“We have our principles… and if you don’t like those, we have others”
New Business people have plenty of pitch war stories. There’s the urban legend about how the Aflac Duck came into existence, supposedly on the elevator with the client after the pitch creative failed in the formal presentation. Then there’s the notorious story how BBDO stole the Cingular Wireless account from what was then known as WestWayne (now monikered 22squared) after the selection committee chose the Atlanta independents. Maybe the juiciest of all was the WalMart pitch led by Julie Roehm, choosing Draft/FCB but then having to re-review the account following tales of impropriety, lust and betrayal (ultimately settling in at The Martin Agency). If you’re in New Business, you have a war story — or several.
My favorite centers upon a character named Tim Bayless. I’m fortunate to have worked with many magical personalities in my Gump-ish life: Jim Valvano, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lee Clow, Bogusky, David Lubars, Andrew Robertson, Richard Ward, Doug MacMillan (The Connells), among others. Bayless had as much magic in him as any of them. Tim started an agency on his kitchen table in Atlanta in 1994 and proceeded to build one of the hottest shops in the country within 5 years. He recruited the writer (Jerry Cronin) that created the most famous Nike & ESPN work (at a time when getting talented creatives to move to Atlanta was harder than getting the Olympics to come to town). In his sixth year, he sold the agency to Omnicom. Think about that… a guy with not much else besides gumption, starts an agency alone on his kitchen table and 6 years later sells it to Omnicom for millions. That’s magic.
About 10 years ago, I was helping Tim with Biz Dev. We had just lost the agency’s cornerstone Church’s Chicken account. So Tim ordered me to “call every chicken company in America and tell them we’re available.” We didn’t have to look very far. Atlanta (and the regional Southeast) is the fried chicken capital of the world. Chik-Fil-A became an obsessive target. I badgered their marketing people for weeks. Told them that “nobody will like this Cow stuff you’re doing.” And “The Richards Group is the Dead Poet’s Society” and desperately, “Why is such a civic-minded, community-based company like yours taking jobs and business to Dallas?” Finally, I struck a nerve and one Friday, they emailed me and agreed to meet with us “soon.”
That same Friday we also received an RFP from Van Gogh Vodka. The RFP arrived in a box with dozens of mini airplane bottle-sized samples of flavored vodkas — chocolate vodka, raspberry vodka, et al along with all the mixing accoutrements — all these flavors at a time when flavored vodkas were relatively new. So, at around 4 PM that afternoon, I sent an email to all agency personnel that we would be “doing research” on these flavored vodkas for the RFP in the main conference room and all were invited. Within 5 minutes, the conference room was teeming with everyone from our Controller (boy did HE need a drink, trying to balance Bayless’ books) to our building’s Janitor. It was a real mix-off, concocting potions previously unimaginable. And we were catching a bit of a buzz.
At one point amidst the all this mixology, our receptionist came into the conference room to alert me of a phone call. I retreated to my office and took the call. It was the CMO from Chik-Fil-A. He said he wanted to come by the agency to meet with us. “Awesome!” I exclaimed, “when would you guys like to come, what day works best for you?”
“Uh, we’re in Midtown NOW and would like to come by the agency on our way back to the office (their “office campus” is near the Atlanta airport). I’m with Mr. Cathey (S. Truett Cathey, CEO and famously devout Christian) and he’d like to meet you, too.”
“Nanananowww?” I stammered.
“Yes, now. We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
“Sounds great. See you then. Do you know how to get here?” I never heard their answer because I was already hustling over to Tim’s office.
In the center of the agency, in the “public area” of BaylessCronin sat a large Buddha statue/fountain. The Buddha symbolized all of the agency’s manufactured new age values: peace, tranquility, spirituality, mysticism. It anchored the most visible and central spot in our feng shui space. It was the star of the show, the belle of the ball. The flowing fountain was symbolic of the lifestream of the agency and our values.
I barged into Tim’s office. “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.” Tim never wanted to know bad news. “What’s the good news?”
“Chik-Fil-A is coming to the agency to meet with us,” I blurted.
“Awesome. What could be the bad news?” Tim cackled.
“They’ll be here in 8 minutes. The CMO and S. Truett Cathey. What are we going to do? Everyone’s getting hammered in the conference room.”
Tim took all of 5 seconds to respond. It was the single most brilliant answer to a question I’ve heard in my entire ad agency life.
“Quick, hide the Buddha.”