Blog & News

The 5 Stages of Grief

By Tony Pearman, CEO and CCO

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance


It occurred to me recently how accurately these five stages, most often associated with death, also represent the feelings I process with the delivery of every request for proposal (RFP) that we receive at Access.

For those of you in the industry, please feel free to stop reading now, because you get it. RFPs are indeed a kind of death, a slow one. They are both a necessary evil and a blessing. They are the carrot and the stick. They beat us down and build us up. But the process of reading that RFP for the first time — and the emotions my team and I channel with our deliberations about accepting or passing on the opportunity — is similar.


This stage includes feelings of shock, numbness, and disbelief. When loss first comes, most of us have a hard time believing “this is really happening.”

Yep, that’s almost always the first take. For every extra five pages the RFP includes, please multiply the sense of denial by 10 percent. “This can’t be for real.” “Maybe I misread something.” “What textbook or website did they copy this from?”


I have ranted, I have raved. I have picked fights and baited peers, friends and colleagues during this phase. I have cussed; I have questioned the existence of a higher power. I have told our new business guy to throw the RFP away. I have refused to help, I have pouted. I have wondered how in the world anyone could truly expect us to do all that work for free — oh, and without disclosing a budget.


This is the stage where I try and convince my peers that we will respond to the RFP but proudly refuse to play by the rules. We will NOT do spec creative. We will tell them how amazing we are and trust they are smart enough to see us for the perfect and wonderful, delicate and unique snowflakes that we are. I give impassioned soliloquies detailing my 26 years of experience and how lucky they are to work with the amazing Access team. I rationalize that SURELY the client will see our value. All we need to do is like… maybe half the RFP?


Eventually grief will enter on a deeper level, bringing with it intense feelings of emptiness and sadness.

Then I calm down and I get sad. Sad I have not won the lottery yet. Sad that this process — one that is broken and imperfect, determines our business. One that wastes time and has killed more brain cells in advertising professionals than Scotch and Tequila combined. I mostly get sad because we are, at our core here at Access, a fiercely competitive and driven bunch. I get sad because I know we are going to respond. I understand why the clients feel forced to create RFPs and I sigh, and I move on.


The experience of “depression” is what leads to “acceptance.” Many people mistakenly believe that “acceptance” means we are “cured” or “all right” with the loss. But this isn’t the case at all. The loss will forever be a part of us, though we will feel it more some times than others.

Amen. I am never “OK” with the RFP process. I just accept it. And I move on.  And, with all this wailing and gnashing of teeth, we are so blessed here at Access. So lucky to have the clients we do. So thankful to be part of this mad show we call a business. So surprised by our 18 years in business. Bring on the RFPs and we’ll keep doing what we do — winning them. Not because we like your RFP, but because we cannot resist the challenge. But if you ever want to try a better way, just do your research and invite the best two agencies in your area to talk about your goals. If you can’t figure out in 35 minutes who you want to work with — then do an RFP. But you just might save yourself a lot of busy work, jumpstart your project and also earn the undying respect of your vendor, who will repay you with value, loyalty and respect.

And for anyone experiencing the loss of a loved one at this time, I am very sorry and I hope this was not misunderstood as trivializing what you are going through. I’ve been there.

Topics: Agency Life