Talk to Me About Failures & Mistakes

Often speaking to peers, friends and associates in the business, I get questions regarding what they should look for when selecting an agency or service affiliate. Of course this is a double-edged sword because a company only wants to show the best and brightest of their thinking and results. There is no tab on any website that says, "biggest disasters and how we overcame them," but I would damn sure click on it first if it was an option.


When teaching at the University of Central Florida, I often told my class that if they end up at an agency with a multimillion dollar client, and they fail to get positive results, then they suck at what they do. Why? Because if you have enough money to throw at a project, you can get positive results regardless of what you're selling.

That's not to say you can't prognosticate the future of your client's actions or responses, or speculate about what the agency after you will do with your creative output and conceptual directives. Nevertheless, if you have enough money to make anything happen and you fail to render results, the proof is in the pudding.

Much can be said for the failures and mistakes of any agency or service representative. How you bounce back from adversity, scope creep, bad press, technical failures etc., shows as much ability as an overzealously inflated analytics report. More often than not, however, there's as much or more creativity in the recovery from the dysfunctional campaign as there is in the creation of one that goes seamlessly.

Side note: No campaign ever goes seamlessly. And since no agency seeks out to destroy their client's reputation, the throughput from salvaging work and duress should give you a clear insight as to whether you should use this company or service.

A few tips on how to vet a prospective agency regarding past mistakes:

  • Can they give an example of a client for which they exceeded the budget of the campaign, and ways they retroactively created cost efficiencies?
  • Ask for examples of under-performing metrics. Ask them to cite examples of "why" the metrics underperformed. Then ask for what was done to optimize said campaign.
  • Seek referrals from former clients.
  • Ask them what they do at the end of a campaign regarding reporting, recommendations and optimization. Have them provide an example of the output that you will receive (previous client can be excluded for purposes of confidentiality).
  • Ask the agency what was the last thing that they pitched that they did not get selected for.

In the end, this is your client's brand, money and reputation. Although this level of due diligence is often uncomfortable, you may find your diamond in the rough if you can see past the answers and into the makeup of the agency in their attempts to correct problems.

Posted on April 3, 2014 and filed under Advertising, Strategy, Process.