When Good Isn’t Good Enough

focus group image

I recently had a client say something very disturbing to me at the end of a creative review. He mentioned that he loved a specific idea that we had just presented. It was new, innovative and impactful. But then he said the following ‘my fear is that it won’t live past testing.’


If the work is connecting with the audience, is creating the type of behavior we desire and is differentiating in the category (and industry), why would it not live past research? His response: ‘people like what they’ve seen before, safe, easy to accept and non-confrontational.’ In short – work that’s good, yet comfortable.

I didn’t get in to advertising to do comfortable work.

The story I told him about another campaign is 100% true. I will leave out the names of the players – but I swear this is exactly how this played out.

The year was 2001. I was working on a large national business. We tested three campaigns all over the nation. Qual. Quant. Big cities. Small cities. I presented storyboards, animatics and scripts. After the research was over, it was clear there were two campaigns that could be produced and would do well in the marketplace. But with all research, there had to be one winner.

The research company recommended campaign A. The reasons were simple; people really liked it. It was consistently at the top in rank order of the campaigns. It was fun, easy to remember and said great things about the company and product. People felt it was ‘confident’ and ‘gutsy.’ Exactly what you want a campaign to be. As an agency, we did our homework and knew that we could create endless executions and that it would work across all audiences.

But campaign B also had good points. People couldn’t get it out of their head. It was sticky. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. But everyone remembered it. And the best part about it, people wanted to see more executions. But it also had some issues. People said that it only worked with a lot of executions. They would get tired of the individual executions quickly – which meant it would be costly to produce and maintain.

So the research company’s vote was solidly behind campaign A.

Where it got tricky was that the CMO and I both believed in campaign B. It was a bigger idea. I could be rolled out for years. And the best part, it differentiated the company from its competition better than campaign A.

So when we brought both campaigns to the CEO of the company, we recommended campaign B – even though the research said to produce the other work.

The CEO completely agreed.

In the meeting – the CMO said something that I will never forget, and I repeat time and time again. He said, “Research is only one data point. Our experience is a data point. Our common sense is a data point. The experience of our agency is a data point. And they all are important. But research isn’t the only data point. And people who make all their decisions based 100% on research will eventually fail. Because they’ll accept a good idea while overlooking potentially a great idea.”

Campaign B ran for over 10 years. We produced over 100 TV commercials, print, out-of-home, events and radio. The tagline is engraved in bronze on the Advertising Walk of Fame on Madison Avenue in New York City. It won countless awards. But most importantly, it proved to me that they only way to get to great – is not to settle for good.

Even when the data says that good is good enough.




You can learn a lot from a 30 minute coffee chat

About three months ago, I realized that I hadn’t spent as much time as I’d like with some of our creative team members.  So I decided to do something about it.  I decided to meet with everyone — over 250 people — over coffee for 30 minutes.  The questions were simple: what’s working?  What’s not working? What would you like to be doing more in 2018? What can I do to help?

coffee barI learned a lot (so far — I’m not finished).  The most important thing I learned was location is everything.  The first few meetings I held in my office — and they felt a little forced.  Not relaxed. Not free-flowing.  And that’s when I realized — I had to move the meeting from my office to a neutral location.  Coming to my office felt like you were being summoned to the Vice Principals office.  Something bad was coming. Everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That’s when I moved the meetings to the coffee bar. Yes, we have a coffee bar in our office. There are four high-top cafe tables. I’ve been having the meetings there — in full view of everyone in the office.  And magically, the conversations were loose. Fun.  Energetic. And dare I say, productive for everyone.

But most importantly, I’ve learned a lot.  And those learnings are setting multiple work streams in motion.  New agency projects have begun. New opportunities for team members have unfolded. And (hopefully) a more open line of communication between me and the rest of the group has emerged.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Everyone feels like they could be doing more. “Challenge me.” “Make me accountable.” “Let me take risks and fail.” “Help me learn by doing.” “Don’t assume that lack of experience means lack of ability.” These are the common requests I’ve been hearing. Virtually every person has said some variation of these words. “I can offer more. Put me to the test and I won’t let you down.” And the most important part — these requests are coming from people who are the busiest. Who are working the hardest. Who probably don’t really have the time to do more. But they’re willing to do more if it means more ownership.  I love this.  I love the concept of ownership and accountability.
  2. Everyone wants to be a part of the new business process. Pitching is incredibly hard work. But its also the one time when you can do work exactly like you want. You can create concepts without thinking about legal and regulatory approvals. You can just create great ideas. And everyone wants in.  Luckily, we can always use more help in new business. Welcome to the party.
  3. Everyone wants someone to go to when they’re stuck, have a question or just need something. This was an interesting comment.  One part mentoring program. One part ‘Genius Bar’. One part wise sage. I didn’t realize how many people just needed help with a lot of simple agency stuff.  These are ‘part time’ relationships. Not really long-term mentors. But someone they can turn to when they have a stupid question.  And I realized that realistically, that person can’t be me.

There are more micro-suggestions on how to make things better. I’ll save those for another day. But once I’ve finished meeting with everyone here, I plan on taking this on the road. Listening to people from our other network agencies. To colleges and universities around the nation on what students are looking for in a new career. And I plan on attending multiple conferences to hear some of the best and the brightest in the industry on how to make our working environment even better.  Our agency philosophy is ‘Never Finished.’  And when it comes to learning — that couldn’t be more true.

Thank you