Photo: Business Insider / Jill Krasny
Recently our agency was invited to pitch the MINI Cooper USA account, one of the most exciting brands in the business.
When the review was announced, the press mainly covered the fact that the incumbent was defending the account, and that the client was quoted as saying that the review was being forced by their corporate procurement procedures and they were happy with their current agency.
This led many in the industry to say that any agency considering pitching it would be wasting their time. We decided to pitch the business and it wasn’t the first time – and won’t be the last – that many thought us foolish for doing so.
And I’ll get to the conclusion – we didn’t win it. We came in a heartbreaking second (but to our American sensibilities: the first loser).
So why tilt at these windmills? Many people complain that the advertising business is ridiculous because you have to do an enormous amount of free work to pitch a new client and if you don’t prevail, you get nothing.
These pitches can be extraordinarily expensive, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs, but that’s the price of choosing to play in the highly saturated advertising world. It’s pure free market dynamics. We have the privilege of being in advertising, the most fun you can have with your business clothes on, but this low barrier to entry industry spawns fierce overcrowding.
If you don’t like it, find a different business. But still that’s not a rationale for taking on an initiative against daunting odds. In the best case, an agency review that doesn’t have a liked incumbent can start out with 50 agencies, crappy odds by any standard.
So the question is, how do you decide to take on huge challenges regardless of the industry you’re in? Here are a few things that we think about before taking on the impossible:
Is there a glimmer of hope? When we got word we were invited, I spoke to the head of marketing at MINI USA and asked him if there was even a 1% chance that they would change, and he acknowledged that there was. For better or worse, the culture here at VIA is one that resides somewhere between rabid optimism and unsettling delusion. So if there is the smallest opportunity that change could happen it merits consideration.
Will a positive outcome be transformative? The risk/reward analysis always has to be kept in mind. If the thing you’re tackling can create unique and transformative opportunity for growth, it has to be considered seriously. I believe there are precious few transformative opportunities in any business and when you’re fortunate enough to come in contact with one, saying no to it can have regrettable outcomes.
Envision both good and bad outcomes to see if you can stomach them. Many people say, when tackling a daunting task, “envision success only”. We believe it’s good to envision both success and failure before you embark on an endeavour. Try to understand how each outcome could feel and impact you. Go through those emotional experiences and then you can put them aside and then get to the task at hand knowing that no matter what happens, you’ll survive.
There’s nothing more exhilarating than being the underdog. I’ve found that the best way to keep an organisation thriving and motivated is to constantly be placed in the underdog role. And as such, underdogs are underdogs for a reason. They’re most likely not going to prevail. But that status does something to your entire culture – you stay fresh, you stay hungry, you stay happy. So taking on big challenges has the added bonus of enriching the soul of your organisation.
It’s only money, after all. Most of the rationale for not taking on daunting challenges usually comes back to money. And it’s often right that it should. But it’s hard to quantify a dream. And vision realised is often priceless. That’s the hardest maths to understand. The entrepreneurial spirit, one might say, is driven by money. But I think it’s driven by the need to simply create that which others can’t see.
You never know what karma and connections have in store for you. Though we didn’t win the MINI account, we had a blast pitching it. We fell in love with the MINI team, with the car itself, we even enjoyed the strip search financial negotiations with their charming German-based accounting hit squad. And let me tell you, if you’re not feeling good, go for a drive in a MINI and that’ll put a smile on your face. As with everything in life, if you put your heart into it, I truly believe that sooner or later, good will come your way.
So I’m not advocating for suicide missions but I do suggest everyone chase down a windmill now and then. Yes, you can call us foolish but have you ever seen a fool that doesn’t have a slight grin on his face?
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