Professional ghosting: A haunted tale

Advice For Brands

The ghosting phenomena glided through the walls of popular parlance around 2006, before permanently haunting the Collins English Dictionary in 2015. According to Psychology Today, 50% of Americans have experienced some form of ghosting, most commonly on the dating scene. But now this phenomenon is seeping into our professional lives through the lack of brand communication.

The pitch process is hard enough, and like dating, it can be fraught with issues. Sadly, in today’s fickle market, you would be hard-pressed to find an agency that hasn’t experienced ‘post-pitch ghosting.’ The RFI is followed by the RFP, followed by chemistry meetings and presentations – but then sometimes the prospect stops answering your calls and emails – and the “courtship” comes to an abrupt end.

This silent treatment renders the agency feeling powerless and can leave you wildly assessing all the things you consider post first date. What went wrong? Was it something I said? Did they meet someone else? Are they still interested in starting a new relationship? Ambiguity is the real dagger, and it hurts.      

Agencies can pretend like it doesn’t happen to them, and brands can act as though they have never ghosted a partner, but deep down we know the scenario is all too prominent. As an example, remember the infamous letter from agency Elvis addressing Rolls-Royce, after never hearing back post pitch? They had poured their hearts and souls into winning this dream account and the process stalled (pun intended), resulting in a very public shaming of the prestigious brand.

Lyft recently held a media review with multiple agencies over the course of three months and the potential partners are still speculating as to why Lyft has now gone radio silent. This type of process is a morale killer, and burns deep holes in agency pockets. So, why is it happening?

With our world relying so heavily on technology, rather than person-to-person contact, it’s becoming easier to just disappear and dodge difficult conversations. We all know what it’s like to suffer from IRSD (Inbox-Related Stress Disorder) – but this can’t excuse bad behaviour.

Perhaps this trend is the result of clients not having an understanding of what it takes for an agency to pitch a piece of business, where billable time is spent on non-billable work that is prioritised. Maybe it is based on a client mentality that their brand is one that agencies would be “lucky” to work with?

Regardless of the motives, it’s safe to say that ghosting is becoming a problematic industry trend. In the recent words of 4A’s President and CEO, Marla Kaplowitz, “it represents a misunderstanding of agencies’ role as close business partners and of the strategy and creativity they deliver. These shouldn’t be difficult conversations, especially as reputation matters, and the marketing industry should lead by example on the right way to resolve unfinished business.” 

Like in the world of dating, a solid client-agency relationship relies on communication, trust, and understanding. With all relationships come challenges – but ghosting shouldn’t be one of them, whether it be in your personal or professional life.

Agencies are often versed in how to avoid these dead-end situations, from very detailed Q&A sessions before committing to pitch participation, disqualifying prospects with bad reputations, and setting the internal bar high to instil etiquette. But, some brands have work to do to be better or good brands.

Here is our advice for brands:

  • Make sure that you and your business are committed to finding an agency partner at the end of the process – and it isn’t just a chance to go “window-shopping.”
  • Be clear and direct on what you’re looking for upfront. Don’t mislead with false promises or unrealistic hopes.
  • Keep agencies informed. If there is an internal change of direction during the process, let the teams know – and ideally, pay for any time wasted.
  • Offer honest and constructive feedback. Rejection can be kind and compassionate in its delivery – and no great agency is going to turn down an opportunity to improve.
  • Responding late is better than never. If there are ghosts in your closet, then it’s not too late to confront them.
  • If all else fails, try “caspering” instead. Send a kind email reply of, “thanks but no thanks”, ideally with some constructive rationale, then you can make your exit.

Avoiding this unpleasant modern trend would certainly make the industry a much better place, and who could say “boo” to that?

Hayley James is Group Account Director at Sense New York.

This article first appeared in Campaign US magazine.

London

5th Floor Century House
100 Oxford Street
London
W1D 1LN

New York

243 E 14th
Unit 2
New York
NY 10003

Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy here at The Futures Lab

London

5th Floor Century House
100 Oxford Street
London
W1D 1LN

New York

243 E 14th
#2 C/O SQ
New York
NY 10003

Downloads

Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy here at The Future Lab

Connect with us

Foresight.

Knowing what will keep a brand bright, exciting, and vital means we need to keep one step ahead of the curve. Our thought leadership hub, The Futures Lab, helps us to understand the marketing trends of tomorrow. It’s also the origin of strategies and methodologies which have created over 65 award-winning campaigns. 

Rigour.

Creativity is nothing without results. And we know that commissioning bold concepts, capable of changing minds, requires reassurance that it’s the right thing to do. 

Data, insights, and research precedes every campaign we do, and our proprietary measurement tool, EMR, gives us a decade of campaign performance metrics. Which is why we’re proud to have been recognised as industry-leading by brands like The Economist, Coca-Cola, and Molson Coors. 

Trust.

We believe brand experience is inherently more varied than other forms of marketing. No formula, no template, no cookie-cutter approach – and often no precedent. 

That’s why, Sense places trust at the heart of its business – grounded in teamwork between our people and yours. Our processes are efficient, our senior team stay involved and our partnership mentality had helped us sustain powerful client relationships, some lasting over 10 years.