Originally featured in Creative Review 

 

There are many reasons why a pitch tanks. Price and strategy are the go-to excuses, but that’s only half the story. No client will admit work is won and lost on personality. No client will admit you irritated them.

In five years we have won two pitches – that’s a 99% fail rate. Our studio’s Pitch Fail blog posts are an opportunity for us to reopen old wounds and ask ourselves, with a hearty dose of hindsight, why our pitches stink. Give it a year and the reasons are obvious.

It takes a brave studio to admit they lost a pitch due to arrogance, because they didn’t listen and worst of all, because they believed their own social media hype. We are that studio.

Despite having already run the numbers, in 2013 we competed in, and lost, three pitches. Having relaunched our studio in December 2012, we had reason to believe the following year would be different. Our rebrand was well received, far outstripping our expectations. We picked up some good press, enquiries rose and we felt some respect from our peers.

We began to take ourselves rather seriously.

So, the pitch. Honestly, we failed during the client briefing, at the first hurdle. Two conversations played out during that briefing, the one we wanted to hear and the one we should have listened to.

The first one started something like this: “We’re a regional theatre with the capability to challenge the nationals. We want something that hasn’t been done before.”

Then there was the conversation that we chose not to hear: “Sorry, but I’m too busy to meet face to face, my team has been reduced in size and I’m doing three jobs in one. We’ve got a new artistic director in place so we’re all just settling in after a lot of change.”

We didn’t just challenge the brief, we torched it.

The client wanted a brochure and show identity. For the same budget, we argued, the client could produce three newsprint ‘zines per season, commissioning a writer to generate articles about the theatre and the companies they presented. We proposed a ‘brand asserting’ identity, shifting focus from the work onto the theatre.

Before you scoff, I actually know what I’m on about. I was a theatre marketing director. I obliterated my annual budget with brochure design, print and fulfilment. I watched this hideously expensive brochure slip into obsolescence as the season progressed. I watched as popular companies overtook my theatre’s brand while we struggled to sell other less well known, equally brilliant productions. With the right theatre, it could have worked.

This was a theatre requiring assurance they could trust a large portion of their considerable responsibilities to someone else. This was a theatre finding their feet who didn’t need any more flux. This was a stretched-to-capacity theatre who needed their designer to just bloody get on with it.

Ever been in a genuinely disastrous pitch? My word, it’s a livener. The client wanted answers to a brief we’d decided was outdated and archaic. We stuttered and blagged through our allotted 20 minutes, spouting arse-covering nonsense on the fly.

Eighteen months on, we can laugh. We were eager and enthusiastic with none of the modesty a good early career studio possesses. We were arrogant, egos inflated by a handful of Favs and RTs.

When we asked for feedback, the client explained they’d chosen someone “with more experience”. What they really said was “we’ve chosen someone who doesn’t believe their own hype.”

In hindsight, a grand idea.