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Our Pitch To Zappos.com

Recently, HAPI pitched Zappos.com. Anyone who follows the ad rags knows that this pitch received a lot of publicity for its unconventional, and many agencies felt unfair, RFP process. Zappos originally sent out their RFP to sixteen agencies, which many believed was too many to begin with. Shortly thereafter, their CEO announced in an AdWeek interview that Zappos would open the review process up to the public. Any agency could send in a written proposal. The top six would be invited to pitch in person with the original sixteen.

HAPI was the 91st agency to get involved in the Zappos.com RFP. By the time we toured the facility four days later (two of which were a weekend), 114 agencies were involved. By the time we decided to go for it, with five days remaining before the proposal was due, 141 agencies were involved. And by the time the written proposal was due, 170 agencies were involved. 104 agencies submitted their written proposals on time.

Squeezed in-between 104 proposals from monsters shops that spanned from LA to New York to Boston to San Francisco was a boutique agency from Phoenix with big dreams and even bigger ideas on how to improve Zappos.com’s business. It was a test to see if our philosophy and thinking really were something worth reading about.

Two weeks later HAPI received a call from Zappos.com inviting the agency to the oral presentation. Our written proposal had beaten out 98 other agencies. We heard the news on a Wednesday and barely had time to realize our accomplishment before a follow-up e-mail dinged my computer.

“Hey Jason – Looks like we’re set for Friday at 1:00. Looking forward to it. I thought your RFP was creative and done very well. Thanks for being able to respond on such short notice!” Crap. We had two days to prepare for the oral presentation.

As you know by now, if you do read the ad rags, we didn’t win the Zappos.com business. As of this writing, no agency has won it. Three finalist were selected from the 26 agencies that were invited to present. Among fellow presenters that didn’t make the top three were Omnicom Group’s BBDO in New York, Interpublic Group’s The Martin Agency in Richmond and Havas’ Arnold in Boston. No wonder that pile of proposals felt so heavy.

Ordinarily, we wouldn’t promote a defeat. But this pitch wasn’t a defeat. HAPI didn’t win the Zappos business. HAPI won validation that agencies are on a more level playing field than ever before. While strategic and creative thinking are still the driving force in our industry, companies are demanding greater flexibility and responsiveness from agencies. If big conventional agencies are unwilling to accept the change and play within the new rules, brands are ready to look elsewhere. Even to a green-covered proposal sticking out from a stack of hundreds. And how can we not feel happy about that?

What do you think?

Please keep your comments polite and on-topic.

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jason@livehapi.com