hope your family forgave you for the disrupted holiday!

    Sheila Corriveau

  2. I'm sorry, but this is basically well-worded whining. Almost every business in the world, whether it's a mechanic, a carpenter, an insurance agent, a plumber, (etc etc etc, the list goes on), has to deal with "wasted time" providing free quotes or estimates to customers who may or may not end up using your service. No one likes it, but it's the way of the business world. It's up to you to decide who is or who is not "worth your time." What kind of businessman is seriously writing blogs and attempting to discourage potential customers from contacting him?!