The Agony of Defeat

MH3 —  March 29, 2012

I don’t know if you read Success magazine. I admit, I do. And I listen to the monthly CDs featuring the publisher Darren Hardy. And I read some of their “self-help” publications.

Some of you may find this sort of publication cheesy. In a way I agree. But I also find a lot of value in them. It’s always good to spend a few quiet moments reflecting on my professional and personal life.

The most recent issue really resonated with me. Unfortunately.

Unfortunately?

Yes very much so because the most recent issue was focused on comebacks. How to deal with adversity, setbacks and losses that derail your progress. Hardy maintains that the truest sign of greatness in an individual is how they rebound from a loss. His favourite example is Muhammad Ali, who was stripped of his ability to box professionally by the US government, eventually returned to the ring, and becoming the only three-time heavyweight champion of the world.

Far from the international spotlight of the greatest boxer of all time, I too have recently suffered a knockout punch. Two in fact. With potential for one more to come.

They were suffered in the competitive ring of new business pitches, which I was sharing with you over the past few weeks. You may or may not recall, we were in the midst of two massive game-changing RFPs. Unfortunately we lost them both. A life coach may ask me to rephrase that to “we didn’t win”. But in this “Y” generation-dominated society, where the “Y” really means EverybodY gets a TrophY, when you lose a pitch there isn’t much silver lining for not being first.

 

I have to admit I was shocked. On pitch A we did a decent job in the first round, and I thought an exceptional job in the second. The client was very gracious in their feedback… but we were nudged out by a strong incumbent.

On pitch B, I thought we were exceptional in the first and only round. I rarely take the money to the bank before I get the money, but in this case I think I was out on a drunken spending spree. When I received the short to-the-point email that I was wrong (on a Friday at 6:00 p.m. nonetheless), I was stopped in my tracks.

Now we both know I am a pretty confident guy. Some would suggest almost cocky. I will admit sometimes to agreeing with that. You should see me now. I don’t know how many stages of grief there are officially… is it five… is it seven? But I am going through a few of them.

I know I shouldn’t. These losses are of the professional kind and there is a lot worse that can happen to an individual. But put a workplace lens on this discussion, as I know you have been there as well.

I wanted these wins. They were in categories we don’t have. With blue chip brands. Sponsoring entertainment and sports properties I love. With cool experiential opportunities. In both cases (one more so than the other), with marketers I have long admired from both close up and afar.

In both cases I thought we were the perfect fit.

So while I put a brave face on for my team, read intently our internal debrief sessions where we examined what went wrong (and right), listened carefully as our pitch manager conducted a compelling lessons learned discussion for the entire agency… I have been dying inside.

This voice is haunting me. Why didn’t I have better ideas? Did I talk too much? Did I talk too little? What should I have done differently?

Hardy is right. The comeback is harder than the easier win. I need to lead the charge. I can’t start second guessing myself. “Deal From Strength” is one of my personal motivational phrases. This morning I was at a new, much smaller pitch, and I started seeing ghosts. Once that happens I am dead.

It’s easy to drown in a sea of self-pity. But that isn’t going to help us win the next one. So off I go. Back to my iPad, ready for the next opportunity that crosses my journey.

Thankfully I had a chance to zip off to the IEG conference right after these two losses. There, amongst my peers and colleagues, I was rejuvenated. I was reborn. I was recharged. Spending three or four days talking, debating and examining this business reassured me. This is a great industry. I am fortunate – very fortunate – to have the position in it I hold. This pain I am experiencing will soon fade away.

Time does heal.

One response to The Agony of Defeat

  1. Mark,

    I’m new to this blog and read this one first before catching up with your previous ones where you share how happy you were with the pitches. I presume those are the deals you didn’t get.

    No one ever tells people about deals they didn’t get, at least not publicly. Incredibly refreshing to see someone do it. It makes a connection with people and makes you and your company real and attractive.

    I hope you end up finding out what happened with those deals and share it if possible.