Why businesses hire marketing companies and then refuse to listen to them

Remember that AMC show, The Pitch?  I love it.  I am a marketing guy by trade and education and a show like this is right up my alley and in my wheelhouse.  Here’s the premise of the show.  A major company brings in two competing advertising agencies at the same time.  They present their goals for the ad or brand campaign and the agencies have a week to come up with their best pitch.  The ad agencies then hear the pitches individually from the companies and decide which company they will ultimately hire to help them with their branding/marketing project.

The first episode featured Waste Management.  What they asked for was a new branding campaign that focused on their ability to create energy from waste.  They approached two companies, The Ad Store and SK&G.  Both of these companies are very well respected and very good at their jobs.  Waste Management received two very different brands. 

The Ad Store:


Which one do you think is better?  I like The Ad Store.  Trash Can is an amazingly brilliant and simple brand concept that is clever and effective.  It can be scaled, leveraged, and truly has the opportunity to be a massive worldwide brand.  The ad from SK&G looks like a cross between Reagan’s Morning in America (thanks Greg) and a Chrysler ad.  It’s overproduced, safe and gave the customer what they wanted, not necessarily what they needed.  This is why businesses hire marketing companies and then refuse to listen to them.  It’s an ego trip. 

“This happens all the time” commented Paul Cappelli, Founder and Chairman of The Ad Store    “When I hire someone to do a job, I hire the person I believe is best qualified. Then I listen with an open mind. My bell rings when my brain registers ‘I hadn't thought of that!’ My alarms go off when my brain hears, ‘You're already doing a great job.’”

It’s important to note that in my exchange with Paul, he was not commenting specifically on his experience with Waste Management but rather, with clients in general. 

“Some clients like to have an ‘expert’ come in just so they can ‘prove’ in front of their peers that he/she is smarter than the expert. Or at least has the power to kill the expert's ideas” he added.

Waste Management had a problem, they needed to rebrand themselves.  They needed to let America know that they can do great things with trash.  Both ads do that.  The difference is this: one is fiercely forward thinking the other is comfortable.  Any real marketing professional can see it.  So the question remains; why would any company go with an inferior idea?  I think it is because they are afraid to take a risk.  Anytime something changes there is a risk involved.  The conundrum is that the entire reason a company bids the project in the first place is the company believes a change is needed because the status quo is not working the way they want.  Unfortunately most companies pass on brilliant ideas for safe ideas. 

So what?  Here’s my advice as a marketing professional. First, to other marketing professionals; just because your idea was rejected doesn’t make it a bad idea.  Sometimes decisions are made that, believe it or not, have nothing to do with you.  Don’t lose focus.  It’s not about the rejection; it’s about what you do in response to the rejection.  Do you give up on the idea or do you keep your focus, push forward and continue to put out quality work?

Second, to business owners; trust the companies you hire.  Don’t make them jump through hoops to stroke your ego.  You hired them for a reason.  Most likely that reason is because your way isn’t working the way you hoped or, quite frankly, doesn’t work at all.  Brilliant ideas are risky.  If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be brilliant.  Brilliant ideas are often simple too, not to mention clever.  Don’t underestimate a concept because it’s not flashy and doesn’t make you feel like the trash man is your best friend.  I got tingles after the “Trash Can.” ad.  After the Reagan/Chrysler debacle, I felt nothing.  And that’s the problem.  When brilliance is presented, often times it’s understated.  Rely on brilliant people to recognize brilliance, that’s what you hire them for and that’s why they’re brilliant.  I would hire Paul Cappelli and The Ad Store in a heartbeat.   I’d recommend you consider me, but still…respect is given where it is deserved.