Here lies the conundrum for creative shops. The rules of engagement when pitching a piece of new business are counterintuitive to the DNA that allows them to generate great work.
Creative agencies thrive on being intense. We are daring and outspoken by design. We are people who wear our hearts on our sleeves and we channel all of that energy in an effort to make a great product. To sum it up, we are passionate about what we do. Unfortunately, all of that passion goes from being a creative blessing to an albatross on your morale when mixed with "pitch adversity."
There's a natural propensity for creative people to let anxiety creep into the new-business process. Whether it's conspiracy theories about who's pitching, second-guessing the ideas that were put forward, or simply frustration surrounding the engagement process, agencies get strained when courting new clients.
When dealing with adversity in a pitch, the best approach is to keep to the high road. Don't leave multiple voice messages or send frantic emails to a client if you haven't heard anything from them for a week. Maintain contact, and don't write an account off if the client has gone off the radar for a bit. More often than not, a delay means that the client was dealing with other issues and hasn't come to a decision yet. Building a successful relationship with a client is a marathon, not a sprint.
A lot of agencies fall into the trap of being overly aggressive when they want an account. Recently, when a CMO I know was managing a pitch, a creative director from a high-profile NYC firm gave him a call right before the client was due to make a decision and extolled that they would "make history" together. While this premise was cool, the proposition was unbelievable and desperate. In his effort to push the account over the top, this last-minute attempt to close the deal ultimately hurt the agency's chances, and they lost the pitch. The rest, as they say, is history.
And lastly, don't burn bridges if you don't win a pitch. Even the best agencies in the world get passed over. Sometimes it's hard to accept, particularly if you presented a great campaign. Once the decision is made, keep your cool. In the immortal words of Donnie Brasco, "Forget about it."
All too often people that were salivating over an account go sour when they lose a pitch. The decision is taken personally and the natural reaction is to look for someone, or something to blame.
You're far better off demonstrating understanding and leaving the door open with a prospective client. After all, you've invested time and energy familiarizing yourself with a client's brand and their business -- if the pitch was truly effective, you'll likely get consideration for future work.
On more than one occasion I've played the gentleman in defeat. Whether we were told that we are too small (a common misconception) or that our competitors have more relevant work experience (as opposed to a fresh perspective?), I always maintain confidence in our approach and our abilities. As a result, we frequently get reconsideration when these clients engage on new projects, or better yet, decide the agency they went with was failing to meet the expectations they set in the pitch. (We call that a clean-up assignment.)
While this isn't necessarily the textbook model to follow for winning new business, it does demonstrate that the "underdog" doesn't always finish last. Even when you are initially beat, you may be deemed the better solution once the client rolls up their sleeves and wants to start achieving some results. Sometimes losing the battle still means winning the war.