Lessons Learned After Losing the Pitch

Sure Winning Is Great, but Defeat Is a Good Teacher

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For the past month and a half, I've been MIA on Small Agency Diary largely because of one pitch.

Noelle Weaver Noelle Weaver
A big life-consuming new-business pitch. A game changer if you will. And one that, if we won, would have doubled our agency in size and no doubt gotten me kicked off this blog.

We found out several weeks ago that we did not win. There have been many e-mails and hushed hallway conversations with folks quietly saying to me "I'm sorry to hear. Are you OK?" It was like the dog I had since I was 12 had just passed away.

Truth is, losing sucks. It does hurt. Egos are bruised. The agency goes eerily quite for a day. And now that we've eased our way into September, I'm finding myself checking the new-business forecast deck I put together back in January. What were those numbers again?

In our world, everything so often boils down to the numbers. How many RFPs did you contend for? How many meetings can you get this month? How many pitches were you invited to? What's the potential revenue of this account? Is it project or an AOR? If project, how many months? Because at the end of the year, winning is a very tangible success and all of these numbers, facts and figures are easy to add to the books.

I often think we are too focused on the numbers. We forget to take the time and think about the intangibles that come along with this side of the biz.

Pitches, by their very nature, force you to elevate your game and do your best thinking. By the end of the process you should know exactly what you stand for as an agency and, consequently, what makes you different from the folks that you are competing against.

Win or lose -- if you compete enough, your brand equity goes up. After all, something good about the shop must be getting you in these pitches, right?

I always say, "Never treat a loss as a closed door." During the pitch process, you probably learned a hell of a lot about the client, its business and its competitors. If you were good enough to get on the short-list, something about your agency interested the client. Keep in contact with it; you never know when it might outsource an agency or, two years down the road, look for a new one.

Pitches force us to speed up the research and campaign-development process. I have often found that process, as painful as it can be, a great exercise in understanding ways to tighten up internal processes that lead to effectiveness and efficiency for the clients you already have.

It also causes a tighter team. After spending so many "family" dinners together around a big conference-room table near our art studio we became a crazed, energetic, interwoven family.

Since then, I've had to comfort a number of 20-somethings at the firm who worked on the pitch and committed their summer nights to Power Point decks instead of beer. They're distraught and can't understand why we would lose after all the work we put into it. I tell them that it is OK. It's the business that we're in. And while it a big bummer right now, we're going to be that much smarter when the next pitch comes along.

Those of us who've been in the industry for a while already know that this business is like a roller coaster. You're flying high and the next thing you know, you are plummeting at 500 miles an hour towards a big stomach-churning dip and you know it's going to be another pitch or two before you start that slow descent upwards again. But like all great roller coasters, there are always more than a few hills to climb and chances are, the next one you head towards is going to be even bigger.
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