If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that until last year I was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. There are things that make New York unique, such as the Statue of Liberty, the New York Yankees — and Jewish delis: Katz’s, the Carnegie, and the 2nd Avenue Deli, to name just a few.
The are renowned for the lines of customers waiting to order pastrami on rye, please, or a bagel with a schmeer (cream cheese). But what distinguishes these delis is an intimate knowledge of their customers. They know who their customers are and what they want.
A Jewish Deli in Sarasota?
This morning I was up early for an appointment and decided to stop by Sol’s NYC Delicatessen for a bagel, without the schmeer. It was quiet at that hour and I commented to the waitress that a real New York Deli would have a menu with a thousand pages — OK, that’s an exaggeration, but if you can’t find it on the menu, you can order just about anything at a Jewish deli in New York.
She mentioned our conversation to the head chef and partner, Solomon Shenker, who came running out to dispute my claim.
A former New Yorker himself, he told me he had trained as a teenager at the 2nd Avenue Deli. He, too, opened his fairly new deli with a large menu. But instead of praising all the offerings, his customers said they were simply confused. So he pared down the menu to Sarasota-size and business is booming. He listened to his customers and they rewarded him with their business.
He also took pains to let me know that the dough for their bagels was shipped in from the Bronx and they cured their own pastrami. I reassured my waitress that we weren’t having an argument, just two brash New Yorkers enjoying some bantering back forth. Here is Sol below.
The Agency Blew It
My encounter this morning reminded me of the importance of understanding your clients. Years ago, I was part of an agency team pitching a major professional services firm.
The New York Office had just been open a few months and there were just four of us, nestled within the offices housing our sister advertising agency. For two weeks we slaved over the proposal, answering every question in the RFP. It was a masterful proposal, but we were up against several global PR firms. Did we stand a chance?
We flew to Chicago where each agency was given one hour to present. I have to say we wowed them. They loved our proposal. Then back to New York to wait. A day later we got the call — they picked another agency. It was safer because how could they explain to management choosing a no-name PR agency? We were all understandably down in the dumps.
A couple of days later, my boss received a call from the potential client, saying they had changed their minds and were awarding us their account!
As the client told it, the agency and client had their first planning meeting. As a joke, the client walked into the conference room carrying a tray with glasses of water and a towel over his arm. No response from the agency. Bunch of stiffs.
At the end of that planning meeting, the PR Manager and Marketing Director looked at each other in dismay and the Director said, “I think we’ve made a terrible mistake.” The agency didn’t pick up on the social cues. The chemistry wasn’t there. So that afternoon they informed the other agency that they were fired.
That was one of the highlights of my career. I still have that proposal. We went on to do great work for the client. We understood what they wanted and needed. We liked each other.
That probably is the basis of the most productive and enjoyable client relationships. You’ve also got to know if the customer wants a bagel with or without a schmeer.