The Brutal Truth of Losing a Massive Pitch.
It fucking blows salty chunks, that’s the brutal truth, but recently, following a very large competitive pitch for our agency that we didn’t win, it also focuses the mind on what is ultimately important, what motivates an agency and why the war to be won is industry wide, not just one agency’s pitch battle.
Steve is a real Debbie Downer after a pitch. Like one of those film characters that cries after having sex, he very rarely comes out chanting, ‘we’ve won that 100%’, which is never good when you’re the senior leader of a business. But it’s an impulsive reaction, not planned and he’s trying to be more Switzerland about the whole thing.
We always have a drink after a pitch (bottle of dry white if you’re asking, we’re fine with house). We think that’s a pretty standard industry-wide thing, right? Which is also why we ask for pitches to be in the morning: it’s midday somewhere in the world. Gary is different, he analyses but remains positive, he is the; ‘we’ve done all we can’ guy so we get the balance right. We hope so, anyway.
Here’s the confession. A divulgence we wouldn’t have normally shared in any of our previous roles: we are losers. We have just lost probably the most significant pitch of our one year existence. And we didn’t just lose, we came second. Coming second is in some ways harder because like Cheers, everybody knows your name and you are filled with questions and what if’s. If you are not even on the radar it’s — sometimes — easier to move on, but being second means there is still hope. There is still the opportunity that the new agency will not cover itself in glory and you’ll be brought on like Martine’s understudy in My Fair Lady.
We told our team 20 minutes after we heard the news. We took the decision as business owners not to sensor the information and get it out there and talk about it. Our people were, are, crest fallen. For anyone reading this who has written a pitch, you know the number of calls that are made; scoping out ideas without the ability to mention, well, the idea or the brand (damn NDAs), the vox pops of ‘strangers’ that end up being people on the team who won’t be in the room (‘nobody will notice Loraine, just get on camera and say the fucking line’). The illustrations to make ideas come alive that end up looking a bit basic and the boards that need printing (‘do we have a printer? We really should get a preferred supplier’ BS), the dreaded DRAFT 2 TUESDAY PM SS saving of files (just save it as a draft number you prick: you are doing our swedes in). They take a lot of effort and are LONG because more often than not, the agency and the team have to fit the work in around the current client commitments.
It’s an entirely new client scope that you are not being paid for… yay! People put in the hours, do research when they should be watching Corrie and constantly go back and forth with their ideas: are they good enough, can they work, how much will they cost, do they fit the brief, who will write about them, am I still talking to myself? We all know the drill.
Telling people was actually much easier than we thought. That might also be because we have just won two pieces of business so the team were still on the new-client-win-Prozac. It’s only afterwards, when people went back to hitting the phones for our current clients did we get to talking about our attitude to losing and why our loss, albeit sucky-mc-suck-face, is the industry’s gain.
Don’t get us wrong, if we had won this account we would be drunk right now. And we are talking Ant & Dec drunk (too soon?). We would have reached our year two target in the first three months of our new financial year which would have made life pretty sweet indeed. But we didn’t and we have to believe that our loss is because there was a better answer out there, not a better agency, but a better answer on this occasion and in the end, when the work comes out, that can only be a win for us all. Anything that makes our discipline look cool makes all our lives as leaders easier.
Having worked in the creative part of PR for over ten years, Steve knows that pitching is a lottery. Some you win, some you lose and sometimes your idea is better than someone else’s. Where that idea comes from can be the most junior or the most senior of people and sometimes, despite the research and date, your idea just isn’t liked. Who was to know that not everyone in the room was such a big fan of Mannequin the movie as we were? ‘Have you seen it? No… no… ok well it’s about… well… about a mannequin and it’s played by Kim Cattrall and she comes to life and… well… it would be great in your windows… oh, and it’s 20 years old…
But rather than being downhearted, we have to celebrate in the fact that our competition is getting tougher, creative is getting better and our seat at the table of communications is becoming bigger and more fabulous. A veritable throne surrounded by stools (double meaning entirely intended).
It’s always fucked us off that ad shops get called, ‘creative agencies’ and PR businesses get called… well, PR businesses. That’s why we called ourselves ‘the creative comms shop’ because creatively, we can go toe to toe with any business selling comms. That’s an industry wide problem and one for collective focus. How do we convince clients that actually, advertising is great but really you need to put your buck-buck-bucks into PR. We also think we should collectively encourage our clients to tell us who our competitor set is in pitches. We recently pitched against The Romans. We know that because we recommended them and we did so because we know the competition would be fierce. Nobody enters a pitch against the agency that just won twitter without stepping it up and that HAS to be a good thing, no? They are also a business with an ambition to be ‘London’s most creative company’. Now that’s a mantra worthy of a round of applause and a protest sign saying, ‘YAAASSSSSSSSSS’. We hope we face them again soon because we will try harder and harder each and every time.
There is much positivity to take from being a loser. And we don’t mean in that, ‘failure is a bruise not a tattoo’ Chinese proverb, meme, Buddha said it style bullshit. Being second best makes you more determined than ever to succeed. Just ask Avis, or Pepsi or Burger King. We’d like to be considered the Burger King of comms. Sometimes we’d like to be considered the Morley’s Chicken tbh (South London Masssiiiivvvveeee).
What we sure as shit know is we are a successful business. A winning business that lost one round. Try Again Aaliyah, try again.
The biggest expense to our business in terms of time and money is our people. Losing a single person creates a problem for us: retraining, re-introducing, re-interviewing and that has to be the focus of any start-up or agency that proclaims to hold the same value of a start-up. We are surrounded by losers right now but they are the most amazing losers you’ll ever have the opportunity to work with and even when we win next — and mark our words, we will win next — we’ll still wear our loser L hats with pride because the biggest loss to us is good people, not the odd client, even if it is one we really, really wanted.
What’s next? PRCA Dare Awards, PR Week Awards? Come for us, we’re ready.