If You're Going Down, Go Down Swinging

How Not Giving Up Can Pay Off

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Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
Several weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulty of saying "No" to clients that ask you to pitch their accounts. In it, I told the story about one client (an existing one) that brought on a new marketing director, and soon after, sent out an RFP. At that time, we declined to re-pitch, as we believed this was a no-win situation. Today, I'd like to tell you what happened, and the lessons learned.

Without naming names, our client has been with our agency for many years. It has been a very successful, mutually rewarding relationship -- intellectually, creatively, including the results we've delivered. New marketing management came on board, and issued the RFP. After we declined to re-pitch, this new management, along with the CEO of the client, refused to accept "No" for an answer, and urged us to participate. After several meetings to further vet the situation (politically), we agreed to move forward. Still, in our guts, we didn't believe we had a shot to retain the business. After all, the number one reason agencies lose a client is because a new marketing director comes on board. That's a fact. So we were playing against all odds in this pitch.

Regardless, we have had a passion for this client since day one, and that continued in our final pitch presentation. I figured, if we were going down, we were going down giving them the best that we had. That's how we do things. And that's what the client needed and deserved. Truly.

Turns out, we got the call that we won. I have never been more stunned. Every bone in my body said this was an exercise in futility, but I bet on my team, and the senior management of the client. And it paid off.

So what did we learn?
  • If you still love the brand that you represent, it may be worth re-pitching, as your intensity and passion for it will be apparent.
  • Maintain relationships at various levels of the client company, most especially the highest levels, as those are the people who have known you over the years, and can attest for your work and who you are. If you want to maintain a relationship with, say, the CEO, state that at the outset of the relationship, and you won't have an issue. It's tougher to do once the relationship has begun.
  • Be open to re-starting relationships and building bridges. We plan to forge inter-personal bonds with our "new" clients, similar to those we had with the former regime. It's just business, not personal. And if everyone stays focused on the goal, everyone can succeed and have fun.
  • Winning back an old client can be very energizing. My team is psyched to work on it, and winning it has allowed me to put some new team members on the brand, as if it were a new client. That energy and enthusiasm will pay off for the client, as it will show in the ideas and the work.
  • Marketing directors: if you are reading this, don't instinctively throw out your existing agency once you come on board a client company. Get to know the incumbent agency; surely, they have intellectual capital built up on the business that you can leverage. There may be pearls in the sand beneath your feet.
  • Finally, never say never. Sometimes you actually DO win a long-odds pitch!
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