Losing a pitch, gaining perspective.

August 22, 2008

Last week I wrote about participating in a thrilling marathon of a pitch against my old employer, Leo Burnett. I had rhapsodized about the event, the thrill of it, and my very real gratitude for being able to do this sort of thing for a living. I likened the process to an Olympics of sorts, with late night rehearsals, and passing the baton from teammate to teammate. I had wanted to win and felt we had done enough to win.

The Gods of Advertising had other ideas. We did not prevail. Without going into it, we were told it was the closest of calls and that it took a weekend of rigorous debate for the client to agree on an agency –not mine. With all respect, the “eulogy” doesn’t really make any difference. In agency pitches, second place is merely first loser. There are no silver medals.

But there might be a silver lining. I’m not devastated from losing. I feel I’d done the best job I could possibly and that my team did so as well. In hindsight there are always things, and I’m sure we’ll do a postmortem, but I’m “good” with this loss. My Bono-like sermon on gratitude and effort was not vainglorious window dressing (well, maybe a little). I really am better off for having participated. And, as in most pitches, I do feel blessed for having had the opportunity. I live for these opportunities.

The other “good” part of losing is the proverbial growth opportunity it presents. That’s not self-help crapola. Pain is the ultimate teacher. We learn humility and respect when we are beaten fairly and squarely. Which we were.

Once upon a time (at Leo Burnett, as a matter of fact), our unit, called LBWorks, had a monster run on new business. I think we won four clients in a row, each one bigger than the last. Our heads swelled, none bigger than mine. When talk came of folding LBWorks back into Burnett, I righteously shat upon the suggestion. Much drama ensued. Months later I resigned in protest, leaving a company I had been at, and adored, for roughly 17 years. I had become arrogant from winning. No regrets, but looking back I paid a large price for insisting I was “right.” Had we lost those 4 pitches, being asked to return to Momma would have seemed like charity. Perspective and humility are gifts of losing. I see that now


9 Responses to “Losing a pitch, gaining perspective.”

  1. Greg Itahara said

    Through loss comes enlightenment.

  2. Gma said

    As a part of the LB works team you spoke of… As well as I know how your team must feel right now…it’s a bummer. But I know that your team will go into those advertising trenches again with you and come out on top. And that win my friend we be even sweeter then the ones I was lucky enought to be a part of at LB works.

  3. Willie said

    Losing always hurts. Imagine the American female gymnast who tied the Chinese gold medal winner and was awarded a silver medal on a tie-breaker calculation!
    Finding gratitude in losing makes one a better victor.

  4. SRP said

    My guys! Thanks, fellas. You know since coming up short, I’ve already participated in another pitch, this one in Birmingham. Maybe this one’s a winner. Life goes on.

  5. chicagowriter said

    I like your honesty, dude, but something tells me you’d still prefer being an arrogant winner than a humble loser -Si?

  6. Jason Fox said

    I’ll vote that he’d prefer being a humble winner. But I digress before I’ve even begun.

    Sorry about the first pitch, but I heard the one in Birmingham went well. No spies — I actually played some small part in it. I think. Still haven’t seen what ended up being presented.

    On a truly odd note, I out during lunch on Friday and got behind a car with the license plate 666-SRP. [Insert own joke here.]


  7. SRP said

    I’ll need more info on the Birmingham pitch! How in God’s name did you play a part? And the 666 plate with my initials -Hopefully not an “omen” for the pitch.

  8. Jason Fox said

    I’ve been freelancing at your sister agency in Dallas.

    And I think the 666SRP is more of a hint about the real meaning of your book than anything to do with the pitch.

  9. I just lost a pitch to an agency that I worked for three weeks before the pitch. Urgh. Worst part is… we could have won it… should have won it… but didn’t put our best foot forward because it was assumed it was unwinnable. Turns out the big agency incumbent wasn’t in the pitch, which nobody knew.

    And to clarify… I wasn’t the one who thought it was unwinnable. I never think an account is unwinnable.

    As it were, there’s a similar, more interesting, and probably more creatively rewarding account we’re now in the running for because we didn’t win the first one and don’t have the conflict of interest. Through failure, opportunity. And, needless to say, an immediate occasion to apply lessons learned.

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