Failure is Good in Life and in Communications

Failure is Good in Life and in Communications

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending PR News' Top Women in PR awards luncheon, standing in for Jennifer Connelly, who has been honored two years in a row (Jenn was out solving a client challenge—not an uncommon occurrence for this set!). 

In a room full of women at the top of their game, you might not expect to hear much about failure, missteps and setbacks. But again and again, the honorees talked about the blunders and embarrassments that helped get them to where they are today.

Keynote speaker Melissa Bernstein, cofounder and chief creative officer of the multimillion dollar Melissa & Doug toy company, put it succinctly: "I am only here speaking to you today because I have failed so many times I learned who I truly am and how to succeed."

Melissa estimates she's created about 10,000 toys since founding Melissa & Doug in 1988. If her percentages hold up, somewhere around 6,000 of them have been failures. She keeps many of them in her office "because every day I want to remind myself when I come to work and come to my desk that the line between success and failure is as fine as a spider web, and you really never know."

Many of her failure-at-first toys later went on to be outright successes, with a few minor tweaks or just changes in the culture (which should sound familiar to many communicators who strike out with pitches, campaigns or client stories until one day, everything just clicks and suddenly you have a winning strategy). As much as we want to believe in the science of marketing and public relations, we also have to give the art of communications its due. Sometimes, magic happens, and a campaign just works. Not knowing where the line is could be perceived as a moving target for some, but Melissa, like many communicators, prefers to think of it as just play.

Despite the ever-growing focus on measurement and efficacy, on the rush to generate positive ROI and optimize all our channels, communications professionals have to embrace failure if they want to continue to innovate. Not failing is a surefire sign that you've become complacent, which is truly the kiss of death for any communications program.

Related: 12 Takeaways from the World's Leading Financial Marketers

Here are 5 quick ways you can successfully fail in no time:

1. Start a "bad idea" file. All the ideas that got shut down, the pitches that didn't go anywhere, the brainstorms that petered out—they might have merit. Put them in an actual or digital folder to revist when you're struggling to get the creative juices flowing.

2. Admit to your failures. We've all screwed up royally one time or another. I once procrastinated a major writing project for months and months and then worked 48 straight hours to get it done, to very poor results (shocking!). Showing our imperfections can be a powerful relationship builder. But you have to start with yourself.

3. Write a crummy first draft. As any writer will tell you, something is better than an empty Google doc glowing back at you.

4. Tell someone your half-baked idea. This is what work friends are for! To tell you if you're truly off your rocker, to poke holes in your approach or to supply the second helping of out-of-the-box thinking that will make your idea actually work.

5. Admit you were wrong. Sometimes the only thing you can do is say, "Wow, I really screwed that up" and move on with your life. Practice makes perfect, even when you're talking about mistakes and missteps. Admitting you were wrong is the first step in learning something new. Roll with it.

As our own Jennifer Connelly put it in her advice to her 17-year-old self: "You will learn more from your missteps, failures and surprises than you will from your successes. Don't be afraid to fail and always find the gift in the experience. That's how you grow."

Michelle Pittman
Public Relations
Twitter Email

With a diverse background that spans virtually all aspects of the communications industry, Michelle helps conceptualize and implement integrated campaigns for JConnelly’s cl ... Click for full bio

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: Feb 19-23

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: Feb 19-23

Here’s a look at the Top 11 Most Viewed Articles of the Week on, Feb 19-23, 2018

Click the headline to read the full article.  Enjoy!

1. Don’t Get Pinged by the Social Security Earnings Limit

I’d like to introduce you to Peggy. Born in 1956, Peggy will be 62 in 2018. She has worked in retail her whole life, the past twenty-five years spent in management. Peggy divorced from her husband 14 years ago, is still single and has no children. — Dana Anspach

2. We're Back to “Bad News is Good News” and “Good News is Great News”

This week the markets shrugged off last week’s fears and went back to the slow and steady melt up, despite economic news that looked likely to once again rock the boat. — Lenore Elle Hawkins

3. Q1 2018 Factor Views

Themes established in 2017 across a wide range of markets and factors continued to resonate through the fourth quarter. Economic growth was strong and supportive of equity markets across the globe, a range of volatility measures reached all-time lows, and business and consumer sentiment remained elevated. — Yazann Romahi and Garrett Norman

4. A Beneficial Basket of Commodities

Advisors and investors that feel they are hearing more and more about commodities and the corresponding exchange traded products in recent months are right. That is a natural result of dollar weakness and yes, the greenback is floundering again in 2018. — Tom Lydon

5. 3 Trends Shaping the Future of Asset Management

As the industry works to cope with new regulation, wades through an outpouring of new products, learns to satisfy investors’ shifting priorities and manages the active-passive debate, the viability of business units will be questioned, and at times radical measures will be taken. Peter Hopkins

6. 5 Ways Advisors Leave Money on the Table, and What to Do About It

My hope is that this article points out some opportunities for you to make more money and serve your clients at a higher level and that you decide to do something about it. — Bill Bachrach

7. The Market Has Gone Wild! Is It Time to Change Your Investment Strategy?

Whether the market is flying high or taunting your emotions with new lows and some bumpy volatility, here are four things every investor should keep in mind ... — Lauren Klein

8. How to Deepen Client Relations and Capture New Business Using Engaging Content

Why financial advisors NEED to understand much more clearly the power of good digital market. With tools like AdvisorStream, it’s easier than ever to get the content you need to drive leads and referrals today! — Kirk Lowe and Matt Halloran

9. Three Ways The Most Successful Gain Big Attention

How do some firms and ideas go from nowhere to everywhere in a few short months? All of a sudden a restaurant becomes popular, a gas station gains a cult following, or a Broadway show becomes too popular to get a ticket for years. — Maribeth Kuzmeski

10. Who Are the Hottest FinTech Firms and Influencers Around the World?

"Worldwide, $27.4 billion poured into fintech startups in 2017, Accenture reports, up 18% from 2016. With so much in play, it’s not surprising that 22 companies are new on this, the third edition of our list."  — Chris Skinner

11. The New Stock Market Normal Is Not What You Think!

Many sensational headlines have been written the past few weeks about market declines, but two things have increased for sure: the viewership and the ad revenues of financial media organizations — Preston McSwain​​​​​​​

Douglas Heikkinen
Twitter Email

IRIS Co-Founder and Producer of Perspective—a personal look at the industry, and notables who share what they’ve learned, regretted, won, lost and what continues ... Click for full bio