By Rob Whittle
Every business is competitive. From street vendors to aerospace companies to car dealers to hair salons, capitalism requires that the winners provide the very best service at the very best value. Make no mistake – there is no second place in a business competition. There’s the winner, and there’s everyone else.
Permit me to whine a little bit about my profession – advertising. New business is the lifeline of every ad agency. If you ain’t growing, you’re dying, whether you know it or not. So, the stakes are high, and survival depends on winning against fierce competition. A typical RFP issued by a potential client goes something like this: “Kindly give us one year’s worth of research, media planning, creative concepts, sales strategy and your first born – all for free – and we’ll see which of the six competitors we think is the prettiest.” That’s my loose translation of the process.
Consequently, you seek out any edge you can find, no matter how small. I once attended a seminar on personality profiling, a sort of Myers-Briggs lite. The presenter was a big, charming loud fellow with a severe Richmond accent by the name of Stuart Sanders. He began to describe a case study wherein an agency foolishly presented a “nuts and bolts” strategy to a prospect who was only interested in the flash and dash of the big picture. The prospect chose an agency who plastered the walls with big-idea concepts. I realized that the chump who was the loser was me. Literally, he was using my agency as the Don’t-Do-This cautionary tale.
Naturally, I signed our agency up for Stuart’s personality profiling course, and it changed the way we presented to new biz prospects. The basis of this training is to identify a prospect’s personality and attendant biases by certain “tells” that we all exhibit, and then to place them in one of four personality quadrants. For example, if a prospect is a “Logo,” that means he/she needs to get to know you a bit before plunging into business matters. A “Headline,” on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t need a lot of chit chat and wants to get to it. You get the idea.
A couple of years after meeting Stuart, he invited me to be one of the speakers in London for what he billed as “The greatest new business summit in the world!”
It seemed that Stuart was violating his own training by coming on so strong to the typically understated British. Prior to the event, he was profiled extensively in the British trade press and was characterized as a big, brash ugly American whose hucksterism was antithetical to British sensibilities. He was likely to be hooted off the stage. Such press only served to pump up attendance as Stuart became a curiosity that was not to be missed.
When the big day at last arrived, I wondered if Stuart would adapt his approach to better suit his audience as his own training would dictate. But when the lights were turned down, a searchlight flitted across the crowd only to land on Stuart striding up the center aisle to take his place on the stage. All six feet five inches and two hundred eighty pounds of him was clad in a white linen three-piece suit complete with spats for shoes. I certainly had my answer about whether he would tone it down.
I’ll always remember his opening line, spoken in that deep Richmond accent, “Hi, I’m Stuart Sanders and I looooove new BIZ-ness!” A collective gasp arose from the crowd. No one had ever seen such a figure with such joie de vivre for his topic. He proceeded to charm the knickers off those Brits for the next hour, generating headlines in the trade press like “Big American Takes London By Storm.”
What’s the moral of this story? Maybe it’s “To thine own self be true.”
The writer is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.”