What really grinds my gears close

David Hart
David Hart
In Grinds My Gears
19th May 2011
What really grinds my gears

It’s time for the regular, light-hearted rant that is Grind my Gears. This month is an extension of last month’s rant from Nick about courtesy. I’m gonna call it common decency in business.

The thing about our agency, or any organisation really that is consultative, is that there is an element of giving something up front for free. It might be an idea, it might be an approach, it might even be some creative execution. It may involve writing a document, working out what things are going to cost, or may require a formal presentation of our thoughts and ideas.

In many ways, the sales element of what we do is the equivalent of test-driving a car, or tasting a bit of sliced sausage in a delicatessens. The view is that you need to have an idea about what it is you’re going to buy before you commit to it.

And just like cars and sausages, it all costs money. Granted, if you don’t buy the car, or the sausage then it doesn’t cost you anything, but it will cost someone. If nobody test drove a car, then the costs of cars would be cheaper. Someone has to pay for the petrol, for the car that they can’t now sell as new, for the salesman’s suit. Moss Bros ain’t giving these things away for free you know. 

Yet, there is a sense – and I know because I probably sub-consciously felt this way when I worked on the client-side – that by asking an agency to write you a proposal or give you a quote you are actually doing them a massive favour. It’s easy to confuse enthusiasm at having the opportunity of finding an interesting new project with a desire on the agency’s part to work for free for a bit. But, they are two different things, believe me. They may just look the same, but nobody wants to work for free. You don’t like to work for free, I don’t like to work for free. We provide free work because of the promise of bigger, better and more interesting work down the line and to prove to people that we have the ideas and talent to take on the challenge. But it’s not free. It actually takes a lot of time and careful consideration, and this in turn costs us money. Money we expect to spend, but money nevertheless that at one point was ours and now isn’t.

Despite thinking that we’re pretty darn good at what we do, we don’t expect to win all the time. We know that some times we may be too big, too small, too expensive, too cheap, too specialist, too generalised, too busy, too English, too funky, too boring… 

You can never always be everything to everyone – we get that, but… when you have approached someone and asked them, in good faith, to do some work for you at their expense and you decide for whatever reason that it’s not for you, would it hurt to acknowledge their efforts? Would it kill you to say thank you, to explain why you have taken the decision you have, to take a little time out to give some feedback as to where you think a response could have been better, more useful? 

If you went for an interview and didn’t get the job, or applied for a mortgage and didn’t get accepted, or emailed your boss about a great initiative you’d had, or anything where you’d put a bit of yourself into it and hadn’t had the outcome you’d hoped for, wouldn’t you expect some sort of response? Of course you would. 

But, for a small minority of people, they think that we are only too delighted to spend weeks of our time considering their businesses and thinking about ways in which we could address their needs. The fact that for whatever reason they choose not to use us, somehow also means that they can ignore us and we won’t care.

Well, the fact is we do care. Because we put a lot of care into what we do and, frankly, it hurts our feelings! Really, it’s just a question of common decency and that, folks, is what really grinds my gears.