Picture the scene. You are the chairman of a major British corporation. You’ve arrived promptly at the offices of a new supplier, eager to hear their pitch for your prestigious business.
You hate incompetence and command respect. You have very exacting standards. You’ve even been knighted for your services to British industry. People address you as “Sir”.
As the office doors open, you can hardly believe your eyes. Your expectations are shattered. Instead of an enthusiastic welcome, you are greeted by an unoccupied, scruffy, smoke filled reception.
Disbelief starts to set in. You check your watch wondering if you could possibly be at fault.
Your eyes dart around hurridly, but there’s not a soul in sight. The reception area is unkempt & tatty. There are crumpled newspapers littered across grubby sofas. The cushions even have cigarette burns in them. You glance down, noticing your expensive Brogues are fighting for survival amongst empty drinks cans and discarded orange peels. This has to be the worst office you’ve ever set foot in.
Eventually someone appears. A middle-aged woman, clearly demonstrating total disregard for how she looks. She takes a long draw on her cigarette, and blows yet more smoke around the room.
Unable to take no more, you break the silence “excuse me, we’re here to see ….”
She replies “be with you in a minute love.”
“But we have an appointment ….”
“Can’t you see I’m busy?” she snaps.
“This is outrageous” you exclaim. “We’ve been waiting fifteen minutes!”
The woman replies “can’t help that love.”
Exasperated, you scream “right that’s it, we’re leaving.”
At that moment a door opens and out steps the head of the company.
He’d been watching everything. He extends his hand, and shakes yours warmly.
He smiles and says “gentlemen, you’ve just experienced what the public’s impression of your company is. Now, if you’ll come this way, we’ll show you exactly how we’re going to turn that around.”
Your character in this story was Sir Peter Parker; Chairman of the board of British Rail between 1976-1983. You were at the offices of the advertising agency Allen, Brady & Marsh (ABM).
ABM was the underdog in this pitch. They were up against industry powerhouses such as Saatchi & Saatchi. But they thought different and acted like a true challenger brand. They disrupted what their audience expected to see, therefore making their presentation compelling and memorable.
ABM demonstrated that they not only had the required creativity, but that they empathised with what British Rail’s customers were experiencing. The goal wasn’t to just sell more tickets, but to change the perception of the brand. ABM’s presentation told a story, and British Rail was at the heart of it.
ABM went on to win the business.
It appears David can slay Goliath. It just takes a little bit of creative thinking.