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There are times within agency life that you celebrate great wins. Some small, almost insignificant creative directions that get approved, and others, like a successful account pitch, that cause actual industry ripples and even jobs. But along with these wins come inevitable fails. Reverts upon reverts that hurt the soul and quash creative juices, and big campaign ideas that are squashed – when all you saw was a technicolour winner on a mile-wide billboard. There are many reasons why the latter happens. I’m not going to go down the road of client finger pointing, nor will I look at the failings of the agency.

For this exercise, I’m going to assume that the client was well-meaning in their opinion and the agency did in fact do the best possible job they could have – that plenty of thought was put in, hours of creative work crafted, many discussions and multiple team de-briefs were had… and lots of coffee was consumed. Therefore, I’m going to lead with the cause being outside of one’s control, since the very nature of an idea or initial creative can be subjective. It’s hard to take, but it’s true that design comps or writing or even the strategy and shared rollout may not always hit the bulls-eye

Below is a well-constructed graph. I made it myself. It’s how a creative team feels after one such event.

So when a piece of work is rejected or a campaign is discarded – and, in the client’s eyes, is a fail – how does one move forward? The pointers below are some ways in which I think teams (and individuals) climb back up…

After a loss:

  1. Go away and evaluate. Could I have improved upon anything? Would the execution be any different if I could go back two weeks and do it over?
  2. Then (ideally) after a good night’s rest, evaluate things together as a team. Did anyone drop the ball? Was the brief correct? Was the idea strong enough?
  3. Manage the client; they will probably be equally upset by the result. Talk to them. Pick up the phone and discuss what happened and reassure them that it’s not the end.
  4. Take a couple of days off from the project and work on other business. Busy yourself and get away from the previous creative and set of ideas.
  5. Lastly, know that you are not defined by one piece of work. Not every project will be applauded or win you an award.

After that, get back to the job at hand. Perhaps some fresh eyes or perspective are needed. My advice would be for the same team to pick up and go again. You never know – it may just “trump” the former favourite, perceived winner.

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