As I mentioned in Mad Men, Lawyers and … How Big is Your Sandbox, Episode 5 was so rich with content, I was going to have to write two separate posts. Part deux focuses on Don Draper’s interactions with Ted Shaw … the competition. I’m going to focus on the importance of competitive intelligence/research and the RFP process. Ted is a partner at a competitive firm and he’s picking up the clients that Sterling Cooper Draper and the other guy either dropped (Clearasil) or lost (Jai-alai). They’re that firm that just gets under your skin because you KNOW you’re better than they are. They’re not even in your league.  You know your work product is superior. Come on, you’re innovative, competitively priced, and you know how to entertain a client. And you know who your competition is. Your competition is in front of you. They take up 10 floors of premium space in a Class-A building in a major metropolitan city. They’re not this firm. Or are they? My question to you is: Do you know who your competition is? I’m not talking about who you want your competition to be. Most firms will name an AmLaw 100, or the top firm in town as their competition. Your competition, in reality, are the firms and lawyers doing the work that you want, for the clients that are in your sweet spot. They’re the firms and lawyers who won the beauty contest for which you spent hours preparing. So here’s where competitive intelligence and research comes in (in its simplest practice). Research the work that you want, but you don’t yet have. Who is doing it? Both Westlaw and LexisNexis have products that enable you to easily find this out (at a reasonable price if you are a current subscriber). When I search a specific type of litigation, in a certain industry, in a defined geographic vicinity or court system, I can CLEARLY see who is getting the work, and who is not. I can click on the company and know who they’re handing the premium work, and who is picking up the scraps. I know the attorneys and players involved, and I know what work they’re taking on, and what work we don’t want. And just like Don most likely sees Grey Advertising as his competition … most lawyers will name that firm in the ivory tower, when, in reality, it’s the Ted Shaw’s of the world. Let the research SHOW you the truth, and lead you to the business. Early in the episode Ted tells the New York Times reporter:

Every time Don Draper looks in his rear-view mirror he sees me.”

Who's in YOUR rear-view mirror??
Don’s “on the record” response is “never heard of him.” While Ted has declared himself to be the competition, and therefore Don’s equal, Don just thinks he’s a fly to be swatted away. Ignored. In many cases this is true, but sometimes the objects in that rear-view mirror are too big to be ignored. Word of advice:

Just because you think someone is your competition does not make it so.

When Don hears that Ted & Co. are going after the Honda Motorcycle account he’s determined to sabotage Ted’s firm. How does he do this?? By getting Ted to not follow the RFPs instructions. Which brings me to this: When responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP, RFI, RFQ, etc):

  1. Follow the rules (instructions). ALWAYS.
  2. Answer the questions asked, in the order asked.
  3. Don’t answer questions that they don’t ask.
    • If you have to add something outside the rules, put it in the cover letter.
  4. Don’t give them a product they didn’t ask for (i.e., if they ask for a story board, don’t give them a finished commercial).
  5. Understand the culture of the client you are pitching.
    • Read the firm’s website, press releases, Google search the company and everyone attending the meeting (if you make the beauty contest), read the 10K, etc.
  6. Learn who the competition is. How do you do this? ASK the client who else has been invited to participate.
  7. Determine up front if this a REAL pitch, or is it an EXERCISE and the fix is in?
    • RED FLAG: If the current firm is invited to participate in the pitch process, do more research. Why?? Is it a requirement of the corporation bylaws or because it’s a public agency? If so, the fix is in and you need to determine do you submit anyway because you have to (politically), or do you simply pass on the opportunity.

For Don and the team, they knew they weren’t going to get the business, thanks to Roger, but they were determined that Ted & Co. not get it either. By forcing Ted & Co. to break the RFP rules, they ensured their competition’s loss. In the end … it turns out Honda was never going to leave Grey. Ted spent so much money preparing a finished commercial that he most likely killed his firm. And Don, well, Don got to create a moment that will make for a great story over drinks. Oh, and one final piece of advice. It’s actually my #1 RFP rule: FORWARD IT TO THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT ASAP. Don’t leave it sitting on your desk until the week it is due. Photo via AMC’s Mad Men