One agency’s dramatic way to get paid. A true story.

With clients extending payment terms, many now ridiculous, what do you do when you have to face a CFO who has no morals and no intention of paying you?

You know you’re being ripped off but the cost of recovering a debt in court is more than that owed, so why bother?

One agency took a lesson from an old movie and decided to be more creative. It worked.

It was 8pm one winter’s evening and John, having only just got back form work, was just about to say goodnight to his two kids when the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” his wife yelled from the kitchen.

John was the CFO of a household food brand and he had a tough policy on payment. He was well known for his motto, “Don’t pay them til they scream for it.” His morals were dubious and many fellow CFOs disliked his methods and the fact he’d often try and not pay, feeling it gave them a bad reputation. But he didn’t care.  In John’s small inner circle he thought he was smart and every time a debt went away it was a few extra grand in his company’s account and a sweetener to the shareholders.  “No one asks you how you make your money, just how much,” he’d say arrogantly in the bar after work.

“Hello, can I help you,” John’s wife Mary said to the two men standing on the doorstep.

They were thick and heavy built, with menacing well worn faces, and looked like extras from some Russian gangster movie. They certainly weren’t collecting for the local church.

In fact they were both actors.

As they pushed their way into the lobby, one of them said, in a thick Russian accent, “We’re here to collect a debt.”

“You can’t just barge in here, I’ll call the Police,” yelled John’s wife. “Be my guest,” replied the Russian,  “But you invited us in. Now where’s John!?”

At that point John appeared with his two daughters. It took only a second for his smile to drop as he realised that these two characters were unfriendly. He grasped his kids close, “What do you want, who the hell are you?”

Like a script form a 1940’s movie, the second man said, “You own my client £12,000. You are very overdue. You can play your games with others but not with him. You know who we are talking about. We’ll be at your office tomorrow at 12 to pick up a cheque. Or we can pick it up form your wife at 1. It’s up to you.”

Before John could say anything they just left.

No threats, just facts. Delivered by a vicar you’d thought nothing of it but from these two men it came across as a very real threat.

A few seconds passed as John clung on to his children. He wife was frozen to the spot. Then his wife slapped him across his face, “What the hell have you done? How can you dare to behave in way that means people come to our house demanding money. What were you thinking?”

No excuse could satisfy his wife. Their personal family space had been invaded and he was to blame.

What followed was a questioning of John’s ethics by his wife. She was disgusted by his attitude. She could see the errors of his ways and even if what he did was just legal it was wrong.

What the two hired actors had done was probably not illegal, well not enough for the police to bother about.

On that evening John woke up, it’s not a game where you bluff the other party til they walk away. Money is not like a school boy’s card collection, trying to collect as many as you can.  It comes with responsibility and affects others. You don’t pay means somebody’s family doesn’t get paid. That’s someone’s kid who goes without.

Is this story really true?

The shocking truth is, it’s based on exactly what one agency did to get paid. Except they didn’t use actors but real debt collectors. It worked.

Is it legal? How do you prove any crime has been committed? The money was owed. The thugs said nothing threatening. The power of the intimidation was the suggested force that may be used. It played of stereotypes and the fear of a threat. And the invasion of their private space – you can get most CFOs home addresses easily.

Was it ethical? Debatable. The CFO’s behaviour certainly wasn’t. So was it wrong for the agency to play by the same rules?

What if other agencies started to use this technique? It’s very cheap. Would the few CFOs who play a dirty games soon wake up too?

Next week there is a debate, sponsored by the DMA, about the role of CFOs and CMOs, in the Houses of Parliament. It’s not about payment terms but about their involvement in marketing and customers, the motion is:  ‘Customer experience is now the responsibility of the CFO, not just the CMO’.

It should certainly be a lively debate.