Agency Principal | Owner at Simantel | Marketing Sweats Podcast Host | Advertising & Marketing Independent Network Worldwide Board Member
“Never give up.” It’s a phrase we hear all the time in our personal and professional lives. But oftentimes, committing to this mindset can limit positive outcomes, leading to major burnout for your team and lackluster results for your clients.
As principal of a creative agency with high-powered clients—who come with equally high expectations—I understand all too well that it can be really tough to admit when we’re facing challenges. Too often, we choose to march on toward some impossible campaign objective, even if all signs point to “STOP.”
While we do still champion perseverance at Simantel, I’ve begun to recognize when enough is enough and when “Never give up” isn’t doing ourselves or our clients any good. In those moments, we need to reframe our perspective. We must remind ourselves that we’re not giving up; we’re simply pivoting toward something better.
Pivoting Is A Component Of Success
A few years ago, I had to lean into a conversation like this with a client.
Our team was deep into a brand strategy for a community project. The goal was complicated, there were brand architecture and brand equity issues, and the client’s leadership was changing in real time. We were firing on all cylinders to achieve what the client wanted, but it just wasn’t hanging together. The client wanted too much change at once—it was like 10 jigsaw puzzles dumped onto one table. We stayed the course for a while, but we were nearly $50,000 over budget without much to show for it.
So we decided to pivot. We brought the client in for a heart-to-heart and told them what wasn’t working. We asked what they loved most and gave them ownership with us of the complex decisions we were trying to make. And it worked.
The client acknowledged both the effort we were putting in and their own internal lack of alignment. With that transparency and collaboration, we finished out the scope and finalized every project they’d asked us to complete. Had we continued grinding on the original path, we may have never hit the mark. We had to pivot in order to bring the project to a close.
When Pivoting May Be Necessary
As a leader, it can be hard to know whether pivoting is the right call, even when it’s clear the current action plan isn’t working. I have two measuring sticks that I’ve found to be valuable after years of learning when to make tough calls.
The first is asking, “How long have I spent wracking my brain for ways to get out of a project in the gutter?” Everyone has their own boundaries, but if I’ve gone three weeks without seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, that’s when I’ll consider new avenues. We all need a break when things have been hard for a long time, even if only to catch our breath before jumping back into another tough thing. As a leader, your team will look to your guidance for determining the pause point.
The second measuring stick I look for is the feeling of not having a team. Some of the toughest times in my career were when I felt like I was on an island. No one should be in a position of struggle without the support of an “all-in” team. If you find yourself alone on a sinking ship, ask for a lifeline. It can make all the difference to the outcome.
Getting The Client On Board With A Pivot
Making the choice to pivot is often just part of the equation. When the course change comes, honesty is best. Being transparent with clients from the start about the potential need to pivot—and providing context about that choice—is key to any successful client relationship. It can be as simple as saying, “We’re not getting there. We have to pivot.” Then, reassure your client that change doesn’t mean failure; it means you’re doing the best thing you can to reach their goal.
Usually, course-correcting is a timing issue. If we had all the time in the world, we’d cross that finish line the way we originally intended. But our business is about deadlines. When we know that even working 24 hours a day and bringing on additional support won’t solve the problem, we must do something differently.
Other times, the pivot is a data issue. A good rule of thumb, I’ve found, is assuming that possibility from the start. That way, if it happens, pivoting doesn’t feel like veering off course or giving up. Instead, we’re leveraging our resources to ensure the project stays on track.
Sometimes, no amount of “Never give up” will help you win. The best leaders know when it’s time to pivot, have the bravery to make it happen, engage the team along the way and celebrate the wins despite feelings of loss or challenge. Pivoting isn’t just a good business decision. It’s wise and creative—and that’s who we are at our very core.