It’s Steve writing this post. I’ve been running This Side Up for a while now, and wanted to share a story with you about something that happened over the Christmas/New Year period. And how a tool that we use, called Nodd, literally saved our bacon! The quick version goes like this:
- An exciting new project comes along with a big budget. Yay!
- There are lots of moving parts (lots that can go wrong – we need to be organised!)
- Everything runs smoothly and are ready to push “GO”. Excellent!
- I head off on holiday but something in the back of my mind makes me login and check our approvals tool – Nodd
- OH SH*T!!!
- A key client approval is not in place. We were about to spend $25k on media that was not signed off. Arrrgghhhhh
- Phew. Disaster averted (and a happy ending for everyone). Pop the champers!
When people are busy and you are running lots of projects at once it is so easy to trust those on the fly phone calls and quick-fire emails. But in a busy modern business, that’s no longer enough. It’s why we use Nodd.
If any of this sounds kind of familiar, I suggest you read the full story below! …
How Nodd Helped Save Our Kiwi Bacon:
Now if I’m being completely honest, it was close to being a bit of a disaster. An unhappy client with a significant media overspend. Egg on everyone’s face with no-one really to blame. Our fault, their fault, doesn’t really matter, it would have been a mess and ultimately we would have lost the trust of one of our best clients. Even if it wasn’t our fault, we’re the agency, we’re responsible and be made to be accountable, we’d cop the blame, and you could hardly blame the client, could you? The marketing manager is a great person, heart in the right place, and it would have made him look bad, which certainly would not have gone down too well, and at the end of the day the management team would have been asking questions about how it had unfolded.
There’s always two sides to every story. I’m going to tell ours, and I’ll share what I think is a fair representation from the client’s perspective as well.
As a digital marketing agency you get used to working under pressure. Last minute client requests, scope changes, failing to receive everything you need early enough to ensure a stress-free implementation with plenty of time for testing before going live, Friday night campaign builds when you should be having a drink with colleagues at the end of your busy week. I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this you know what I’m talking about, Willis.
“We’re running a new brand campaign in January”. Those exact words from the marketing manager in October 2018. Exciting, our client had gone through a lot of brand work over previous months, we’d seen all the new collateral and the new TV commercial as well. Fresh, engaging, all good stuff and we were excited to be asked to put together a digital media strategy for rolling out the new brand story to align with other media channels.
So we did. We ran a good discovery and planning workshop, worked closely with the marketing manager and the other ad agency, and got everything aligned and looking swish. Everyone heading in the right direction for a 1st Jan 2019 activation. Tricky time that though, everyone on Christmas/New Year holidays, pressure to get everything completed well in advance before we all break for Christmas, so come 31st December we could all be sipping (or sculling) champagne on New Years’s eve knowing we had everything sorted.
Didn’t quite turn out like that though. Surprised? Probably not. It’s Friday the 21st December and a bunch of critical digital assets had still not been provided to us. What you say savage?
Two-thirds of our team had already left for scheduled holidays and were headed off-grid for some well-deserved time out. The client’s marketing manager all finished up for the year as well and on a plane heading south, but still in contact trying to push the final creative through so they could relax knowing that everything was in our hands.
Meanwhile, we’d done everything we could with everything we had; social media campaigns, programmatic advertising campaigns, paid search campaigns across Google, Bing, Youtube and video plus some nice native advertising to boot. For the new brand campaign, we’d created new campaign lines so we could control budgets separately to the ‘always on’ campaigns that we run each month for various promotions. We’d also stepped it up a notch this time with some beautiful HTML5 brand ads as well to get more engagement with the creative across Google and other programmatic advertising channels (mainly across KPEX, such NZ Herald and Stuff etc). Where we hadn’t received creative we had some placeholders in the meantime until we had everything we needed.
This brand launch was a big deal. A truck load of money was being thrown at the digital component as well as all the above-the-line, and we needed to get it right. A lot was resting on this, including the reputation of the marketing manager, but not just him, everyone else that had been involved during the process. Significant six-figure media sums were being invested across Jan/Feb and we needed to make sure this was going to roll out as planned. Easy, tiger.
But something didn’t feel right, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. We didn’t have all the assets we needed (which I knew), and nearly everyone had left for the year, so suddenly it was all resting on us/me to make sure it had all been set up correctly. I went back through all the project notes to make sure we had everything we needed, checked all the creative in the files etc. But I was feeling a bit vulnerable. It had been over three months work putting this whole campaign together, all the different parties, creatives, meetings, emails etc, and I was suddenly feeling like I didn’t have my finger on the pulse with what was the final plan. There had been so many changes and delays on various components, so I started looking for where my team had got final sign-offs on plans and budgets so I could sleep easy.
We use some pretty robust project management software and the team always cc’s their emails there, but there were hundreds of them to look through so I didn’t spend much time looking through all of that. Nearly all the tasks for the project had been ticked off, with only a few left subject to receiving final assets, so it looked up to date which was good.
We also use an approval software tool called Nodd (see Nodd.com), for the most critical, ‘big ticket’ items that need sign off in a project, so I took a look in there to see what had been approved. The last approval request had been sent on 17th December by one of our digital managers, and it had been sent to the marketing manager. See here below (names have been blurred out for confidentiality):
You can see that the marketing manager had been sent the approval request, but had not responded to it. So, at this point in the project, with so much on the line, there was no actual final approval on what was going live, aka f**ing dangerous territory! I was not aware of this, I don’t micro-manage my team, but this was a unique situation where I had to step in to assist over the holidays. And up until this point, I thought everything had been approved by the client, he was off on holiday now so why would I have thought otherwise?
So I ‘nudged’ the marketing manager on the 24th of December (Christmas Eve!) to remind him that we were awaiting his final approval (which is a nice way of following up, think ‘friendly poke’ on Facebook).
What do you think happened? The final campaign plan, in all it’s glory, was … declined!!
Wtf? We’re talking a huge chunk of money and work here, with us booking and planning a lot of media, and what we had been working to was not approved?
In the interest of speed (and the smartest thing to do), I went old school and phoned the marketing manager (I even used a landline). He explained that there was no additional budget for the brand campaign like previously thought, and that all the new brand creative was all to be absorbed in the budgets within the other business product verticals, and that accordingly, we had to update the media plan which was why he rejected the approval request. During all of the conversations in the past 3 months, somehow, there had been a breakdown in communication over the $25K budget for the new brand component of the digital advertising, or had there? You can look back now and wonder how that happened, and we have, but at the end of the day these things do happen, and sometimes with all the focus on strategy and creative, the very basics can be overlooked. Such as finalising how much cash are you throwing at this?
We’re talking $25K of media that we were going to spend, that had not been formally approved. I couldn’t find a specific record of this figure anywhere having actually been approved, but I know that was the figure that had been brought up in a few meetings I had attended, and it was in the media plan we created and had requested sign off. I don’t know where you sit on the spectrum, but even if you’re Sir Richard Branson, $25K is a fair bit of moo-laa to lose at the pokies.
The team had done everything right and sent a final request to get the go-live plan approved, but we hadn’t received the final approval from the client. Then, of course, people started heading off on holiday. We had built everything based on the assumption that the budget that had been discussed in a meeting from a couple of months back was going to be approved, as we’d not had any communications to think otherwise.
So based on my phone call I updated the media plan – verticals, media, channels, assets, landing pages, tags, budgets, dates etc, all there, and I sent the updated approval request to the marketing manager via the Nodd app. And less than 5 minutes later the final plan was approved. Boom! Feels good. It’s a real adrenalin kicker getting that little notification that your request has been approved, it really is.
Disaster averted. But this could have been a shocker. We could have possibly blown $25K of our client’s money, without it having actually been approved. And given the time of the campaign going live, over New Years, with all the staff and clients on holidays, it may not have been picked up for a couple of weeks into January. Nice way to start the year huh?
We would have had a very angry client (specifically the CFO). We would have been on the back foot, defending (with a very straight bat I might add) like Kane Williamson playing to save the test match. She said, he said, management asking questions, us looking like muppets, and a marketing manager that could have potentially decided to throw us under the bus to protect his own reputation. And even if we got through it (which we probably would have given our history together), our relationship with the client would have been damaged forever, trust not at the dizzy heights as previously, and a very frustrated team here at This Side Up feeling that they did little wrong but copping the blame and reputation damage that goes with it.
But it was a beautiful outcome in the end. The campaign went live on time, great results, no overspend, happy customer, happy This Side Up, win win feels good kind of thang. And we learnt again the value of ensuring that we get our clients to be accountable, alongside us, at critical points in a project where things can potentially go belly up. It’s so easy to push a campaign live, or to push on with a project to keep the customer happy. We could have so easily done that with this campaign, it was a difficult time of year with skeleton staff, the holiday silly season upon us with a million things to do before Christmas. But I stopped and ‘nudged’ our client and asked for him to formally approve the final campaign, to rubber stamp it and give us the ‘nod’ of approval before activation.
It actually takes a bit of guts to make a client stop and take responsibility for formally approving a piece of work, to have them put their name, and their reputation, against it. And you know what, it’s the best thing that can happen. The client takes stock, they know they need to take the request seriously, and they know that that to proceed means they have personally given us the green light, in writing, time-stamped forever inside the app.
In this scenario, we forced the client to review and approve the final media plan. Black and white. Not a text message, not over a phone call, not requiring an onerous signature requiring a scanner that no-one knows how to work anymore, not another email that can easily be mis-interpreted. But a clear, concise and simple “please approve or decline” request that saved our serious bacon.
If you’re a digital agency like ours, working on multiple projects requiring regular client sign offs before you can proceed to the next stage, I’d certainly give Nodd a serious nudge! Check out nodd.com (the kiwi bacon savers).
And if you’re keen to find out more about Nodd and how we’re using it at This Side Up to help our business then feel free to get in touch with me via our website.