Why can’t we say no? What is it that scares us about being the bearer of bad news? Actually, “bad” is too strong a word. If there’s anything that we have to say that we feel could be anything less than pleasant for the listener, we just can’t bring ourselves to say it. We’re all guilty of it. You are, Mr. Marketing Director! So are you, Ms. ECD! You’re no less, Madam Media Buyer! And you, Mr. Producer, are just as bad as everyone else!
It’s a terrible affliction that plagues our nation and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually responsible for shaving at least one whole percentage point off our GDP growth rate each year. All-pervading as the scourge may be, I’ll focus though on what happens around me.
Let’s say Bang Bang loses around 20 bids a month on Indian jobs. Of these 20, we get transparent and timely feedback in less than five cases. Oftentimes, we never hear back because the agency stops taking calls or responding to mails. Sometimes we’re told the job’s on hold because the client hasn’t decided yet. And it’s not very uncommon to have to wipe the duster (what do you call the duster-like thing you use on a whiteboard?) across the job board because one of the producers saw it on air. These agency people are the same ones who give you that smiling look saying, “Definitely, we’ll work together,” as you leave their office, having suffered their bad coffee.
I’m not saying this doesn’t happen with agencies outside India. In fact, the Regional Head of Broadcast & Content at a major Singapore agency is yet to return five calls and respond to as many mails from almost a year ago telling us we never got the job. And this after our director spent days writing a great treatment. He did actually take my call once saying he was at a shoot and would call me back. And then? Nothing! Passion Pictures from Malaysia, who did the spot, did an excellent job, perhaps better than we would’ve done. But I still can’t understand why the agency producer couldn’t just respond to a mail saying “Thanks but no thanks.” Or something to that effect. I hope to see him at Adfest and give him a piece of my mind. Anyway, I digress…
The point is that it does happen outside India but it’s a lot rarer. People have a lot more respect for other people’s time and effort. Moreover, they’re cognizant of the fact that by not doing the other party the courtesy of polite rejection they would in fact be making them waste more time and bandwidth. In my reasonably extensive international experience, perhaps the only nation
more frightened of the N word than us Indian are the Egyptians. People will say yes to each and every thing you ask of them when they actually mean, “No!”, “Not sure.”, “I’ll try.”, “Who knows?” or even “Forget it!” I guess a major part of cultural acclimatization in Egypt is the process of becoming discerning at spotting the nos in the yeses.
It’s one of the hardest parts of working in India (or with Indians) that outsiders experience. The No factor should be listed right up there with corruption, redtapism and political inertia, as impediments to the country’s development. Something happened yesterday that actually prompted me to write about the no factor today. Something concerning a particular production services job that we bid on last month and lost. A Turkish production company wanted to shoot a spot here in India for one of their regular clients and the Istanbul office of a major network agency. They were asking for a significantly elaborate production but, and this is a constant the world over, they didn’t have the budget. We worked hard to bring down the quote but we were still way over what they had. We eventually lost the job and they shot with a company that agreed to their budget. Total disaster! Everything that could go wrong went wrong. Halfway through the shoot they called us to help salvage the situation. The Owner/Executive Producer of the company sat in my office last night explaining how the main problem she found was that in India people say yes to everything. That seemed to be her experience at least: overpromise and underdelivery. Everything they asked for was promised and very little actually happened the way it was supposed to. They’re now going to be shooting with us for two days starting tomorrow.
I’m not trying to make an “I told you so!” moment out of it but if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys (As an aside, don’t most of us in advertising attribute the quote to David Ogilvy? When I googled to get the quote verbatim, I found it attributed to Sir James Goldsmith, Imran Khan’s ex-father-in-law. The cricketer, not the Coke guy.). I hope we can salvage the damage done to their production but I can assure you that if we feel there’s something that can’t be done, we’ll let them know right away.
What amazes me is the extent to which the phenomenon pervades. The kind of people who you consider to be frank, straight talking, standup people end up disappointing you time and time again. Clients who just don’t get back to you to give you answers like, “The cost isn’t working out” or “we decided to go with someone else.” Reasonably close ‘friends’ who stop taking your calls
when it’s time to say no. The Marketing Director who awarded the business to another agency last week but still has you on tenterhooks with the fate of several employees in limbo. The production house who’ll make you cancel your trip home for Diwali because you’re on the shortlist as one of the main cast (meanwhile the PPM happened four days ago, the shoot’s tomorrow and you’re not invited). It’s actually a vicious circle. Everyone’s doing it to everyone else and so it becomes the norm. If it’s yes, things will move. If it’s no, you’ll eventually figure it out weeks or months later when no one’s bothered to get back to you.
I for one am a strong believer in karma. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What goes around comes around….and all that kind of stuff. I am guilty of not getting back to people when I owe them an answer. But I try really hard to keep my lapses to a minimum. It’s tough but you need to do it. Start by thinking of three people you should have gotten back to instead of leaving them hanging and let them know. Let’s start saying NO!