There’s an old advertising story that goes something like this.  A prospective client in the wine business calls an ad agency to see if they can handle their business.
The client says “Do you have any experience advertising wine?”
Agency: “Absolutely”
Client: “Great.  Was it an import or domestic?
Agency: “Domestic”
Client: “Perfect because this account is for a domestic wine.  Was it sparkling or non-sparkling?”
Agency: “Non-sparkling”
Client: “Wonderful because we have non-sparkling wine.  Was it dry or sweet?”
Agency: “dry”
Client: “Thats good because ours is dry.  Was it corked or screw topped?”
Agency: “Corked”
Client: “Ah, thats too bad because our wine is a screw top.  Maybe next time”
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked if we’ve had experience in a particular business category.  I’m always pleased when I can say yes because it puts prospective clients at ease.  But there are plenty of times when I’m forced in the name of the truth to say no.
Until 7 years ago, djla had absolutely NO fashion experience.  We had collectively worked over the years in so many arenas, but never fashion.  So when we got a call from a guy who was launching a brand of ladies jeans called Not Your Daughter’s Jeans we went to the meeting with some trepidation.   We brought all the “pretty” work we could find, but none of it was really fashion.  We almost declined the meeting, but good sense and the words of an old boss of mine’s kept ringing in my ears. “can’t hurt to take a meeting”
We got there and put our portfolio down next to his desk and proceeded to get acquainted.  He never once asked if we had ever had a fashion account, let alone ladies jeans.  He just talked about his situation in the marketplace, his product and what he wanted to accomplish.  We gave him our backgrounds and told him that we were the perfect match for his company.  We loved his product, thought he was great and gave him some ideas about how we would proceed if we were lucky enough to get the business. We were enthusiastic and it showed. We cared about his success.
When we were done talking he started telling us where he wanted to advertise, when he wanted to advertise and which publications he had contracts with.  He gave us the media rep’s phone numbers and as he was waving goodbye to us from the loading dock he yelled “Oh, and I want a full page in the N.Y. Times Magazine Section Fashion Issue.  I looked down at the check he gave us in good faith to begin.
He never even once asked us to see the work we had brought.  He never once asked if we had any experience in the jeans business.  He could just tell, he later told us, that we would bring a fresh approach to his account and that we were smart.  He just wanted to hire smart people and he wasn’t afraid to let us travel a learning curve while doing it.
Over the next two and a half years we branded the jeans, and ran ad campaigns that grew his business to a big enough point so that he could sell it for over $100 million dollars.  The only unfortunate thing was that the people he sold it to were in Boston and so was the ad agency that would be handling the business.
About a year and a half later we got a phone call from a ladies pant manufacturer in Canada.  He had heard about our success with Not Your Daughter’s and said he wanted us to do the same thing for him.
We did.
And now we regularly do work for other fashion accounts.  But if that first guy had said “Thats too bad, maybe next time”  we would never have had a chance to prove that experience in a particular sector is not always such a good thing.
So, when a perspective account asks “Do you have experience in our business?”
I always say “Why, does it matter?

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