Four Lessons From Losing a Pitch

We Did Not Win -- But There Is Still Reason to Celebrate

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Most companies celebrate accomplishments. It's common-sense morale building in the agency world: employee anniversaries, launches, promotions, project completions and more. We celebrate because we put in a lot of time and sweat. We pulled together, busted our butts, challenged our thinking and delivered an exceptional final product -- a celebration is in order.

But what if the "final product" was winning a new business prospect? And what if they chose the other guy?

We recently lost a pitch. This happens to everyone. We get that, but it doesn't ease the sting. Over the course of two months, the selection process went from many agencies down to a handful and then just two. There was an RFI video, written RFP, in-person presentation and a couple of dinners. The process was thorough, and we have immense respect for the consideration the client employed in finding a partner, even though it wasn't us they chose in the end.

But do you still celebrate?

Yes, you still celebrate, but this type of celebration is different. There's no party, cake and cocktails. No waking up the next day with cotton ears, dry mouth and a zinger headache. The celebration is longer lasting and subtler. It's a celebration that you have to invite yourself to.

You celebrate by giving yourself something we often gloss over during the wins -- the time and opportunity to reflect and learn.

As an agency that believes in the power of experimentation as a continuous feedback engine, "failing" is a synonym for learning in our book.

That's why we pulled together a list of some of the things we learned through our latest pitch process. Here are the highlights, by the people who lived it:

1. We learned the value of being "human."

"I learned to never underestimate the power of showing your work. Exposing raw thinking in many forms -- drafts, scribbles, sketches or tangents -- is what allows people to understand how you arrived at an idea. They learn something about you personally; not just your talent. It allows them to relate to your human-ness." - John Lane, chief strategy officer

"Prospects and clients are human. They're also dealing with a million different things -- agency selection is stressful for them, too. They don't want to make the process any more complicated than it needs to be, and it benefits them (and us) to be clear, upfront and transparent throughout the process." - Rob Gurley, marketing technologist

"More than anything, prospects are looking for, 'We got you, and here's why,' because they feel inherent risk in approaching something so new. The more we can humanize our story, thinking and approach, and relate it back to their challenge, the more likely we can earn their confidence." - Lenae Boykin, account engagement manager

2. We learned the importance of embracing the uncomfortable.

"I realized that my greatest contribution doesn't always mean taking the lead, but rather in finding other ways to help and contribute. Or, as I like to call it 'hubris, Grohs.'" - Erin Grohs, director of marketing

"I learned that as uncomfortable as I feel before speaking in front of people, once I lock away any self-doubt and get started, I love sharing work that I'm deeply passionate about. The sixth-grade version of myself who was too shy to read aloud in front of the class would be shocked to hear this." - Caitlin Vlastakis Smith, executive strategy director

3. We learned the necessity of challenging one another and ourselves.

"I learned the importance of watching out for hive-mind thinking. It's very easy to just go with the flow and agree with everyone at the table. It's very difficult to stand up and go, 'Wait. Is this the best option we can put forward? Is everyone truly seeing this through the same lens, or are we just agreeing to the easiest or first option that fell in our laps?'" - Zan Gantt, senior editor

"This experience further validated that great client partnerships start and end with everyone challenging each other with respect, honesty and openness as we drive toward the best result." - Lindsey Osterlund, executive director, account engagement

4. We learned what type of partner we want in the future.

"I learned that you can truly feel it when a business is invested in finding the right partner to work with long-term rather than looking for a vendor. And, frankly, that makes the pitch process enjoyable, rather than a solely exhausting exercise." - John Lane, chief strategy officer

"I learned there are organizations out there that hold up collaboration and humility as two key principles that will drive a business forward. It's inspiring. It's motivating." - Caitlin Vlastakis Smith, executive strategy director

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