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“I’m not sure they’re going to be brave enough to appoint us.” This was my first thought on waking the morning following a recent pitch to a prospective client.

I’d gone to bed the night before filled with anticipation that we’d more than done enough to secure the project. The presentation had gone really well, our enthusiasm levels were high, we’d done a lot of preparation and already had provisional speakers lined up for the event.

And then we got the news. They were very impressed with our proposal and presentation, it had been a really tough decision but as the incumbent agency had also recommended innovative options they were going to stick with them.

It is of course every client’s right to make that decision but it really got me thinking about what we could have done differently to secure the project. I should say that I don’t tend to spend too much time analysing a failed pitch preferring to focus on the next success but there was something odd about this one and I wanted to give it a little time to see if I could learn something.

We re-ran and discussed the presentation and identified two, what we believe to be, key moments.

The first was that having asked for the previous year’s event evaluation report we were told that it wasn’t necessary they just wanted to ask us a few questions about our proposal.

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The second was when I urged them to change the way in which they presented information and we quickly got into a conversation about how difficult it was to get people away from their scripts and out of their comfort zones.

It was these two points that made me realise I could never have won this project.

They asked us what improvements we’d suggest they make to this year’s event but they didn’t share the report with us to help us make informed recommendations. And when we moved to change and improve the level of audience engagement they visibly recoiled and talked about comfort zones.  

It is entirely possible that there are other factors at play, things we should have done but didn’t, signs we should have picked up on but I believe that when it comes down to it we were pitching to a risk averse client that won’t get criticism internally for delivering the same event they delivered last year,for playing safe and ticking the annual conference box.      

The truth is they wanted to stick not twist and we’re not very good at that. We need to be asking tough questions, searching out improvements and creating a better audience experience. People will always forgive you for trying something new but rarely for serving up the same old same old.

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