Approval and “Mistakes”

by Bill Purdin

In an advertising agency setting, the only real mistake is one that is actually published. Back and forths with the client have a sort of client/agency confidentiality protection, with amnesty. If it stays in the relationship, then no harm, no foul. If it goes out wrong, that’s another issue altogether.

For example, we recently did a rough draft of a 331-word press release for a new client and made some mistakes in how long a person was with the company and how long this person had lived in the state. For the new client it looked catastrophic and they flipped out. This reaction was primarily because the agency/client process was new to them and also they did not actually read the attached email which clearly stated that this firs pass was a rough for review. (And it said it twice.) They thought it was a final, done deal. Hence the freakout. However, on this project, we were hired to draft a release that would get attention at various publications, websites, trades shows and trade journals. That is, we were hired to come up with an approach, a copy angle that the various editors might find interesting. At the first pass level, THAT was the issue, not that we had every detail and every word correct. The original, client-supplied material, said that the employee had 10 years of experience in the industry; our first draft assigned her as having 15 years with the company. We also stated she was a native of the state, which was later corrected that to read a “resident” of the state. No harm, no foul. Routine.

The overall theme and drift of the release was never questioned. Just the small details that were easily and routinely corrected prior to publication. However, our contact on this project actually ridiculed us for getting minor facts wrong. When we said it was a “review copy” he accused us of avoiding responsibility. When I again pointed out that our original email clearly stated twice that it was actually a review copy, he grudgingly admitted that the “review” statement was there, in “the fine print,”(24 point, bold) but went on disparaging our agency practices anyway. I could have pointed out that this is our normal process: rough draft–client review–changes–final draft–approval–publication. I could have said that almost every project goes through a correction or two, sometimes more. I could have told him that by playing this “gotcha” game he had damaged the relationship, increased the costs of the release unnecessarily, and dampened our future creative efforts by introducing such an unfortunate lack of trust in a routine matter.

But actually I said nothing. I tried to respond to keep things moving ahead positively, and hoped that, as the project reached its conclusion, the client would see that our proven process of ready–aim–fire protects both agency and client from errors in the end. Dealing with anxiety, gotcha games, and inexperience about working with a quality advertising agency are all part of changing a new client into a great client. It doesn’t always work out, but it is a process, sometimes longer in some cases than others.  As an advertising agency with 17,900 projects and 35 years of experience, we have seen it all and we have seem them all.

As they say in golf, “Many a great round begins with a double bogey.” Sometimes these things deepen the reationship with understanding. But sometimes, in golf, a bad player does stomp off the course after throwing his clubs in the pond. It happens. The rest of the foursome generally plays on, perhaps remembering that golf, like life and advertising, is a game of next shots.

Once we completed the project and the good results were tabulated, we resigned the account. But, he was probably going to fire us anyway.


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