They love me. No, they don�t.
American Express has been courting me for several years. We�ve been �dating� since 1971, but a few
years ago the company developed a real crush on me.
It�s been sending me invitations, offers and has solicited my �valuable opinions.� It�s even provocatively suggested it could introduce me to what it affectionately calls �other partners.�
I�ve been playing hard-to-get.
It seems a lot of big companies began romancing me around the same time. As a member of what large corporations refer to as the �small business market,� I�m special. The sheer volume of small businesses in America dwarfs the medium and large business market.
And I�m not unfamiliar with huge corporations. Partners & Levit has worked with Random House, AIG, Seagram, New York Life and McGraw Hill, to name a few.
Fact is, though, my powerful suitors haven�t really taken the time to get to know me. Something�s missing. I just don�t feel chemistry.
Could it be the merciless rejection I suffered when I was courting them?
Some years ago when we noticed American Express and other large corporations showing interest in small business, Partners & Levit began courting them. Who better to sell the small business market than a small agency?
We sent letters. We called. We were tenacious. Not many of our calls or letters were returned or answered. On the few occasions a marketing executive accidentally picked up the phone, we�d typically get a rejection.
�No time.� �No budget.� �No need.� �Happy with our current agency.�
�Are you targeting small businesses,� we�d ask?
�Yes,� the executive would reply. �Great�, we�d fire back. �We�re a terrific advertising agency � and a small business. Partners & Levit can bring you valuable insights into the small business market. We�re uniquely qualified to handle your small business advertising!�
�We use Ogilvy,� the marketing executive would respond with an edge of disinterest in her voice, and she�d hang up.
Rejected. Humiliated. Cast off like a geeky girl with crooked teeth.
Ironic situation. These are the same marketing executives sending me mail, having their call centers phone me at all hours, flighting radio and television commercials that appear during my favorite programs, inviting me to events and�asking for my money.
They want me, all right. But you know those types. They�re just after one thing.
Maybe I�m not captain of the football team. But my agency and I have qualities that hunk of an agency doesn�t. We�ve got answers the big guys couldn�t even guess.
Yes, I�m whining. Just like a homecoming queen stood up for the prom.
What�s with these marketing giants? They�re not interested in a quality relationship. They just want to been seen with the most popular guy in the class.
�Ogilvy�s a fine agency,� we�d reply. �Some of our best friends have worked there. But they�re a huge multinational agency.� Can they really connect you to small business owners?
�Yeah, I�ve gotta go,� she�d say before hanging up.
That wasn�t always the case; occasionally we�ve been given an opportunity to meet with people at American Express, AT&T, Citibank and a few others.
Sometimes those meetings would be cordial. Often, it was clear we were given the appointment with hopes of stopping our calls and letters.
The AT&T Vice President of Long Distance Marketing confirmed our appointment but was out of the office when we showed up. She dissed us!
We waited a few days for the inevitable apology call, but it never came. When we phoned to reschedule, she flatly refused. Had she found someone better looking?
An American Express executive held a day of small agency capabilities presentations to which we were invited. We made a great presentation. We just knew we�d won the business.
A few days later, I called again. Voice mail. Left message. No call back.
That went on for a week and a half. If she didn�t want another date, wouldn�t telling us why have been the right thing to do?
Finally, we received a short formal letter telling us another agency had been selected, but there was no indication of what was wrong with our performance.
So I picked up the phone to learn why. The best way for an agency to grow is to learn what it can do to improve its behavior.
Needless to say, I wasn�t surprised when my call wasn�t returned. So I began calling the others who attended our presentation.
The executive trained her troops well. Her direct reports didn�t call back.
In a moment of inspiration, I called a college intern who�d attended our meeting. After chatting a bit about the great opportunity he had as a marketing intern at American Express, I asked the question: �Why not?�
The intern was happy to advise, �you�re too small.� I thanked him and politely hung up, stunned. �Too small?� I�ve been criticized for many things in my life, but size was never an issue!
What does one do when a suitor doesn�t think your suitable? Like love, business often defies logic.
Next time I receive an �invitation� from American Express, should I accept it with the feeling we�ve advanced our relationship? Or decline for the purpose of maintaining my dignity?
One thing�s for certain, if I turn down its next invitation, it won�t be because American Express is �too big.� I�m bigger than that.
Have any comments or a similar experience with American Express or other large corporations? I�d like to chat with you. Call me, Mark Levit, at 212.696.1200.
Mark S. Levit