Carrie Isabell | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Carrie Isabell

Background:  

The Roy Rogers chain, named after the cowboy movie star, operates 54 restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic region. The company opened six new locations in 2016, with more set to open this year. The Plamondon Companies, based in Frederick, Md., purchased the chain in 1998 and continue to expand the business.

The Mistake:

I didn’t follow my instinct to make a proactive move with a client relationship while at a previous job.

I was a few years into my career in account management for a mid-size ad agency in Ohio. I managed numerous clients, and one of my client accounts was a retail grocery service. The client was a new win for our agency, and our team was charged with expanding the brand’s presence and their growth.

Our team was off to a great start with the client, and the client was great to work with. We spent time learning about the business, conducted consumer research and started creating great campaigns.

The first six to seven months were great. The business was experiencing sales growth, and when a client is seeing growth everyone’s happy. The client was pleased with the agency and vice versa.

But about nine months into the relationship the client’s leadership started to change. New leadership can be a positive thing, or sometimes they shake things up and want to make their stamp and make their presence known, and that’s what happened with some of the client’s newer members.

We had a creative director who was doing all of our writing, creating the voice for our client’s consumer. They just weren’t getting the voice right, to the point that sometimes the communication was coming off as semi-offensive to the client, especially the new leadership team. The client would make several comments, then I would go back to that creative director and give feedback, but he wasn’t getting it.

About three months after the new leadership team came on board that client put our agency up for review. For me that was a pivotal moment. I remember thinking, “This is serious now; they’re going to fire us as their agency.” I felt like at that moment I had to grow up quickly as a business professional. I decided I’m not going to give up without a fight, I’ll show you what we can do, and our team rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We worked late nights, and sometimes watched the sun set and rise before we left the office. We went up against two other agencies and lost in the first round. The agency lost that business, as well as a couple other big accounts, and a few of us lost our jobs, myself included.

Reflecting back, I wished that I had requested a new creative director to come on board sooner. We allowed the person to work it out and stick it out. But once the account went out for review we had to bring in different people, and that’s one thing I should have requested a lot sooner.

I’ve always said this, professionally and personally, that your gut rarely lies to you.

The Lesson:

I’ve always said this, professionally and personally, that your gut rarely lies to you. When something doesn’t feel right, you should really go with that from the very beginning. Sometimes you can take a chance on it, but in that situation my gut told me pretty early on. If the creative team’s copy is coming across as offensive to me, if it’s just not relating to the product or even to the consumer who’s purchasing that product, then you have to speak up sooner rather than later to say, “Hey, this is definitely not the right voice.”

I’d read something and think, I know the client isn’t going to like this, but creative people can push back. They’d say, “I think we can present it, it’s not as harmful, maybe you’re overthinking it.” I wasn’t overthinking it, I wish I had gone with my gut then.

After losing that account I felt horrible and beat myself up for a while. I was warned there would be cuts at the agency, so I wasn’t blindsided by losing that role, and I landed on my feet pretty quickly. The good thing was having conversations with several people at the agency, including the team members that I worked with, after the fact.

Looking back, there are mistakes that you can learn from. Instead of failure, think of it as a fail up mentality, and having a fresh start where you land next.

Roy Rogers Restaurants is on Twitter at @RoysRestaurants.

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