By Matt Smth

I got some bitter news recently – my ad agency lost a big pitch. It was bitter because we really swung for the fences on this one.  We went all out and did everything we could.  Over 50 people worked endless hours and came up with some terrific, impactful and engaging ideas and we made a fantastic, polished presentation. We survived several cuts in a review that lasted months, and if finally came down to us and one other agency. But in the end our best apparently wasn’t enough and we lost.

The experience got me thinking about the whole new business process and what a strange, interesting beast it truly is.  And that’s when I realized that even though we lost, we actually succeeded in many ways that I’m sure are going to make us stronger, and better, the next time around.

The new business process can turn an agency inside out.  For a short burst, pitching the new account is everything.  It’s all hands on deck. Lots of late nights, lots of takeout food, lots and lots of meetings.  Lots of last minute changes.  Lots of making sure to find the time to serve existing clients while courting the new one.  And then there’s the cost—physically, emotionally, financially.  It takes its toll.

And then—all of a sudden—it’s gone.  Poof! In one phone call – like the one I got – you learn that it’s all over.  If you win, you’re ecstatic.  You celebrate with your team and you start making plans to add staff to handle the account.  If you lose, well, you deal with it the best you can.  It’s demoralizing, so the trick is to get the team back on its feet as soon as possible and instill in them the same sense of confidence they had during the height of the pitch.

In many ways, this pitch was just like so many others, for all the reasons I just cited.  But in many other ways it was also very different, and that’s why I’m beginning to think that, in the end, we gained more than we lost.  Here’s how:

  • We partnered with another local agency—for media and strategy—and it worked better than anyone ever expected. So much so that we became good friends and both of us are anxious to work together again as soon as possible.
  • The client was amazing, which is not always the case in any given pitch. They treated us fairly and with respect, and acted professionally throughout the entire process.
  • We lost to a very worthy competitor that all of us at SmithGifford know and respect. It felt great doing battle with them, and in an odd way it was an honor to lose to them.
  • The D.C. advertising community, of which we are part, benefited because the client chose a D.C. agency rather than an out-of-town shop, which they could easily have done.

So a huge congratulations to all of us, our competitor, the client, and a fantastic community of passionate smart people, all trying to kill each other, and then be friends and co-workers for the betterment of the more global “us”—the D.C. metro area ad agency community.

Oh, one more thing.  Note to client: please know that we’ll be there when you wake up and come to your senses.

Matt Smith, is Founder-CEO of ad agency SmithGifford, a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

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