An amazing opportunity.
The process, as you can imagine, was very long and very formal.
First-round, submit lengthy RFI. Next, a wide range of agencies were invited to host ‘chemistry sessions’ with the client team. Next round, it was narrowed to a group of four world-class agencies who were briefed with a specific brand challenge. Next, a series of working sessions with ideas and feedback.
Six months later, we finally reached the final stage: a two-hour presentation to about 25 decision-makers from the bank.
For everyone in the agency world, you know what a pressurized buildup this is. We rehearse over and over again, writing and re-writing up till the last minute.
On the day of the pitch, we were given 30 minutes to prep the conference room after our competitors wrapped up. We had a whole team working frantically to rearrange tables, tape down extension cords, and test the AV equipment.
We also brought 25 custom-made, hard-bound books which we arranged on the floor as a bit of theater, because the covers all fit together to form the company logo.
I noticed one of the books was crooked and so I bent down to fix it.
That’s when I heard the noise.
I stood up and looked around to see if anyone else heard it.
EVERYONE else heard it.
“How bad is it?” I asked.
Based on the raised eyebrows—pretty bad.
“I can see your underwear,” said one colleague.
Fortunately, I had 5 minutes before kickoff.
One of my quick-thinking teammates, Marc, had an idea. He handed me a roll of packaging tape and told me to go into the men’s room and tape my pants shut.
“But you have to do it from the inside,” he said.
“That way, no one will know.”
I was unsure of the plan but gave it my best shot.
Seconds later I was in the stall, pants around my ankles, peeling off packaging tape and pressing it into the seat of my suit pants.
Anyone who’s ever used packaging tape knows it doesn’t tear easily. Or straight.
So, I overcompensated with long pieces. And lots of them.
I only had 3 minutes left.
Peel. Tape. Peel. Tape.
I was breaking a sweat.
And that’s when I realized my glasses were slipping down my nose due to the perspiration.
I’m doubled over trying to press the bottom of the fabric against the tape when I see them falling straight toward the toilet bowl.
I snatch my glasses literally out of mid-air and place them on the tiny metal shelf.
Can this get any worse? Now I can’t even see what I’m doing.
Peel. Tape. Peel. Tape.
I come bounding out of the stall, tape in hand and who is standing by the sink but the lead client who has been running the whole pitch.
“What…were you doing in there….?”
I explain the situation and he, of course, cracks up.
We walk back toward the conference room and I have now put so much tape in my pants that it sounds like I have a bag of potato chips in them.
With each step there is a “shhhh” sound coming from my behind.
One minute to go.
I get back into the room and the clients are all around a huge, formal, U-shaped table.
I do my best to shake hands while keeping my butt toward the back wall.
Finally, the meeting begins.
Our global CEO, Andrew Robertson, is doing the opening remarks.
He takes the floor.
And pauses for dramatic effect.
“When choosing a partner, you should always select the one who is prepared for anything.”
Wait, that’s not what he was supposed to say…
“We always travel with this roll of packaging tape and until today, I didn’t know why…”
Where is he going with this??
“Jim. Would you come up here please?”
I rise and walk up.
“You see, just before the meeting, we had a little wardrobe malfunction. But we were prepared. Show them, Jimmy!”
Sheepishly, I twirl around. I’m so embarrassed.
And then, all at once, 25 people burst out laughing.
I give them the quick version of the story—the tape, the glasses, the sound effects, and take a bow.
Then we do our presentation. But every ten minutes or so, either Andrew or David Lubars, our Chief Creative Officer, say something like, “we’ve shown you two great ideas today… Jim is SPLIT on which is stronger….”
By the end of the two-hour presentation, I’d ducked out to change into a pair of jeans someone grabbed for me down the street.
We walked back to the agency where we gathered everyone who’d worked so hard on this project for six months.
I showed them the torn suit pants and shared all the details of the humiliating but hilarious presentation.
I told them if we lost, we would blame it on the torn pants.
But if we won, I would frame them and hang them on the wall.
Within days, we got a call from Wells Fargo saying they wanted to work with us.
“It was clear that you all liked each other so much and that you’d be a great team to work with.”
Make no mistake, we had the goods. Brilliant strategic thinking. A detailed roadmap. Great creative ideas.
And the pants have been hanging on the wall ever since.
A constant reminder of the three critical lessons we learned that day.
First, you have to be able to count on your team to do the right thing. Even to improvise when necessary. Especially when your ass is on the line.
Second is the undeniable truth of the famous Maya Angelou quote, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
We made this group of people feel like it would be fun to work with us.
And the third lesson?
Never go anywhere without an extra roll of tape.