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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 1 year ago

Live and learn

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Several ad industry executives opened up about their biggest career goofs. An overarching theme: Humility goes a long way.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

This month's F*ckUp Nights Tampa Bay featured stories from four advertising industry executives who say messing up helped them get to where they are today. The following are excerpts from their stories:

Rob McCormick
Vice president and creative director,
Schifino Lee Advertising & Branding
McCormick says his biggest mess-up was when he tried too hard to become viral. McCormick sought attention for a company that creates flushable dog poop bags.
McCormick came up with an idea to dress up like a dog, and make a video series of the inappropriate dog walking around with his (human) best friend.
Unfortunately, the videos were a bit of a flop. “If we learn nothing more, don't do viral videos,” McCormick says. Instead, you have to go in being smart about content. If it's good, it may go viral.

Alex Abell
Senior marketing strategist, Bisk
Abell says he didn't just mess up on one campaign, “I f*cked up my life.”
Abell considers himself a serial “funtrepreneur” — he started three businesses before college. But that's nothing to brag about, he adds, because it took him eight years to get his four-year degree.
One of those businesses was Dear Drunk Me — a website that encouraged young adults to get drunk and then leave themselves messages online. In addition to the website, he had a retail shop that sold everything from T-shirts with slogans like “I heart to fart” to marijuana bongs. The pivotal moment for him was when his grandma was in town and wanted to see his shop. He didn't want to show her.
The whole operation was funded on credit cards, and Abell quickly ran out of money and was forced to declare bankruptcy. “You have to think about what you are putting out into the world,” he says.

Dulani Porter
Executive vice president, Spark
When Dulani Porter was promoted to vice president of strategy at Spark, she was tasked with building a strategy team. To free up employees' time, she thought she would look externally to hire talented strategists.
“The first mistake when I created this department, was I didn't provide context for why we were doing this in the agency,” she says. “The second mistake was I was arrogant in thinking that my way was the only way. The entire approach was based on what I wanted.”
Adds Porter: “My biggest mistake was ignoring the culture of the agency.”
Porter admits she didn't do a good job communicating the value of the team, and people inside the company were not happy.
Porter, through the mistake, says she learned to have greater empathy for other departments. “The end product is much better when everyone is involved from the beginning,” she says.

Paul Prato
Group creative director/strategist, PP+K
Prato's first big mistake in advertising happened when he was a young art director, faced with his first big opportunity. He was making a print ad campaign for Farmland Foods, and thought of an idea to make the plates look like individual farm fields.
Even though he knew a photographer that did good food shots, Prato admits he went chasing after a cool celebrity photographer in New York to do the photo shoot. But things didn't' turn out how he pictured. “Imagine a Tim Burton set. Now imagine eating that set — the absolute grossest food you've ever seen in your life,” Prato says. Tens of thousands of dollars in, his agency had to scrap the shoot and go with the food photographer they knew.
“You can have the coolest idea in the world, but if it shows the product in a disparaging way,” people won't buy it, Prato advises. “For everyone doing a food shoot, you can learn from my mistake.”

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