It can be tough as the incumbent.

In most pitches, and this is highlighted by what is happening in London, the competitors fall into two , attitudinally, very different groups.  The incumbent who has every thing to lose and the challengers with everything to gain.

In business,  reviews leading to a pitch are either down to a statutory review or, particularly in the service sector, a failure in the relationship. This may be rationalised  on performance grounds, or change of people on either side, but in reality  it will be a  staleness, a loss of energy in the way the two sides get on.

In this scenario the incumbent has a tough task on its hands. In the ad agency world it is estimated that  only 5% retain in the repitch.  So if change is in the air what is the best response?  There are ,I believe,  three main approaches to consider.

The first is to beat the client to the punch, recognise changes are needed and initiate a review/re-eavaluation , non competitive,  perhaps with an impartial intermediary.  The second is to resign the business, declining to repitch, always a tough call  but one which can reduce the emotional and actual impact of a losing situation.  Finally there is the option to fight on , probably with new blood in the established team.

In the early nineties, Saatchi  faced a difficult pitch to retain British Airways, against newly formed M&C Saatchi known to have stong relationship with CEO Sir Colin Marshall. Despite misgivings, massive effort, emotional and physical, went into the pitch. To no avail, Marshall did not bother to turn up  for half of the presentation, the account moved.  The negative impact of the wasted effort was in many respects greater than the loss of the business.

Ken, of course, faces a statutory review, but he is the one with everything to lose, attitudinally the tougher place to be.


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