CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/COMING SECOND IN A PITCH - Second in a pitch doesn't mean the account is lost, Francesca Newland writes

Believe it or not, coming second in a pitch is not always a bad thing.

Last week Leith London picked up the Goodfellas pizza account. The £3 million assignment is particularly familiar to the agency - which lost out in a pitch for the brief with Partners BDDH a year ago.

Partners has since delivered a successful TV campaign, but, crucially, its key ally in the marketing department has moved on, lending weight to Leith London's original allies.

As Jeremy Pyne, the managing director of Leith London, explains: "Clients say it's very hard making a decision at the end of a pitch, and it can be. It's not surprising because most agencies are good and there are no right or wrong answers to a client's briefs."

But Goodfellas is not the only example of this phenomenon. Earlier this year Strawberry Frog picked up Cap Gemini's business having unsuccessfully pitched against D'Arcy for it in 2001.

Mustoe Merriman Levy, having got on well with the client in the Fish4 pitch, is now working on projects for the brand, although Publicis won the initial pitch, and still holds the bulk of the business.

Partners may have lost its Goodfellas business this week, but it has also been on the receiving end of this phenomenon. It pitched for bmi, and nearly won the business, twice. When bmi launched its budget brand, bmi baby, it handed the £5 million business to Partners without a pitch.

Neil Christie, the marketing director of Partners, says the bmi pitch that Bartle Bogle Hegarty won was such a closely run thing that there's a story going round that it was actually the state of Partners' grotty toilets that swung it. He's quick to point out that they've since been cleaned up.

Damian Horner, the business development director at MML, thinks it's all about chemistry. He says: "There's no more intense period with a client than a pitch. It is easy to get hurt when you don't win, but it would be a waste not to build on a relationship."

He believes that a client may hand an account to an agency on the basis of a promise it was unable to deliver. Coming second in such an instance is a distinct advantage.

The trend for marketing personnel to move from company to company is growing, making it vital to capitalise on the access to clients that a pitch presents.

As Jeremy Miles, the chairman of Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, says: "As long as you are proud of the presentation, I do not believe in the maxim that there are no prizes in coming second. The reason being that hopefully you've impressed the client and that you'll get another shot at something at a later date."

Indeed, smart agency people use their influence with clients to find jobs for other clients who have lost their jobs. Horner says: "This is a small, incestuous business. We sometimes are asked to recommend people to clients looking for a marketing director."

So the good news is that being second-best is not necessarily a bad thing.

The bad news is that, given the fluidity of the client community, agencies can never afford to tell a client where to shove his or her nonsensical brief.