Lessons from AMCs ‘The Pitch’ on How to Motivate Your Ad Agency After A Loss

Tracy Wong WDCW, Mirren New Business Conference

How to lose a pitch in front of millions of television views and the entire ad industry and still come out as the winner.

A good number of agencies depend upon the pitch as the primary way they win new business and grow. Some national attention and industry buzz has been brought upon the pitch process due to AMC’s new show simply called, ‘The Pitch,’  where two opposing ad agencies compete against each other for work for a nationally recognized brand.

‘The Pitch’ demonstrates the flaws in the pitch-for-business process. It is loaded with ‘land mine’s and it is the responsibility of those who are charged with new business to help the agency avoid these at all cost. The best strategy is often to walk away. An even better strategy is creating a new business program that avoids having to rely on the pitch for new business altogether.

At the recent Mirren New Business Conference in New York, Simon Sherwood, partner – group chief executive officer, BBH, said, “Avoiding pitching is the smartest new business strategy of all.” I agree.

For those charged with leading the pitch team, you should  be prepared to help your team deal with an inevitable loss.

Losing is demoralizing, not only for the pitch team, but also for the agency as a whole.  And because agency pitches are often in a ‘photo finish’, it is even more disheartening especially for those who make it to the last round and then are eliminated.

But how demoralizing would it be to lose an agency pitch in front of millions of TV viewers?

That is exactly what happened to WDCW (Wong, Doody, Crandall, Wiener) agency. In the premier episode of ‘The Pitch,’ WDCW competed against and lost to the McKinney agency for an advertising campaign for Subway. This was a great opportunity to build awareness for their agency, but a tremendous risk. Because they didn’t just lose the pitch, they lost it in front of an international audience plus friends, family members and the entire advertising industry. Yet, it seems in losing ,WDCW won.

According to AMC’s own Poll – “Who Should’ve Won in The Pitch Sneak Preview?”, 68% of the viewers voted for WDCW over McKinney.

Sharing the reason, WDCW wasn’t afraid of being humiliated on an international stage, Tracy Wong, Chairman and Executive Creative Director  wrote,

“Being honest and real makes for the best client/agency relationships. Having those qualities revealed about yourself on national television, showing that you have nothing to hide, is some of the best publicity anyone can get.”

I knew the show would bring a lot of attention to the pitch process so I prepared to write a series of articles on the pitching for business process. It also proved to be a big draw to this year’s Mirren New Business Conference held in New York. Tracy and his pitch team, along with McKinney’s, had been invited to a panel discussion on the last day of the conference they talked about their experience from the show and what lead them to choose to take part.

I was surprised and honored to have Tracy attend my training session for the conference on agency positioning. I previously read a lot about Tracy as I gathered information to write about the agencies that agreed to participate in the show. The common traits people tend to voice about him is that he is such a nice guy and always respectful of others. 

Tracy provides the perfect example on how to create a winning agency culture despite a loss. 

Shortly after WDCW’s episode aired on ‘The Pitch,’ Tracy wrote an article for their blog, “When A Loss Is Not A Loss. Here are some of the highlights from the article, that include some great insights and tips for any agency pitch team:

  • it’s not about winning or losing, it’s not about the outcome.
  • For us, that “practice” is our strategic rigor, our creative process, and the execution of our thinking. Our pitch is merely the culmination of what we’ve done the weeks beforehand.
  • Most of the success of pitches is “ditch digging” — you have to understand consumers’ mindsets, what they need.
  • Our “score” in a pitch is thoroughly subjective, swayed by personal whim, politics and things that have nothing to do with objectivity or what’s “right.” Score matters little to me.
  • If you worry about what the other agency is doing for a pitch, you take your eye off the ball and off your game.
  • Focus on what you can control. Focus on the team, focus on chemistry and culture.
  • At WDCW, fundamentally, we are good team players. We treat each other with respect.
  • No prima donnas. No backstabbing. No shouting. No scheming. No egos.
  • Our “Democracy of Good Ideas”, however hokey or idealistic it may sound, creates an atmosphere where everyone contributes, because everyone needs to play a role in the strategic and creative process.
  • We always say in pitches, “Go BIG. Or go home.”
  • Our sole mission in any pitch is not to “win.” It’s about leveraging strong agency culture to produce the best ideas possible.
  • It’s not about the win. It’s about the process. It’s about how good your pitch is.
  • Tracy’s pitch philosophy is influenced by the legendary basketball coach John Wooden, “Success is peace of mind in knowing you did your best.”

You will be enriched reading Tracy’s entire article, “Being on AMC’s “The Pitch”: When A Loss Is Not A Loss.”

You may also be interested in some of the following articles on ‘The Pitch’:

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. We thought WDCW was the better agency in the premier- but, that neither team got a fair shake in this pressure cooker.
    We did a review- and have for every single show- as well as pre-show predictions- (we’re 0-4 in picking the agency the client picked at this point) http://thenextwave.biz/tnw/the-pitch-on-amc/
    So far, this process seems to make the real loser look like the client in almost every case. Unlike in real life- this show doesn’t have a none-of-the-above option.
    Tracy Wong has nothing to be ashamed of- and a lot more people in the business have checked out WDCW’s work now- and realize that the combining of Wong Doody and Ground Zero is a pretty strong team.

  2. Thanks for sharing your insights David. Very much appreciated. I’ve saved your article to read when I’m done traveling.

  3. Another fine post, Michael.

    I chose architecture as a profession over advertising in high school in the 1970s. I remain fascinated by the field and enjoy your posts here. I share some “lessons learned” (such as in this post) with my fellow architects.

    Keep up the good work. Much success to you in the new year!

    Collier Ward, AIA

  4. Thanks Collier. I’m glad you enjoy my post articles. I’ve always thought there was a close association in business development for architectural firms and agencies.

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