For years I’ve kept files on some the best and worst examples of PR. I find it helpful to have some of these examples on hand so that I can quickly illustrate a point I’m trying to make about how to handle (or not handle) a particular situation.
One of my worst PR examples comes from the president of an ad agency who took out a full-page “open letter” ad. I’ll leave the parties’ names out because they really aren’t necessary to make my point.
In his letter, the agency president derided the chairman of a large bank that was trying to acquire a smaller bank his agency represented.
“Obviously the aggressive and highly effective ad campaign has helped (bank’s name) turn things around has jolted you and your friends…” he wrote. The agency president then went on to lecture the chairman about how his bank should be emphasizing some of the benefits it offers, such as greater resources and its capacity for lower mortgage rates.
Then, he ended with this zinger: “And maybe you could use the help of a growing Georgia ad agency to tell the story. We’d be happy to help. You’ll remember us as the agency that did the…advertising for (second bank’s name). Those were the campaigns that helped (second bank’ name) grow so big you bought it.”
I imagine the ad agency president felt pretty good about himself the day this letter ran, and he probably had a few laughs and high fives with his staff and colleagues.
But was his approach really smart – or necessary?
I don’t know how things turned out, but my guess is the larger bank declined his suggestion to move their business with his agency. In fact, I suspect quite a few people who read the letter, even if they agreed with his position, would not want to do business with him.
Arrogance is not winning a position, especially in a highly competitive industry. There are ways to make a point, even when being critical, without being condescending and needlessly alienating others.
It’s been said that while friends come and go, enemies accumulate. And accumulating enemies is not a good way to keep an ad agency growing.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.