B&T: Opinion: Trust me. I work in Advertising.

Making promises you can’t keep is a recipe for adland failure, but it doesn’t have to be that way says Common Ventures’ James Crawley.

When I was seven years old, a kid with a bowl-cut called Glen spat in his hand and thrust it towards me. It was the start of a long friendship.

Glen had just convinced me to lend him my remote control car – and with that soggy handshake he promised to bring it back the very next day. Somewhat reluctantly I complied – as you can probably imagine, this was a big deal for a seven year-old bogan boy in rural Victoria.

I spent a fitful night dreaming of the atrocities Glen was surely committing with my six-wheeled Scorcher. Would he drop it in the bath? Feed it to a horse? Would he even bring it back at all?

Glen had made me a promise – and I wasn’t sure he was good for it.

Being able to keep a promise is the single most impressive trait in adland. And it’s really hard to do. Why? Because being known as someone who is ‘good’ at promises is about as sexy as having a collection of corduroy hats. In an industry that’s obsessed with personal brand – it’s much easier to be known as a ‘legend’ who can party for 36 hours straight or eat an entire tub of coleslaw, than it is to be known as a good promise keeper.

Simply put – we’re blinded by the sexy bits. And who can blame us? All the awards, the tattoos and bravado – all of that stuff is fun. Unfortunately it’s all completely useless if we can’t do what we say we will. Keeping promises shouldn’t be a nice-to-have. Having a solid pinky promise should be the price of entry for adland.

As with every molehill, it starts small. How many times have you been on the receiving end of phrases like “I’ll send through those documents when I’m back at my desk” or “You’ll get the first draft by tomorrow morning”. These are the gateway drugs of promise breaking. Get used to them and you’ll be mainlining the hard stuff before you know it.

This is a really basic problem, though not to say it’s easy to fix. While I don’t have all the answers, here are a few key things I’ve learnt from other awesome humans who happen to work in advertising:

It’s OK if you can’t deliver on a promise – just say so

“Clients know there’s a fundamental relationship between risk and reward. And it’s on this basis we give our advice and they take it. To pretend we’re always certain or to tell porkies is to ensure we prang and lose all credibility.”
- Mark Sareff, chief strategy officer, Ogilvy Australia

Be OK with saying no

“Having the balls to NOT promise something goes against your instinct when you’re in the business of serving clients – but it’s what set Klick up for success and guides us today. I don’t make promises I can’t keep – and I’m very happy to say no to opportunities that aren’t right.”
- Kim McKay, director and founder of Klick Communications

 Don’t let growth kill relationships

“The challenge I see facing agencies is being able to deliver on promises once the shine of a new project, pitch or client has worn off. A lot of energy is put into making promises in pitches – but the real talent is keeping an old relationship healthy. The key to this is very simple: consistency.”
- Michael Schreiber, CEO, Strike Entertainment & Sky Zone

Don’t blow your load so early

“We’re all guilty of this one. Promising people things feels great – it’s like the work is already done. Just remember that every promise you break leaves twice as bad an impression than if nothing was ever promised in the first place.”
- Brian Merrifield, creative director, Common Ventures

Failing any of the above, take a mucus-clogged leaf out of Glen’s book; he brought back my remote control car the very next day. Not only was it in perfect working order – he even gifted me four fresh AAs.

Article from B&T