An entirely tongue-in-cheek look at rejection in the research industry

10th February 2017 16:38

An entirely tongue-in-cheek look at rejection in the research industry

This blog was written by James Hinde, Research Director, and loser of many proposals

Our lifeblood, as a research agency, is winning business. So we meet, we discuss, we listen, we write, we present and sometimes we win.  But cutting through it all, winning business in the research industry, is really just one big primitive mating ritual. It is macho squawks and feather fluffing in the jungle. It is the outrageous flaunting of beaks and bums. It is 2am at the Bamboo nightclub in Hazel Grove.An entirely tongue-in-cheek look at rejection in the research industry

We send out our signals:

“Sector expertise”, “Custom panels”, “Neurothinguistics”, “Communities” “In-house phone unit”, “Infographics”, “Semiphoto-otics”, “Next gen blogging”, “CXM techniques” or if it comes to it, then just “Cheap and dirty”. 

But even with our efforts, even with all our skills and experience, in the majority of cases all of us will be rejected. That is just how it is. The dark melancholy that lies at the heart of all proposal writing.

What makes it worse of course is the apparent callousness of the objects of our desire. They play with us. Sometimes not calling us back for days or even weeks. Sometimes even appearing to forget who we are or why they asked us for a proposal in the first place, as if they had other things to think about; explaining that they’ve moved on now, that the budget is no longer there and could we just stop calling. As if we could just forget. 

Feedback is helpful of course, and we value clients who take time. But for the more sensitive of us this encounter can be one long trip down a dark tunnel of despair and inadequacy. One client began my feedback by explaining insistently that my proposal scored the lowest of all the proposals, and then after a pause felt the need to add that it was actually the worse by “quite some margin”.  Weakly we respond that we enjoyed writing the proposal and hope to get another chance (of rejection!) in the future. 

I had a friend at school, when girls were as mysterious as string theory is to us now, who had decided to use statistics in his pursuits. He figured that if he simply asked enough girls out that by the law of probability one would eventually say yes. So he asked out every single girl he met. But no-one ever did say yes. The lesson for us is that we need to do more than just write endless proposals in the desperate hope of a win.

We try to listen and understand to what the client wants and how can we help. We try to develop a relationship and rapport. We focus on those where there is good fit, where we understand their sector and can meet their needs. We assess the seriousness of the enquiry and adjust our focus accordingly. We show we care through effort and attention. We get ideas and input from others. We illustrate how good we would be at the work through example in our proposals. We show what the end result could be.

But even then, there are no guarantees of success. There are others out there trying just as hard. We don’t know how clients see our efforts and who the others are that are involved in the decision. We don’t know what existing relationships clients have with other agencies. Corporate priorities can change. We could just be too expensive. Rejection is always just around the corner for any of us.

But yet, but yet. We come away with new skills, new charts, new tricks we can use. We learn what works and what doesn’t. We hone our craft. We leave an impression, if nothing else, and maybe they’ll think of us differently next time. We take something good away from every rejection, even when the pain leaves its scar. 

Then perhaps one day, we’ll win that big project and parade it to Danny in his throne room, to be showered with grace and favour and a joyful smile. Maybe we’ll return from a big pitch, singing the power ballad “Don’t stop believing” in Alasdair’s car down the M1, two happy souls joined in one successful pursuit. Then maybe we’ll win again, and again, and for a while believe we are good, maybe great, at this game and that everything is going to be just fine and all of this will be so much the sweeter for those painful rejections of the past. 

Maybe all of this. At least for a while.

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