Undesirable Marketing Results: Breaking Bad News Like A Pro

Mike Canarelli

If you’re a marketer, you’ve been there.

The numbers aren’t great, the deliverables missed the mark, or you or your agency haven’t met the desired goals. You can’t lie about it, and any attempts to spin the bad news will probably just make the situation worse.

What do you do? How do you deliver bad news and still keep your job or your client?

1. Don’t wait

One of the worst things you can do is “wait for the right time” to deliver the news. There will never be a right time. The quicker you alert your boss or client to the issue, the quicker you can begin putting a plan in place (see No. 3).

2. Be honest

As mentioned, trying to spin the metrics or dress up the bad news to make it look better is a recipe for disaster. Your boss or client will likely see through the charade, and the fundamental dishonesty will undoubtedly reflect negatively on you personally or on you and your agency. Instead, express your disappointment in the results and provide some context for why they may have occurred. Remember: character is rarely revealed during the good times, but it is always revealed during the tough times.

3. Put it in context

If you can, identify what you believe may have led to the poor results and what could have been done differently. Not only will this help underscore your concern, it will also reinforce your expertise. Maybe there is a legitimate reason for the downturn (seasonal traffic ebbs, not enough activity, reactive rather than proactive marketing, etc.). If so, your boss or client may be more forgiving. If the downturn was due to an error or lapse in judgement (misreading an opportunity, experimenting with a new tool, misinterpreting data, etc.), own it and commit to avoiding the mistake in the future.

4. Relate it to strategy

When delivering the news, discuss how the failure might bolster your overall strategy. Perhaps the downturn indicates a need to pivot. Maybe the approach needs to be refined. Remind your client or boss where the organization was headed before the marketing campaign began and identify how far it has come. Sometimes poor results can provide insight into the direction of the company’s overall marketing strategy and help determine whether a particular effort should be abandoned or tweaked.

5. Propose actionable steps

Perhaps the best way to deliver bad results is to offer clear, concrete ways to improve them. Bad news is one thing; failing to bounce back from it is quite another. Although you need to tell your boss or client about the poor results as soon as possible, take a few moments to cobble together a plan to address the underlying issues. Developing a solution can’t necessarily undo damage that’s already been done, but demonstrating that you understand the problem and have already prepared a plan of attack can reassure your boss or client that you’re on it.

C-level managers and executives want results, but they also want to see that the people they’ve hired are capable and competent. Not every marketing campaign is going to be a winner, but that doesn’t mean your company has to be a loser. Deliver the news honestly, intellectually, and with a plan, and you’ll reinforce why you were hired to do the job in the first place.

Social media is now part of everyone’s job, not just the marketing and communications teams. In a Live Business, Social Gets Its MBA.


About Mike Canarelli

Mike Canarelli is the CEO and Co-Founder of Web Talent Marketing, a full-service digital marketing agency based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As the force behind Web Talent, Mike lays the foundation for his clients’ success by applying his experience, expertise, and passion for excellence to every account. His mission, and the mission of the agency, is to partner with clients to deliver exceptional results. Mike’s leadership and resolve has driven Web Talent to the upper echelons of the Internet marketing industry. His commitment to fair and honest principles has ensured Web Talent remains focused on scalable long-term solutions for its clients, rather than quick fixes and short-lived remedies. Mike holds a B.S. from Temple University’s Fox School of Business and Management where he studied Entrepreneurship and Management Information Systems. After six years as a freelance designer/developer he founded Axis Creative Group in 2006 and later merged with Web Talent SEO in late 2010. Although the business occupies much of his time and energy, Mike still finds time to enjoy an active lifestyle with his wife, Natalya, and their dog, Chester.