We lost a pitch today. It was a good one, too – exciting project, good people, right in our wheelhouse. Being around since 2003, we’ve lost our share of pitches. Everyone loses pitches. It’s part of the business. But no matter how many pitches we’ve lost, it still stings to lose one. And we lost this one. And that sucks! Over the years, we’ve tuned our post-rejection process to an hour-long recipe, and since we find it useful, we thought you might, too. You know, just in case you ever lose one.

Sulk – 9 Minutes

After you hang up the phone with your contact, catch your breath. If you have a partner, now’s a good time to call her over. Get some good background music on because it’s time to sulk like you’ve never sulked before. We recommend the following (in any order):

  • Complain about the process
  • Question who in the room was the lone person against you, because there could only be one. And it was the guy with the glasses. He never smiled.
  • Spew out some colorful language. You be the Bunk and I’ll be McNulty
  • You know what? They aren’t good people after all! Otherwise they would have hired us.
  • Pretend you didn’t want the project anyway

Go nuts. Follow your bliss. It feels great to let it out; to allow yourself the space to be a child and have a tantrum. Productive? Nope. But you’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well put a limit on how long we’re allowed to do it.

Catastrophize – 1 minute

Now’s the time to convince yourself that this project is the last opportunity you’re going to have. It’s the most unproductive and destructive part of the process. You get one minute.

Post-mortem – 20 Minutes

So, you should be feeling a little better. You’ve been through the depths and you’re still here. It’s time to figure out what happened.
In our business, we have a few common reasons why agencies don’t get projects.

  • You’re not Good – It’s not likely if you have any history in the business, but I guess it’s possible.
  • Size Mismatch – The company you’re pitching thinks you’re too small to service them. Or, the company thinks you’re too large to pay attention to them.
  • Goal / Core Competency Misalignment – If you’re an agency, you try to do everything well. But you’re always going to be ‘great’ at one thing and ‘good’ at the others. Some clients are most interested in the thing where you’re ‘good’ and not ‘world-class.’ It happens.
  • Politics – Sometimes the leadership of the company have a pet team that was always going to get the project. To pretend otherwise is to be naive. This explanation is so enticing because it gets you off the hook of doing any work. To the credit of the people we’ve pitched, this has been rare. But occasionally we’ll get word that there was a college buddy or whatever. Since it’s rare, we don’t put much stock in it.
  • You Ran into a Buzzsaw of a Competitor – There are great firms out there. And maybe you’re one of them. But sometimes, another firm is going to nail a pitch or have a compelling offering that you can’t match (for now).

You get the gist (we could go on for pages), and your business may have its own idiosyncratic reasons. It’s important to know them. But do you want to know the best way to figure out why you didn’t get a project? You ask. People, especially PMs, are empathetic to the situation. Who hasn’t been through disappointment? Our experience tells us that they’ll be candid with you and let you know why they went in a different direction.

Retarget – 20 Minutes

Assume that, for today, there are no long-term lessons. You didn’t get the project, and that stinks, but that fact doesn’t, on its own, invalidate your approach. Schedule a time to reassess the 4 Ps in a week. Now is not that time. But you have all this pent-up energy! It’s time to do something productive with it. The best way to get over a break-up is to find someone new. The same holds true here. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Send out 10 cold emails using the same script you’ve been using in your BD process. Be human. Stay positive.
  • Set a couple of meetings with your referral sources, come up with a client intro you can make, and bring it to the meeting.
  • Call a colleague and do a quick social call. Offer to buy them a beer. Chances are, they’ve lost a pitch recently, too.

Do something, just don’t do what you want to do which is say, “We didn’t get a project. Something must be wrong. Let’s fix it.” Do something productive and reassess once you get a little distance.

Practice Gratitude – 8 Minutes

It’s so easy to get into a funk when you lose a pitch. I should know, I’m the Marty Funkhouser of funks. We spent DAYS in our early years spinning our wheels after those wretched calls. It felt invalidating. Imposter Syndrome weighs heavy. It felt like this:

But you know what? Things are pretty great. You get to do something you enjoy. You have a stable of clients who are happy with what you’re doing for them. Make a note to thank them when you’re going through emails. Say, “Hey, Jon, this Whitepenny thing is awesome. I hope we’ll do it forever.” It works.

Remember the dude with the specs in the meeting – 1 Minute

Damn it! We were doing so well!

Back to Gratitude – 1 Minute

Man are we lucky…