Home > Clients, Culture, Inspiration, Public Relations, Work > How to Lose New Business (but not your soul)

How to Lose New Business (but not your soul)

The previously mentioned new business hooplah unfortunately did not end well.  This happens.  Ego aside (I hate to lose), it was probably for the best given this particular client but nevertheless…I hate to lose.  We got the news on a Saturday morning so I had all weekend and a bonus snow day to lick my wounds.  And find comfort unexpectedly on the Starz channel, in a terrific documentary about Pixar.   

Required viewing for animation and culture-of-innovation geeks everywhere

Required viewing for animation and culture-of-innovation geeks everywhere

I watched The Pixar Story through the lens of this new business failure, marvelling at how the studio succeeds again and again (sometimes against great odds) and gets back up again when they’re thrown a curveball. 

Was amazed to learn that Toy Story 2 almost got trashed before John Lasseter and team stepped in and rescued it — essentially turning the whole production around and getting the film to market in eight months.  Which is insane.  I also am inspired to see that in fact, mastery and genius CAN be replicated in teams — Lasseter has done it (cf. Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton.)  I am neither a master nor a genius but what I take away from this is a) you can get the crap kicked out of you and still come back with a big win and b) creativity and presentation “magic” must reside with more than one person on a team —  and that the sum of a team is greater than its parts.

Speaking of crap-kicking, perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from our new biz miss was that you must never — EVER — go into a pitch being anything other than the agency you are.  Do not hide your light under a bushel, as my mom used to say.  Don’t apologize for anything — your size, your history, your client roster, your specialties.  Be who you are, and you will win the right business.

And while it’s one thing to stretch and be courageous, it’s another thing to try to shoehorn yourself into the image of the agency you think the prospective client wants to see. 

So.  Who are we?  We are mid-sized.  Not a boutique, and not a big multi-office shop.  We have a luxury heritage.  An upmarket, style-informed sensibility informs everything we do, regardless of the category or distribution channel. We have a lot of big, iconic mass brands on our roster.  Not niche brands, not cult brands.  We do consumer PR really, REALLY well.   We will not try to convince you that we do lobbying, investor relations or public affairs. 

All of which is just fine.  Great, in fact.  We love our clients, and we love who we are.  When we allow that to shine through, we tend to win new accounts.  Good to remember this, and also very good to keep ego out of it because BOY is that not helpful.  (Unless you’re an Oscar-winning Pixar director, maybe.)

P.S. — for more on the Pixar culture, check out  Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird discussing it here, and an entire Harvard Business School case study on the topic here (fee required).

  1. Clemente Osso
    March 6, 2009 at 4:11 am

    Yes, I do read your blog and I do thoroughly enjoy it. I found this latest entry compelling of a response and would like to add, that what I have always found inherent to success, especially when involving teams is buy-in (big B). You can tell someone to do something but you can’t force them to believe in it. You can’t bluff someone off the best hand in a card game, unless you have the confidence to do so; otherwise a ‘Tell’ will certainly tip off your opponent (or in this case your customer). You don’t need the best hand to win; you just need to believe that you can win. And that must go for each and every person involved (especially now-a-days).

    I see that in my business day-in and day-out. And if there is even only one person on the team that does not believe in the story you want to tell or has his/her doubts, the risk of experiencing poor results is heightened tremendously. I see it with poor customer service, theft, issues with adherance to policies, etc……

    So I guess, in the end, selling the things that you know “The Team” feels strongly about or spending the time to engage “The Team” and build consensus amongst the key drivers, incorporating who they are/what they feel to formulate a pitch/build a business, is ultimately almost always the difference between winning and losing.

    Buy-In establishes Belief/Trust, Belief in turn builds Confidence and a collection of confident people working toward ‘one’ goal/presentation = “Magic”

    Ok, I will go back to just reading now. Cheers!

    • ssmirnov
      March 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

      Clem, I had no idea you were a reader! I love the poker analogy — the thought that we tip off our clients with “tells” when we’re being inauthentic is something I’m going to think about a lot. And making sure everyone on the team is 100% on board — crucial. Thx for the great insight and hey, don’t be such a lurker!

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