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Why telling it like it is your best strategy

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This post is by Stephan Argent, President of Marketing and Agency Search advisory Listenmore, and a member of the Marketing FIRST Forum, the global consulting collective co-founded by TrinityP3.

We’d been sitting on the plane parked at a departure gate at Changi Singapore airport for over an hour. The air conditioning was having a tough time staving off Singapore’s sizzling heat and with no explanation on the cause of the lengthy delay, all of us were getting pretty grumpy.

Then an announcement:

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.  I want to apologise for the delay today, which is not as a result of air traffic delays or any kind of maintenance issue. The delay is entirely my fault.  I missed the crew bus from the hotel this morning and I alone am to blame.  I’m truly sorry – I’ll do my best to make up some time en-route.”

My jaw dropped.  And apparently, so did a few others as applause started to ripple through the aircraft.

Shocking! Someone had told the truth!

Far from being greeted with anger, the emotional temperature in the cabin dropped instantly.  While the problem still existed, most identified with what was a genuine, human mistake – the guy missed the bus – no different from any of us showing up late for a meeting for one reason or another.

The problem wasn’t disguised as something it wasn’t.  It wasn’t a yeah, right ‘his dog ate his glasses…’ laughable attempt at the truth.  It was the unvarnished truth.  And it went over well.

So if the truth can go over well, why are so many marketers and agencies so uncomfortable with telling it like it is? And if you’re thinking ‘no, not us’ – try one of these:

I don’t agree

You’re in a meeting listening to your boss, your client, your agency – whoever – and you know deep down their point of view or idea is wrong. Is it because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?  Or could it be you’re afraid your client or your boss won’t appreciate your point of view?

We screwed up

Admitting you screwed up can be difficult. Of course there can be fall-out from admitting a mistake – but generally speaking it’s easier to deal with a genuine mistake than a convoluted version of the truth. I’d suggest it also builds trust when whoever’s made the mistake is honest enough to admit it.

It’s late

This is a tough one because it means you’ve either over-promised, under-estimated or whatever it is, is out of your control.  Either way, it’s late. In which case, it’s likely easier to focus on the new timetable and deal with the reasons later.  But it’s tiresome if you spend your time blaming others or making up excuses.

No

Ever wanted to say ‘no’ but couldn’t? Sometimes saying ‘no’ can be hard but the consequences of saying ‘yes’ can make matters worse. ‘No’ with a considered point of view can even strengthen a relationship if your ‘no’ is reasonable.

I don’t know

We’re not all walking encyclopedias – it’s ok to say, ‘I don’t know – let me go find out…’ once in a while.  Isn’t it far better to admit you don’t know something than to make up something that may not be true?

Nowhere is the culture of ‘massaging the truth’ – ok, lying – more prevalent than in politics.  Many could (and probably will) write books on the ‘questionably accurate’ comments made during the US presidential election. If you don’t want to wait, look no further than the New York Times fact check page.

Fear is likely at the bottom of most if it.  Fear your boss will lose confidence in you.  Fear your client will take their business elsewhere. Fear you might lose the election.  But the irony is, that more straight-up you are as an individual, as a corporation, as an agency or as a client – the more likely you are to garner greater respect and success than if you’re economical with the truth.

So go ahead – tell it like it is. You have way more to gain – and a lot less to fear than you might think.

TrinityP3 has developed a suite of products aimed at increasing your marketing performance to achieve improved business outcomes. Find out more here

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Stephan Argent is a former agency planner from England, and has held senior roles in agencies in both Canada and the United States. Most recently he was Vice President of Digital Media at CTV, and is now President of Canada’s leading independent Marketing and Agency Search advisory and consultancy: ListenMore

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