Lunch is serious business

A couple of months ago, I was part of a team which pitched for some Government-related business. We didn’t get past the Procurement stage. Out of six bids, we came fourth.

Lunch is business

It's time to increase your entertaining budget

We were told that we were expensive and that we weren’t comparable with the other bids, which wasn’t surprising because the other five were all bricks and mortar agencies whereas we were a virtual agency.

The rules of the pitch precluded us being allowed to talk to anyone in the client’s procurement team. Further, we were only allowed to ask questions by email, the rules stating that our question and the client’s answer would then be circulated to all six competing teams.

We weren’t terribly happy about this because what we really needed was to talk to someone on the client side about what we had in mind.

I was therefore cheered up by a piece in the Financial Times by Tyler Brule last Saturday, 26 November 2011. This is an extract from “Up your entertaining budgets.”

Here’s what he wrote:

“2011 is the year to get in front of your clients and customers. Cheap marketing stunts like Quantas’ PR disaster, when it tried a Twitter campaign earlier this week, are an example of  why it’s important to not just rely on social media and why it’s valuable to invite customers for a nice lunch accompanied by a bottle of something that will put everyone at ease and make them feel valued. People want to share experiences in person…..the businesses that will weather the looming economic storm will be those that don’t rely on conference calls and Skype to maintain relationships.”

My experience is that strong relationships buy you time to sort things out when they’re going awry. Further, strong relationships engender trust, enabling you to sell better, braver work.

Early in 1994, I took Robert Fallows, the then Reebok UK marketing director, for lunch in the Fifth Floor restaurant in Harvey Nichols. Reebok had just signed Ryan Giggs to wear its football boots whilst playing for Manchester United.

I told Robert that we, Lowe Howard-Spink, had a great idea for a TV commercial, but didn’t know if it was technically possible. I asked him if, when he was a little boy, he had ever put together his dream soccer team.

“Of course!” he said, “and I still do!”

I explained that we wanted to put together a Manchester United dream team, and would use historic footage to show the team in action. We knew it would probably be wildly expensive, that the footage might not exist, and that the families of  featured dead Manchester United players might not be very keen on the idea. We wanted to put Giggs in a game which included, at a minimum, Denis Law, Sir Bobby Charlton and George Best. We’d try to get Kenneth Wolstenholme to do the commentary.

“Never mind the difficulties,” said Robert, who was an ex-British Army tank commander. “We simply have to do it.”

We hadn’t even reached the main course.

To see the result, click here. As it turned out, that lunch at Harvey Nichols was a bargain, and generated for Reebok a great deal of business. In this example, lunch really was serious business.