The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Reputation Empowerment …
July 31, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

As an industry, we love to claim ‘one mistake’ means your carefully crafted reputation is over.

But is it true?

I don’t know …

What I do know is that it’s an argument that has encouraged an incredible amount of companies to adopt a ‘zero tolerance to risk’, even if in many cases, the risk they are being asked to consider is unbelievably negligible.

The real issue is defining ‘what is a mistake’.

For many, it’s anything that can cause a negative view of their company to occur … even if in reality, very few companies even register in people’s consciousness, let alone are front of mind.

While it’s true a major incident can have long lasting, negative effect … even then it doesn’t mean your reputation will be destroyed forever.

The reality is people make mistakes.

All people.

And companies are made up of people so it’s perfectly natural for it to happen – the issue is [1] why it happened and [2] what you do after it’s happened.

The reason I say this is because Dave Luhr – one of W+K’s ubermen – once said something to me that I think adland needs to remember:

“Every piece of new business lets you redefine who you are”.

He’s right.

As an industry, we like to categorise agencies into buckets of creativity that seemingly never change and yet the opportunity to ‘fuck the system’ is there each and every day.

FCB can – in theory – become the new W+K.

BBH can – in theory – become the new GREY.

It’s all for the taking … or the losing … and that’s why I think, as I wrote ages ago, why BBH & W+K are consistently good, because they know their reputation is built on sand and if they’re to maintain it, they have to keep pushing for greatness.

Sure, the longer you maintain a good – or bad – run, the stronger the opinion people will have of you, but the key thing here is that contrary to popular belief, it’s rarely a state of permanency [unless you’ve done something really, utterly shit/brill – but mainly shit] and so regardless of how good – or bad – you may think you, your agency, your client might be, you have the power to change it or maintain. The rest is down to you.

PS: Despite what you may think, this post was not brought to you by the Oprah self-help book club. Though it bloody well should be.

39 Comments so far
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BBH are owned by publicis so they may as well be grey now.

Comment by Billy Whizz

If your theory is right, how come you still go on about that fat bird I took home when there’s been loads of miss worlds in between. Hypocrite.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Watching them on the fashion channel doesn’t actually count Billy.

Comment by DH

Because you’re not Tommy Lee.

Comment by George

No, I’m the cooler, younger, better looking version. Just broke.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Don’t worry Billy, I’m sure the lady in questions friends tease her about going home with you.

Comment by Rob

This isn’t as good as the link Dodds posted yesterday.

Comment by DH

We all know I;ve never written something as good as that so there’s no point going on about it.

Comment by Rob

Way to give FCB employees false hope.

Comment by DH

I don’t think what you’re saying is entirely accurate Robert, a quick glance towards Gerald Ratner will prove that, but from a creative agency and client perspective, I agree wholeheartedly with you and Dave Luhr.
Every brief is an opportunity to reimagine but it requires the people throughout the approval process to also want that to happen. That or a financial imperative that forces new approaches to old problems.

Comment by George

Fair point George, after all there’s that famous line:

“I only shagged one sheep …”

The point about ‘financial imperatives’ is an interesting one because while what you say makes sense, I’m seeing more and more clients in that situation, shun the need to do something different and focus far more on pushing a rational argument – as if they think the reason people aren’t “buying into them” is a lack of comprehension as opposed to a lack of interest or relevance.

I guess the reason is that by acknowledging the need to do something different, they are acknowledging they have done something wrong – even if they haven’t and it’s just a case of the World changing/evolving.

As I’ve said many times, ego is a far bigger barrier to success than competition.

Comment by Rob

Isn’t this one of your “in theory, in practice” statements Rob?

In theory what you’re saying is right but in practice, the agencies/clients you’re talking about choose safety, process or media brainwashing over doing something more pragmatic and meaningful?

I agree with what you and Dave are saying, I just don’t think it’s something everyone will agree with you on.

PS) You make a lovely Oprah.

Comment by Pete

Could be Pete … and probably is to a certain extent … but as I said to George in his comment above, a lot of the issues stem from fear and ego rather than a genuine desire to help shareholders get their just rewards. Not always, but more often than people would probably like to admit to.

Comment by Rob

Ah the “people would probably like to admit it” argument. I haven’t found many people who want to admit ANYTHING. Most clients and agencies (we know who we’re talking about) wouldn’t run with a great idea if it gave them a three day head start. Risk aversion is a great strategy here.The Oprah vision is just plain scary!

Comment by Terry

Good comments by both George and Peter, but your point about needing to understand why something happened and what actions you take because of it are key to the effective management, and improvement, of your corporate reputation.

Enjoyable post Robert, though I doubt FCB will be worrying W+K anytime soon.

Comment by Lee Hill

It’s true what you say about BBH’s (and W+K’s) understanding that one’s reputation is built on sand, which breeds a relentless pushing for greatness in the organisation.

As Nigel Bogle eloquently puts it: “Big is a collection of smalls.” So true when it comes to reputation.

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

You do realise ‘smalls’ is a euphamism for underwear don’t you Freddie. Are you saying Mr Bogle is a closet perv or am I lowering the standard again?

Comment by Rob

I needn’t answer that Rob.

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

Good idea Freddie, now Mr B has all those Publicis millions, you don’t want to get drawn into a lengthy and costly legal battle.

Comment by Rob

Great put down Fred

Comment by northern

by far the smartest thing you ever said.
p.s. oprah may be the new worlds worst talk show host especially after the indescribably bad show on india.

Comment by swati

The smartest thing I’ve said? That I’ve EVER said? To be honest, I have to disagree with you because without doubt the smartest thing I’ve ever actually uttered was “Will you marry me?” to my wife.

Unfortunately for her, she repiled with the most stupid thing she ever said. “Yes”.

Comment by Rob

in my attempt to compliment i have failed…
i dont know how to give a compliment and you clearly do not know how to take one…
so i agree…this is NOT the smartest thing that you have ever said…
the fact remains the simple point that you have made here about how to view mistakes and handle them is refreshing…to much time is spent by individuals and companies focussing on how to avoid mistakes when they are bound to commit them…
to focus on not making a mistake is futile…so what you said above is really rather good…

Comment by swati

Whatever either of us is trying to say, it’s nice to have you back and commenting and I hope all is tops.

Comment by Rob

I hope my wife sees this, it might be the first genuinely romantic thing I’ve ever done for her. Ha.

Comment by Rob

What about the amount of time you stay away from home?

Comment by John

Nice John. Very nice.

Comment by Rob

So you’re a planner suggesting that crap firms can turn themselves around with a better strategy? Shit the bed.

So is DFS a crap firm pushing a better strategy, or a great firm jumping off a cliff?

Comment by Tim Burley (@timburley)

I suffered some of the worst moments of my career working on DFS and what really wound me up was the fact it was a great firm that just needed to tell the truth about itself.
I’ve seen this ad at least 20 times before, from who I used to work for, from agencies doing ‘speculative work’, thank God it’s finally been made. Although it bugs me that Weetablix an John Lewis have done this kind of thing much better in the meantime while this company recline on it’s chaise longue trotting out the word sale in as many ways as it could
This film is sweet though and reminds me of my little boy, but that’s just me.
While I’m at it, it really pisses me off that the poor bastards who worked on DFS under twat Kirkham (who threw a chair at me when I told him people shopped at DFs becasue they had, not because they wanted to) got lumped with his dinosaur approach when they, truly, tried to push him all the time. Naturally, the solution was to take it to London, do the obvious and much needed thing and justify with research that uncovered the blindingly obvious. Just shows that your fate can be changed overnight, but you have to want it to happen

Comment by northern

Was it a DFS chair?

Comment by John

If it was that obvious, surely more agencies and clients would take action in accordance with what Robert says in this post.
I believe this is much more than just adopting a better strategy, it is about setting and executing better objectives. Too many hide behind the promise of “the strategy” when people act and react to the actions that come from it.
Good post Robert, it caused a proper debate for once, undoubtedly helped along by the absence of Mr Boucher.

Comment by George

Oh no George, I’m not saying at all that doing the right thing is obvious, I am saying that in this case, the DFS strategy is not a Damascene epiphaney, it’s something that’s been proposed many times, it’s just this was the right time and the research to back it up is mere common sense.

Comment by northern

I was responding to Tim’s comment.
It should also be said there is a high possibility that DFS was one of the reasons I decided to leave England.

Comment by George

Yes I am Tim … though not through better strategy [though that obviously helps], but by doing better stuff.

Obviously, as you point out, that’s an obvious thing to say, but my point is I work in an industry that likes to pretend/claim ‘one mistake’ and your reputation is tarnished forever, which apart from being utterly bollocks is the reason why so many companies are either too frightened to do anything new incase they fuck it up [“better the devil you know”] or seemingly accept their lot in life even though they have the power to change it with relative ease [which is why I think BBH & W+K are so good because they know it could all go in a second]

Comment by Rob

Yes, people make mistakes but the hypocrisy of all of us is that when we’re the “victim” we often forget that and go ballistic about somethign quite trivial – witness the amazing sense of entitlement to perfect products and customer service that is regular revealed via Twitter and other social media.

This doesn’t excuse shoddy service in any way, but I wish people would complain positively i.e. in a way that might lead to actual change rather than the abuse of a lowly paid staff member by people whose own work performance is a stranger to perfection or anything close.

While it may not apply to advertising campaigns, I do think people notice screw-ups more than they do good service – hence my tendency to urge businesses to eliminate mistakes rather than follow the latest new thing unthinkingly. I think that is a profitable approach to take but, as you say, it musn’t be onfused with risk aversion. The trick is to combine the two.

Comment by John

Great points John. I used to hate when companies talked about ‘best practice’ because quite frankly, none of them really meant it or did it. Instead I used to talk to them about adopting a stance of ‘minimum practice’ … which basically meant identifying the fundamental elements people expect and doing that brilliantly rather than aiming higher with a half hearted attitude that often ended up doing everyone harm.

Comment by Rob

I like that – set a minimum acceptable threshold that’s actually quite high and then build in the freedom to rise above it (see

Comment by John

To really mess with Rob’s mind, I actually know a Planner who was ON the Oprah self help book club programme thingummyjig…

Comment by gemma

I agree in general with the idea, and it’s the lack of fear of failure that makes places like W+K and BBH so great. Better to fail with a great idea than win with a shit one.

Sadly though sometimes people aren’t damaged enough by reputation. By all reasonable ethical thoughts Chris Brown should not have a pop career anymore. Sadly someone thinks differently and now hundreds of women defend a talentless nasty woman beater just because he is famous.

Comment by Rob Mortimer (Not a fake Andy)

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