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The last thing you need is a great idea!

I love the site and its briefings. This current one is about innovation and great ideas. As per usual, it got me thinking. A million years ago (Or so it seems – the early 80s) I came up with a great idea. It was for a national golf contest. I researched my stuff, went to Florida and met with the National Golf Foundation and started putting together the nuts and bolts of a national contest. For the record, I stole the idea from Lee Iacocca with his famous Punt Pass & Kick promotion.

Of course, I was looking for national sponsors and Chrysler was #1 on my radar. They were a big sponsor of golf at the time in the US.

I made numerous calls to the then Ad Manager leaving messages seemingly for weeks. One day, he picked up his phone to one of my persistent calls. His quote was … ‘My God, you are relentless!’ I apologized but told him I had this great idea and had to see him to pitch it. After a bit of light-hearted banter about my pestering him – he said he would give me a meeting if I stopped calling him! I thanked him and set off to Windsor the next week to meet with him.

The document I prepared was exhaustive, extensive and expensive. Programs, contest details, ROI, stats, etc etc – It was a very big deal. And this being the age before desktop publishing (See, told ya it was a million years ago!) it cost me a pretty penny to put this together and have it designed, colour printed and bound.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. I drive to Windsor and meet with said Ad Manager.

I am greeted kindly and after a wee bit of chit chat hand him the 100+ page tome. He looks at it, obviously impressed and asked if I did all this myself. I say yes, humbly. He tells me how impressive it looks and it is a great-looking document. Well done!!!

He then goes on to ask me if I can guess how many of these he gets a week? I say I have no idea. He says, Oh, a couple of hundred. And then asks if I can guess how many of these he reads. Again I say I do not know. He says – Well, none. And throws it in the wastebasket.

Ok, not a great start. But I am undaunted – I ask why he doesn’t read them. His response – Oh, great question BTW – it’s not my job.

Pushing on in my best Xerox PSS sales technique – So, what is your job? He grins and says – Another great question – you know, I like you …  he then tells me. “My job is Ad Manager here at Chrysler and I sit on my ass until my boss comes in and says ‘Hey, sell some Magic Wagons. I then pick up the phone call my agency and say – Hey you! Sell some Magic Wagons – here is a million bucks – better make it good!”

Ahhh I say. So if I was your agency you would be calling me. He says yep, dozens of times in fact – but your name doesn’t happen to be Batten, Barton, Durstine or Osborn would it?

No, sadly, I confirm, it is not.

My guy then says – Look, I’m gonna save you a ton of heartache and trouble in your future career.

    “Pete, the last thing you need is a great idea. The first thing you need is … a client.”

The light went on. It was a defining moment. From right that very second on, I stopped starting my process with a great idea. I started by attracting and securing clients.

The funny thing about all this was seven years later I ended up as GM at BBDO Retail and sure enough, my guy called me a lot.

The best lesson I ever received.

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