I read an interesting piece this week by James Gordon-Mackintosh in PR Week sharing his experience of being ghosted by prospective clients. If you’re not familiar with the term it refers to a situation following a pitch (in this case it was an agency pitching for a project but it could apply to any situation where something has been offered), where the pitcher is left in the dark by the pitchee about the result. The pitcher then attempts to contact the pitchee for feedback to which they don’t receive a response. It’s as though the pitchee has dematerialised, become a ghost.
Logically of course when a pitcher is not contacted by their prospective client, there is usually one likely outcome lurking in the background (ruling out the possibility of mind reading). But that’s not the point. The article challenged the civility of this type of behaviour and then went on to share a list of 5 recommendations to clients, intended to help them out of their ghostly behaviour. All great points and perfectly fair.
The piece got me thinking about what someone on the end of a ghosting experience could do? What action could they take to increase the possibility of a different outcome? As a trainer and coach, I’ve been ghosted from time to time and I started to think about what helps me manage this kind of situation and what might be useful to others. Here’s what I came up with:
My clients probably don’t do this deliberately and would not consider themselves to be ghosts: What’s the use for this? It helps me steady my thinking and move beyond “I’ve been wronged” in some way. And also, to think “I would like the opportunity to work with this client in the future”. They may make the wrong choice in who they appoint and I could be back in. It keeps me positive and open to this possibility.
I stop chasing for feedback, because in reality it may well not exist in a useful form for me. If it did, they’d send it to me. This is especially relevant to recommendations 4 and 5 in the article (“If the strategy was wrong, tell us why. And tell us what you thought of the team as people”). Even if you get something from them, the feedback won’t be helpful enough. The client may be concerned that the pitcher will respond to it rather than simply listen, say thank you and take it away. And they would have to have at least 6 conversations, one with each potential provider. It’s desirable but not achievable in practise.
I provide my own feedback: I replace chasing for feedback with doing some work on myself, for myself. Recommendations 4 and 5 contain very useful questions to ask of yourself and your team. They could yield very useful insights that can help you to move forward.
Write your own rejection note: it’s reasonable to try one follow attempt. But if you get no response from this, write an email to close off well. You could share what you thought your strengths were and where you think you may have lost it.
And what you might do differently if you were asked back next time. This shows them you’ve done some insight, learned and would keep you in their mind for next time. Sign off saying “we would be delighted to hear from you in the future.”
Reduce your likelihood of ghosting: as part of the pitch meeting/discussion include a discussion of what happens next and how. This is all about ending the meeting elegantly. And this is not about changing behaviour. This is about finding out what sort of behaviour you can expect. It falls under a heading of ‘what happens next?’ and needs to have time allocated to it within your pitch time. You can ask some questions. “Will you communicate with all of the candidate agencies to let them know the result? When would you expect that to be? Would that be a simple yes or no, or something more detailed?” Then you can say what is typical, what you would expect and how you would respond.
Simply asking these questions in the meeting will raise the subject and may well put it on the agenda for the client. You get the chance to share how you will feedback on the meeting and ask who you should send your email through to. You give the client a chance to tell you what they think. You get a sense of whether they’ve thought about this or not. Maybe they’ll even form a process there and then. Be wary of questioning any of what they say, just let it happen and be happy that you raised it. Forewarned is forearmed as they say. Happy ghost busting.
Would you like to be better equipped to handle these and other communication situations? Perhaps I can help. For an informal chat, get in touch here.