Matt Doud | Crain's Baltimore

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

Matt Doud

Background:  

Planit, based in Baltimore, is a 22-year-old advertising, marketing and public relations agency with clients including Sheetz, Kleenex Facial Cleansing, Marriott International, Dunbar Armored, Dick’s Sporting Goods, DeWalt, Heavy Seas Beer and Barclays.

The Mistake:

One of our biggest mistakes early on was trying to please everybody all the time, trying to win people over by almost blindly agreeing, just to get to the next step.

As with any service company, things like maintaining good relationships with existing clients and building relationships with new clients were a huge part of getting started. But trying too hard to please hurts everybody in the long run.

Clients hire agencies to fill a void that they have in some manner or fashion: Help me do something we can’t do ourselves, whether that’s launch a new product, help us build our brand, help figure out our messaging. Whatever it is, agencies need to be a partner with clients.

We’ve got to do the thing that’s right to get the right message in front of the right person at the right time. And when you’re young and trying so hard to please, sometimes the client has bad direction or has maybe not the best idea or has expectations that are just not reasonable in terms of deadlines or response rates or return on investment.

I recall one specific mistake early on. When social media was still very new, clients came to Planit demanding to have a presence on every channel. At the time it seemed right to recommend clients be on the top four: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

The mistake was going along with client requests to jump on the latest trend in marketing. So we were building out social channels for clients who didn’t necessarily need them. We would build out creative on-brand profiles and content for each.

As these new medium evolved and came into their own distinct platforms, we quickly realized there was rarely relevant content to say for each client on every social media channel. Some brands resonate well on Facebook, for example, but not as much on LinkedIn.

With marketing, things change all the time, and sometimes letting the client dictate the channels isn’t always in their best interest.

If we’re going to be the experts in the room, we need to stand by our convictions.

The Lesson:

I think the greatest lesson is we’re hired to be the experts in the room, and if we’re going to be the experts in the room, we need to stand by our convictions and stand by the expectations we set for the campaign so we can stand by the results.

We live in a results-driven industry, and the best agencies grow clients’ businesses, so we need to be able to set clear expectations early and deliver on those expectations. If we’re not confident enough to say no or challenge our clients to do things a better way, then we’re not worth a relationship. Nine times out of 10, if you don’t meet the expectations of the client, you’re done. It’s one and done.

And if the results are bad because we did something someone else told us, then we’re just hacks. So if you really want to build relationships and really want to build a longstanding, committed client base, you have to deliver on the promise. If you do what you’re told instead of doing what you know is right, you’ll never deliver on the promise.

So the lesson for us, whether we’re working with our co-workers or with our clients, is be great at your job first, and do what people need you to do first. Then all the other things will fall into place. We preach this at Planit.

If you’re the guy who makes promises he can’t keep or is a yes-man, you’re going to fail here. You’re certainly going to fail at trying to be everybody’s friend. But first, you’re going to fail at the job and be out of here.

So our message to employees is we need experts. The lesson is set clear expectations and stand by your convictions. Otherwise, we can hire a maid or an order taker.

Matt Doud is on Twitter at @mattdoud and Planit is at @planit.

Photo courtesy of Matt Doud.

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