Holly Aguirre | Crain's San Francisco

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Holly Aguirre

Background:  

New Honor Society is a full-service creative agency focused on helping brands be more human. New Honor Society's client list includes global brands such as Microsoft and Logitech, among others. Based in St. Louis, the agency also has offices in Chicago and San Francisco.

The Mistake:

I did not ask for help in a situation that was really bigger than me and bigger than my pay grade.

I was an account director working on the biggest client with the agency. There was a new main contact for the client who wanted to refresh the retail look. We did a few concepts and they chose one. Then they said, “We really need to see this across the entire annual calendar to know how it's going to play out.”

Our presentation was not just some PowerPoint. We would cover the walls of a conference room for them to be able to evaluate the look. From there, things began to spiral. After the first round, it was, “Let's noodle this and let's noodle that.” We were noodling across about 80 pieces of creative work. One time, we were all working over a weekend. Our entire team was eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together.

We would have conversations that this was a little bit crazy. It wasn't our best work. We weren’t looking good because the client was seeing these little variations. We really started to look bad the more we tried to do what they wanted.

By the end of it, the client team would come down and the creative director and I would say, “Everything's in the room.” We wouldn't even go in because there was nothing to present. They were just going to scrutinize the inconsistencies. They weren't looking so much at the concept anymore. They were also the type of client who would call us and say, “What is going on there?”

It was probably not without a lot of surprise that we didn’t retain that business. That meant a lot of layoffs and morale was horrible because we’d just put people through a torturous process trying to refresh this campaign. Looking back, I just didn't ask for help.

I encourage people to ask for help and tell them they don’t have to do it all.

The Lesson:

I took on onboarding a new client as account director. I was trying to do everything on my own because we had just lost our biggest client and had financial challenges. But then I stopped and reached out to my bosses and said, “This isn’t working. We’re not delivering to the client and I absolutely need help.”

They understood, but if I hadn’t stopped and asked for help, they probably would’ve thought I was managing. I’m personally much better at asking for help, but still have a strong sense of responsibility that I should be able to do everything.

In my role now, I encourage people to ask for help and tell them they don’t have to do it all. I tell account directors and leads to leverage me. I like for them to maintain a healthy relationship with client partners. If they get in a negative situation, I would ask them to pull me in. I can help meditate so they don't have to be the heavy.

When I was in my position as the account director, I needed somebody else to be the heavy while I was trying to have a positive relationship with a client who would call and yell and curse. I needed someone to step in and say, “That's not acceptable and that's not how we expect our employees to be treated,” to help me with the bigness of the issue.

I was trying to handle what, in hindsight, should have been handled by more senior people at the agency. That's not suggesting they weren't doing their jobs. I think they felt like I must have been OK. Otherwise, I would have said something. Now I know to have specific, direct conversations about things like that.”

New Honor Society is on Twitter at @NewHonorSociety.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's St. Louis.