Agency Culture Pitching Marketing

I eventually found joy in a lost pitch. You should too

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By David Bain, Chair and founding strategy partner

May 17, 2024 | 4 min read

You’re eventually going to lose a pitch, even if you put in a good fight. BMB’s David Bain urges agencies to ignore the devil on their shoulder, drop the trash talk and learn to be more humble in defeat.

Boxer lays on the canvas, exhausted

When it comes to pitching and losing, the better angels of our advertising nature are sometimes hard to detect, never mind to channel and honor. We are an industry of inveterate sore losers. Graciousness is rare, fellow feeling scarce and rejected rancor tends to rule the day. Three devils stand guard, keeping the angels in check and ensuring our agency rivalries remain petty, bitter, and unflinching.

The first devil is a god of war, inciting us always to raise the black flag and begin the slitting of throats. Among us agencies, our day-to-day reality is less of a market than a battlefield. A swarm of agencies of every size and complexion compete for a finite number of client assignments, with an each-against-each ferocity that would make Thomas Hobbes proud. New business makes a hyena of the best of us.

The second devil is made of bitter memories. Pitches are hard, long, confusing, and often quite lardy. When you lose, all the caffeine and cholesterol you took on feels like a poor exchange for coming ‘so close’. No matter what Noel advises, we can’t help but look back in anger.

The third devil is a lord of critique, quick to judge everyone else’s ideas by a standard we don’t always hold to our own. So when we eventually see an idea come out of a process, we didn’t win, that nitty-picky devil is fast to tell us where it’s been done before and to point out all the execution flaws and missteps.

But sometimes, an idea can float above the bile and force begrudging admiration, even joy in losing. In a lifetime of pitches and despite a bellicose nature, this has even happened to me a couple of times. Once, many years ago, having pitched our hearts out with an extraordinary idea about badgers, we discovered that a rival had registered the URL www.comparethemeerkat.com. We knew we were toast and could only admire the brilliant audacity of it all (before we even knew about the equally brilliant Slavic’ simples’ bit).

It happened again last week. Last summer, we pitched for the RSPCA, a brand with a tremendous advertising heritage, a clear-sighted, ambitious leadership team, and a cause that ruthlessly twanged on every heartstring. We wanted it so badly that it was borderline obscene, and yet it went to AMV BBDO.

So, imagine how good an idea has to be for it to escape that particular vortex of rivalry and hate.

Nearly 12 months on from the pitch and ‘For Every Kind’ is a coup, a big, bold, beautiful idea that reframes the charity, gives it a whole new tonal language, and makes empathy at once joyous and insistent. The pitch taught us what the brand really needed from an idea, making the sharpness of the solution all the more admirable.

I love it. As a viewer, as a competitor, and yes, even as a loser. Still... what a shower of bastards.

Agency Culture Pitching Marketing

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