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Why ghosting in business has to stop

November, 2023

Are business relationships now as disposable as those on Tinder? Rachel Knight, Director at Kent-based PR and marketing agency Maxim explains why approaching agencies, suppliers or freelancers and then ghosting them needs to stop. 

I’m starting to wonder if basic manners in business are a thing of the past? Is it now acceptable to ghost people? 

In my humble opinion, it most definitely is not OK – rude, even – but I think it’s becoming more and more common. I could have a complex about it but having spoken to others I know we’re not the only company, or industry, to experience a lack of communication.

I’m not talking about ignoring people who cold call or email – especially if it’s poorly targeted. We all do that out of necessity (although a well-written email that’s been personalised will nearly always receive a response from me). The emails trying to sell me yet another slab of high-quality marble (why?!) do not.

I’m referring to those people who get in touch with us or, even worse, we have an existing relationship with. They’ve made the first move, asking for help or advice, enquiring about our services. It could be a phone call, an email or a short message via our website or social channels – but we will always respond.

Preparing a proposal

Before answering an enquiry, we’ll do some research on the organisation. The team will sit down and work out how we might be able to help and whether we have the knowledge, skills and capacity to solve whatever issue the company might have. Perhaps they need to raise their profile, protect their reputation or engage with the public? Great – these are all things we would love to help with.

The majority of the time, an initial briefing will lead to us drafting a pitch document. This is when the hard work (which, at this stage, is all unpaid) really starts. But that’s OK – it’s part of the job. There is an ongoing industry debate about whether agencies should charge for pitching, and given the amount of time and intellectual property required, there’s certainly an argument for that but it’s not a route we’ve ever gone down.

One of our first jobs is to look at the potential clients’ audiences. Who do they need to reach? What’s the best way to do that? What’s the timeframe for the project and what can we realistically achieve? How much might that cost and what budget is available? 

That last question is key – but it’s surprising how many people won’t tell you what their budget is. Sometimes they don’t even know, and that’s when alarm bells start to ring. They want to know what you can do, and then they’ll decide. It means we can waste literally days coming up with all-singing, all-dancing ideas and then eventually discover there’s only a fiver allocated. We’re happy to work with budgets of all sizes, but it’s much easier if we have an idea of what it is at the beginning.

There’s a fine line between presenting a potential client with enough information to provide them with confidence that you know what you’re doing, and giving them all the ideas and years of experience that could then be used by another agency or in-house team. Sometimes the client has decided which agency they want to use before the proposals have even been submitted, which usually means they’re required to conduct a pitching process and we’re simply there to make up the numbers.  

Fingers crossed

After many hours of research and discussion – often within a short timeframe because we’ve been told it’s urgent – we’ll come up with a pitch document we’re happy with. A final proof and off it goes to the potential client. 

Then nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not even an acknowledgement that they’ve got the proposal. How long do you wait before contacting them again? What if the email went to junk? What if…?  

We’ve even had situations where we’ve had an initial response, a meeting or two, then refined the proposal based on those conversations. We’ve thought the chemistry was there and the client had potential so we put the time in. But then nothing. 

The worst thing is I know this happens with people’s existing clients as well as potential ones, those that already have a good relationship. I don’t think any malice is meant, it’s more about not realising the impact of a lack of response.  

If we’re lucky, we’ll eventually we’ll get hold of the recipient and hear something along the lines of ‘the project’s been delayed’, ‘there’s no budget’ or ‘we’ve decided to go with someone else’. These responses are all fine, but why did we have to chase for them? And sometimes, we simply have to write off all that time and effort and write ‘ghosted’ in our business development table.

While we’re waiting to find out whether or not we’ve got the work, we’re managing other enquiries without really knowing how much capacity we have. 

I should say at this point that we’ve had many, many amazing clients over the years – many of which I still consider friends. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t an issue.

So next time you ask an agency or a freelancer to pitch their ideas, think about how much time and effort goes into the response. They might not be the right fit for you, or too expensive, or you’ve decided to go down a different route but please have the courtesy to let them know.

TLDR: Ghosting isn’t cool. Let’s all be a bit more polite and communicate.

Rachel Knight - Director

Rachel Knight

Maxim / Director

posted in: maxim/client news,

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