Case Stories

Realizing They Might Be Right

An orange ball sits in an empty, dimly lit room with a bright light shining down on it

This story is true, but names and details have been changed to protect anonymity.

It was the same song, sixty-seventh verse.

The client was asking their creative partners for “better” work. And many of the partners were genuinely trying—they were throwing their best people at bigger ideas, flashier concepts, even more research to better understand the competition and zig where the others zagged. But it seemed that the better the ideas got, the worse the client thought they were. Everybody was frustrated, and tensions were running higher with each assignment.

We were reminded of the timeless rumination from Bill Bernbach: “Maybe he’s right.” It’s always easy to blame the other guy…but what if the other guy is right? What if, even when you know your recommendation is a good one, yet he doesn’t like it, maybe you’re wrong? Perhaps you’re missing something.

It reset the conversation and we all stepped back. We went further and further upstream, studying and probing hard questions and deep insecurities. And we found the point where, in fact, we were both right.

It’s not that “good” was subjective, but that what’s “good” in baseball is meaningless on the basketball court. We had all misunderstood the game being played. The client was burdened by a massive bureaucratic infrastructure not of their making and was masterfully working within it. In underestimating the complexity of that feat, the entire strategy had been a degree off—the target audience lay not outside of but within the bureaucracy’s walls. They didn’t need bigger, flashier, or more complex; they needed faster, tighter, and more internally sellable.

Once we respected the game the client was playing, we gained a new respect for their mastery of it. We even developed, together, some new tools. New ways to understand the game. New ways to talk about it. And new ways to win it.

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