A Mistake Is not Necessarily a Failure

Rather, It's a Chance to Grow

By Published on .

Sally Hogshead recently interviewed me for her Naked Career podcast.

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Since Sally's questions were about experiences over my career, she gave me cause for reflection. How quickly time has passed. As much as I've learned, I realize how much more there is to learn. I guess that's why I still get up every morning wanting to do ads. I know my best work is still in front of me.

Sally asked about mistakes that I've made. Go listen to her podcast to hear my answer, but the question got me thinking about the goodness in mistakes. Mistakes are needed to improve ourselves.

Most of us know that flu shots change each year partly because the flu bug becomes resistant to the same formula. Apply that logic to advertising. People get pretty immune to what we do when it remains the same. We have to change the formula if we want efficacy. Failure is simply a part of that process. Do you have a place for mistakes in your marketing plan? Are you ready to adjust for a slight miscalculation? Can you move quickly? Do you share the reality of failure with your clients? The more yeses you have to these questions, the more likely you are going to succeed where others fail.

Thomas Edison had over 1,500 "mistakes" in trying to invent the light bulb. But he didn't see his failures as mistakes. Edison said, "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." Notice he said failures are people and not what they were doing. The only mistake is to give up.

I think 99% of advertising has been done to death. Ideas that are old and worn are presented over and over to clients, and clients buy them because they feel familiar and safe. If I'm not making a client nervous with the work we do for them, I'm not doing my job. The greatest experience I've had in this business was when a client told me that they were afraid of the work when we presented, but now that it's done, they're glad we recommended it.

Giving the client the tried and true is as dangerous (if not more dangerous) than bringing the client something new. What happens when the client hits a challenge? Maybe its market changes, or a new competitor comes on the scene and it doesn't have the brand strength its agency should be providing. It's standing there naked and invisible because its advertising didn't try to break the mold. Sure it's risky to push a client out of its comfort zone, but once a client is in trouble it doesn't remember you were being amenable, its just sees that you didn't prepare it for the challenge. So the client fires you and hires an agency with a proven track record in the innovation game. We've all seen it happen.

The best clients are the ones looking for innovation. It can be easy for we small agencies to see our opportunities as limited, but if we're not willing to put it out there and make a few mistakes, the best clients will never give us a chance. Every great agency succeeded by embracing the risk of failure. We can't fear our mistakes if we want to join their ranks.
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