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Group Sales Presentation Fails; Personal Follow-up Succeeds

“Group Sales Presentation Fails; Personal Follow-up Succeeds”

PR exec Katharine Paine wins with persistence.

Katharine Paine’s public relations business was only six months old. She had lined up two clients, but her first real test would occur when she would make the biggest pitch of her life to the top brass at Hewlett-Packard Co.

She had plenty of reason to feel confident. Prior to setting up the Delahaye Group Inc., Paine had been merchandising manager for the personal computer group in Hewlett-Packard’s Cupertino, Calif., office. She had friends in high places at the company. And she knew that her product — an innovative research program that aids firms in measuring their marketing efforts — complemented H-P’s measurement-oriented culture.

The Nightmare Begins

Paine opened her presentation to 20 executives with a question: How many of you have all the money you need to do all the things you want to do in your division? She loved this question because no one had ever said "I do." Until now.

"One guy says, ‘I have all the money I need. That’s not an issue,’" Paine recalls. "I couldn’t believe it. Now I’m really rattled."

Paine plowed ahead. But someone she didn’t know — the head of public relations for one of the divisions — continuously interrupted her with aggressive questions. It seemed as if every time she made a point, he would challenge it.

"These are questions I routinely get today, but this was my first big pitch and it shook me," she says. "I viewed it as my failure that he was asking these questions."

Picking up the Pieces

After the meeting, Paine met with the VP of corporate communications to talk money.

She asked for an annual retainer of $40,000 to handle all the public-relations analysis for the firm. "I was pulling a number out of hat," she laughs today.

The VP didn’t want to make a company-wide commitment. Instead, she could go for separate sales.

Paine was crushed. But she was determined to persevere. She followed up with a call to each of the attendees. She wound up with business from half of the executives.

Ironically, the first to give her business was the one who had grilled her in the meeting.

And within weeks, she also signed up other key executives.

Blessing in Disguise

In retrospect, the denial of Paine’s $40,000 bid for the entire HP account was the best possible scenario. By signing up 10 division heads, she earned far more.

"I probably made about $40,000 apiece," she says. "I would have lost my shirt if my original $40,000 offer had been accepted."

In March, Medialink Worldwide Inc. bought Delahaye Group Inc. Paine is now president of Delahaye Medialink, a division of Medialink in Portsmouth, N.H. Total sales in 1998 exceeded $4 million.

Writer: Morey Stettner