Sometimes the Answer “No” Is Best

Today, for the first time ever, I had to refuse a request at work. It’s been a long time coming, and I’ve certainly had some questionable requests in the past, but this was the first one that I had to flat out say “no”.

Friday Night Digital Marketing Strategies

It’s a strange feeling to be asked to put together a $100k strategy on a Friday afternoon (into late evening to be honest). After proposing to rewrite search ads, build prospecting campaigns on YouTube and Facebook, and retargeting campaigns on Facebook and the GDN, and calculating the approximate CPA of each channel and overall strategy, it felt rushed, but decent for an evening’s work. It felt more strange then, to get to work on Monday and the company owner (who has no digital marketing experience) says the figures aren’t right. I thought that was odd, since I took them directly from the platform. He’s recalculated them using his self-made data tool (which is often found to be incorrect), and he suggests to just spend $100k on Facebook ads, because leads are cheapest there. It’s hard to argue with that, right?

On the other hand, if I was paying a digital marketing agency $50k a month and asked them to build a strategy to promote my international sale and they just said “spend $100k on Facebook lead gen ads” I would assume somebody had pressed Send by accident.

So I pushed back as much as I could, highlighting the ridiculousness of his proposal, but all I achieved was a slight tweak to allow spending 20% of the budget “on Google”. To be honest, I was not happy, but I thought, I’m sure I can make something work here. I was asked to make sure I was aligned with the new strategy, and make any changes needed to make it work. But when I opened up the brief, it became apparent, I was not going to be able to make something work here after all.

Somehow, the owner, who has directed many companies, has calculated that despite conversion rate from lead to sale being 4% before COVID, it will be 10% now in this campaign. Also, cost per lead will remain the same as it currently is on Facebook ads, despite spending 1000% more than we usually spend. Oh also, we’re talking about travel, so… conversion rates aren’t great at the moment. This all felt like a bit of a stretch. In fact, it felt like it wasn’t really something I was happy to support at all.

I’d recently got feedback from another member of another team, who told me that he had heard I wasn’t easy to work with. When I’d asked for further clarification, it turned out that people found it annoying I didn’t just say “yes” enough. It’s an odd criticism of a strategist, who in my mind, should question everything, and suggest the best solution. I mean, if you just wanted someone to say yes, interns come a lot cheaper. I’m more of a “yes, but” person.

So I considered my clients, my team and what I was being asked to do, and… just said “No. I’m not happy to put my name to that document.” It would be deceiving to our clients to forecast these results for the campaign. It would be doing ourselves a disservice to try and hit these numbers and fail. And it goes against what I believe I’ve been hired to do by the agency, and what I’m expected to do by the client. We’ll see if the campaign still launches, and if it does, I hope it does well. Just not with my name on it. I guess it turns out I have more integrity than I’d realised.

Integrity. The choice between what’s convenient and what’s right.

Tony Dungy

That was a few hours ago. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Either way, life is epic, stories like this are the type two fun that you really learn from, and owners that don’t listen to their own directors inspire me to be a better leader myself.

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