Lesson in Failure

Failing can be a painful experience, one I’m sure nobody enjoys. However, I think we can all agree that some excellent lessons come from our failures – great and small – and sometimes from the failures of others. In my career I’ve had the luxury of experiencing many highs, and I am extremely thankful for all of them. But I really respect the lessons I’ve learned thanks to the things that haven’t gone to plan, have been a disaster, or have impacted my world.

I know now that I’ll never make the same mistakes again, or that at least whenever I’m faced with a similar scenario my brain will issue a warning: “Hang on, back it up, this feels familiar – in a bad way.”

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned from failure. I have not included the names of the organisations or individuals as I don’t feel it would add to your understanding.


Seeking partners can be exciting and when board members or leaders show an interest in getting involved, the process can feel a little easier (the more senior the connections, the easier it should be to secure a quick yes or no). But things can end badly when shiny things get in the way of the big picture – in particular the commercial realities of sponsorships.

We had a solid plan, we had put in the hard yards to build an asset register, costed it and priced the packages we were taking to market based on previous discussions. Everyone was feeling confident.

The relationship owner was one of the board members with a strong and senior connection at one of our key target brands, but despite advice to the contrary he insisted on attending the meeting alone. We thought, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

During the meeting the deal was done and everyone was excited – an ASX 100 brand with a lot of clout had agreed to sponsor a relatively small arts organisation.

Unfortunately, our excitement was short-lived as the deal was done for a fraction of the valuation of the package. The deal meant that only 20% of the fee would be available as working money – that is, we would have to spend 80% of the fee to service the deal!

In trying to get to the bottom of what happened we heard comments such as: “They didn’t have any more money,” “It’s better to have them as a partner than to lose them,” “I couldn’t offer a big brand like that a low-tier partner level,” and “An association with them will attract sponsorship from other brands.”

Like all deals, there was no going back on a handshake, so making this work was a bit of a nightmare. No other brands came on board because they thought we would be well supported by this big brand partner, and the brand’s team was very demanding.

It was a hard slog but the team delivered. The lesson everyone learned was the importance of coming to, and sticking to, the right proposal valuation and pricing margins.


The responsibility for raising funds within an organisation often rests on the shoulders of one person or one team, but, realistically, everyone should work their networks.

I worked on a project that had lots of support from the market – lots of partners wanted in – so raising revenue was not a terrible struggle. We had some great assets and the packaging process had been built in collaboration with the delivery team, so we knew we could deliver as promised for brands. As a result we reached our revenue target in line with the planned timeline. We then moved on to tracking down the stretch target, and this was where the wheels fell off.

Assuming we would reach our stretch target, the delivery team decided it must be easy to raise revenue and started to push the spend budget without discussion with the commercial team.

As we approached the event’s go-live date, the CEO was putting more and more pressure on the commercial team. We heard comments such as, “There is a shortfall in the spend budget, so you’ll just need to raise another $X,” “How hard can it be?” and “Just make a few phone calls and sort it out.”

Money had to be found for a budget that the delivery team had already committed, or the project was at risk of collapse!

The solution was sharing the load by making everyone accountable for the new revenue target – we worked as a team and created a robust network map. This ensured everyone was using their network to track down interested parties and strike up conversations about partnership. The commercial team coached and supported the broader team by ensuring they had everything they needed – tools such as email templates, a prospectus document and a series of FAQs for potential partners – to help them reach the new target.

In the end we pulled it off – with lots of hustle and unnecessary stress – and we learned the importance of ensuring everyone works their networks.


When a NFP is doing amazing work there is always a great story to tell, but if you can’t articulate how a partnership can deliver a commercial return, then the lack of interest can be confusing and disheartening.

I worked with an extraordinary organisation that delivers an incredible solution to regional Australians. They weren’t government funded so looked to corporate partners for support. There was a deliberate decision to seek sponsorship funds rather than philanthropic support. The proposal told a wonderful story about how important this program was  and the impact a partner’s involvement could have across the community. We had selected brands with shared values and whose audience was a great fit. But we couldn’t get a deal done.

I sat in some meetings trying to understand why the message wasn’t landing. The conversation unearthed comments such as, “It’s wonderful what you’re doing,” “Our customers really appreciate the value of this service,” and “Perhaps this would sit best with our CSR team.”

The problem was clear: they weren’t seeing the potential for a commercial return if they invested in the partnership. While the stories were amazing and on paper the partnership seemed perfect, our language wasn’t resonating with them.

The next step involved breaking the proposal apart to find ways the brand could ‘exploit’ the rights on the table. We looked at it from the partner’s point of view – what if they had $100,000 to spend and had to decide between our property and naming rights for a sporting team (note that we couldn’t offer TV coverage)? This process resulted in changing the language so it was all about how they could leverage the partnership to deliver commercial outcomes rather than how the partnership would help their brand.

Implementing this change took a major shift in mindset – we put ourselves in the shoes of our potential partners and it paid fantastic dividends. A naming rights partner was secured for a multi-year deal.

The key lesson there was the importance of speaking the language of your target audience.

Overall, I believe that if a team really comes together to tackle a problem, then it will give everyone involved the confidence to overcome failure, learn from from it, and use those lessons to inform how they achieve success in the future.



This article was originally published by F&P Magazine in April 2018

I hope it helps with your pitches to brands.

Turn first day apathy to energy

Meh to energyLast week was my first week back after a fabulous break, and I really struggled with apathy. Now, it may have had something to do with the fact that I have a 10 week old puppy that keeps my attention longer than anything else at the moment, but I knew I had to snap out of it. So, here are my top 5 tips for converting apathy to energy to kick start 2015:




  1. Write a list of the most exciting deals/projects you will work on this year
    • highlight the most exciting ones and start something on 1 of them today.
    • See if you can palm the not so exciting ones; or reshape them so they are a little more interesting; or get them done quickly so they are off your plate.
  2. Consider your resources, who do you need on your team to deliver these deals/projects
    • Do you have the right mix of skill and knowledge in your existing team.
    • Can you pull someone in from another team or externally to ensure success.
  3. Start the ball rolling on the year, set up meetings for the next week that will kick start some of these projects/deals.
  4. Call people
    • Hearing about what everyone has been up to in their break can be energising.
    • Also, there are a tonne of others out there suffering apathy, so will be happy to hear from you, especially if you can give them some direction.
  5. Change your environment, a new desk location, new note pad, etc – a change is as good as a holiday. Also, if you have to re-write your to do list in a new note pad it will help get your head back in the game.

If all else fails, buy a puppy and enjoy her madness for a while.

Happy 2015, here’s to a huge year of successes!!

How to pitch perfectly, in two minutes

Last week I had the pleasure of working with the Rexona Clinical Women’s Agenda Pitch Off finalists on refining their pitch. It was a wonderful experience and I am so looking forward to the event on Thursday to see who ends up winning.

What I found interesting was that each of the finalists started our session with comments such as: two minutes really isn’t long at all; I’m worried I will run out of time; or even….oh, I can’t use PowerPoint!

For a society so heavily reliant on texting, Tweeting or other forms of ‘sound biting’ our lives – it’s fascinating that when someone takes away the opportunity for us to take our time, we push back!

Well, I’m pleased to confirm that by the end of each session we agreed what was required could definitely be achieved within the two minute pitch.

That’s possibly by using a formula that could be used for any type of pitch – pull out the important bits; personalise it to the audience; make sure you answer the ‘brief’ (in this case the competition criteria); while ensuring your personality shines through. Let’s break it down a little bit in context of delivering a client pitch:

  • Time keeping: if you can take less time to explain your point, then do it, everyone enjoys time back in their day. But if takes a bit longer and your audience is engaged the whole time, use all of it. Do NOT go over time, it shows a lack of respect.
  • Props: consider these carefully, they can border on naff, but if they help inject your personality to a pitch, or to confirm to your client that you understand the core of their issue bring (or send prior) a prop. NB PPT is NOT a prop.
  • Know your audience: no matter who you’re presenting to, if you have NOT done some background research and tailored what you have to say to them, they WILL be bored. So, consider who they are; what they specialise in; what would get their attention (stats, data, pictures, big statements, etc).
  • Answer the brief: be clear on the criteria or brief you are pitching in response to. Revisit this throughout your preparation time, confirm you have met the brief, then consider how you could go over and above (budget and client appetite pending).
  • About you: yes, this is last – NOT first – don’t waste time in a pitch big’ing yourself up, keep it succinct and align it to a point that will help the client agree you are who they want to work with.

Well, I wish all the Rexona Clinical Women’s Agenda Pitch Off finalists the best of luck on Thursday. And I hope these pitch tips help you too.

Women's AgendaThis article was originally published by Women’s Agenda in November 2014: How to pitch perfectly, in two minutes

I hope it helps with your pitches.

Did we answer the brief?

It’s a simple question, right? Well, sometimes we forget to revisit the brief – with 48 hours to go, all the slides are in place, everyone knows who is presenting which bit, and we love our creative territory. BUT if we pick up the brief and re-read is there a chance we have gotten a little carried away? Is there a chance we have lost sight of the question in the brief…

Ponder this – which is worse: re-reading the brief to know that you have driven down a different path than what was intended 10 days ago and reworking it now OR losing the pitch because you’re way off base….?

The more often the pitch lead re-reads the brief during the process the better – every few days, challenging each component in the response, also with new eyes looking at it fresh. As you get through each key stage seek out someone who doesn’t work on that client’s account, who hasn’t seen the pitch – they should have lots of questions that help keep you on track.

Is your response focussed on the client, the decision makers – take time to think like them, consider where they are in their business cycle; is it all about the numbers for them; are they conservative or progressive; do they prefer traditional or radical thinking; are they wanting to make their mark with leadership; what is the brief really trying to achieve?? If you aren’t sure – call the client – we all like to be involved; we like to think we are somewhat creative; but we don’t want to do your job for you – so be clear on what the client can help you with. Don’t give away the house, make sure that when the client turns up for the pitch they are intrigued; they are excited; there is some anticipation for what you and the team have come up with.

Answering the brief is fundamental, of course, but it’s a lot more than what’s on the 5-odd bits of paper you have been given. If you have a tissue session, or time with the client, use this time as part of your pitch. Do things differently than you have previously, shake things up so your client knows they are important to you. Make it personal, don’t send 8 people when 3 can deliver it best. If you are pitching on new business, then impress them with what you know about their business, remember – it’s not about you, you have the door open…don’t let it close on you on the way out.

Before you go into the pitch, take a step back with at least 24 hours to go and critique your solution – have we answered the brief?; if you were making the decision are you 100% confident you would choose your solution?; Have you aimed it fairly at the decision makers to suit their style and wants?; and, if you do not win the pitch what would you change – well, change that now!?!


NSW Business Chamber

This blog was also published by the NSW Business Chamber

Pitch strategy

Pitching can be like shooting fish in a barrel, or it can be like hunting with a “fundamental” vegetarian handling the spotlight – or a combination of both. It comes down to your product right? Well, that certainly plays a big part, if people want what you have to sell it should be easy, however, your pitch strategy can make or break the size of your success. Like all sales and marketing processes the way we pitch has evolved – in the eyes of your potential customer they should be an audience-of-one, no one really wants a generic pitch. Each of us are growing accustomed to having everything personalised to us, so this would only be amplified, the bigger the prize!

Before going to market it is prudent to spend time defining your strategy and setting deadlines for each phase. As the objective of each conversation with a potential client is to get to the next conversation with them and the decision makers in their business – a well considered approach will serve you well. At each of the stages ask the questions you really need to know:

  • What’s the percentage chance that this will be successful?

  • Which components do you love (and hate)?

  • How could we modify our offering to meet your objectives?

A fast no, is better than a long drawn out (and expensive) maybe.

The complexity and cost of your product or service will determine how much time and/or money you should invest in your pitch process. You may start the process with a phone call, or a teaser in the post, or a 15 minute coffee catch up – whichever you choose, but remember it’s all about the potential client, so personalise it.

Keep the discussion focussed – spend as little time as possible talking about you or what you’re trying to ‘sell’. Be succinct, pique their interest and be clear about how you think your product or service might help meet their objectives – aim to have them talking for two-thirds of the conversation. Plan out your questions, keep them open and be really focussed on what ‘keeps them up at night’, what are the core problems they need help solving, where are the gaps in their business that this solution may solve.

Remember, at each stage your objective is to get the next meeting, so be clear on what you want to achieve, what information you need and what will happen next.

Good luck!

They just didn’t get it!?!

Sometimes in a pitch there is a certain look that comes over a client’s face that you can’t quite put your finger on until the time when you sadly get the call to say that you didn’t win the pitch. That look, in hindsight, is one of confusion. Why didn’t they ‘get it’? Pitch teams often kick themselves after the presentation – it is all so clear where the problems or challenges with the pitch are once you’ve had some time rest and reflect.

So, why can’t you get this clarity before you pitch? Well, you can! You know those times when you nail it, when things aren’t frantic the day before the meeting, and when you don’t jump in the taxi with hot paper straight off the printer. You typically come out of these presentation saying to each other, well that was the best we could do, so if we don’t win the other teams had to have a better concept than us – and there’s not a lot you can do about that.

Maximising your preparation time comes down to processes and planning; it’s about focussing on what will really hit the spot with your client (personally to those in the room); and about taking your time to be clear about every minute of the presentation before you give it – not after it! The simplest articulation of what you are proposing is crucial – if I ‘get it’ you can add all the complexities in as we work through the project; if you try and tell me everything in the 1 hour session I will likely feel like I’ve been in a washing machine; rather than standing on a jumping castle getting excited ready to get started!