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We all know about the “Agency Version.” It’s the one that the client wasn’t enlightened enough to see the beauty in. The one that would’ve brought the crowd to their feet and the awards show judges to your headhunter.

It’s the one that got away.

And you coulda had it if not for the new CEO who decided the budget wasn’t there. Or the strategy didn’t make sense.

So, now what? You go to the editor or the art director and you make your impassioned plea to finish out the original version even though it got canned.

It’s no big deal. The agency gets their version. The client gets theirs. Everyone’s happy, and the case study writes itself.

Well, kind of.

I’ll admit it. I’ve finished out the agency version a time or two. And I might do it again. But it won’t be a victory. It’s more like honorable retreat. The professional walk of shame. Horseshoes and hand grenades. Kissing your sister. Whatever it is, it’s hollow.

When you settle for the agency version, you’re saying that you no longer think the more creative approach is the smart way to go. You’re saying you don’t really believe the client values your input. And you’re saying you’re okay with work that’s pretty good enough.

It’s a big white flag you’re waving in front of your team, your client and yourself.

Sure. If you do it once, it might feel good. Twice and it could get easier until eventually you’re hustling street corners trying to put up poster versions of your long-defeated print campaigns. Or sending links to your work with disclaimers like, “well, this is the way it should’ve run, and it would’ve been amaaaaazing.”

And then your book isn’t made up of creative campaigns that made a difference. It’s all spec, and you’re back to being a student who draws a paycheck for work that doesn’t really exist.

Maybe that’s extreme. But the point is: you don’t have to take bad feedback as a death sentence for your best work.

Put yourself on the other side of the table. No client gives input thinking, “Oh man, I really want to make this idea crappier.” They’re probably thinking something more along the lines of, “well, my boss just added this new initiative. How can I add it into this?”

And that’s fine. That’s part of their job.

And part of our job is to remind them that there’s a reason they asked for your help. While we are on their team, our outside perspective has at some level been requested. Even paid for! And that perspective should help them meet their objectives.

Maybe that new twist from the boss just needs a five-minute discussion for everyone to realize it’s not necessary. Or maybe it becomes a social spin-off of the campaign. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to include it and make the idea even better. Or morph it into something new.

When we throw in the towel and find satisfaction in what might have been, we are negating those possibilities. In fact, we are doing exactly half of our job.

Anyone can come up with great ideas. Not everyone does, but most people in a given creative department are capable of nailing a brief or conjuring up a brilliant thought. Not saying it’s not easy, but it’s that other half that makes it real.

The next 50% gets it produced, through focus groups, in front of the audience, and hi-fives the client on the way to the next campaign.

And if all else fails, and you’re not getting your best stuff through, find a charity or a small business that needs help. You’ll get great work and practice at making it real.

Here’s a poster series we did for my Uncle’s model train store that became collector’s items for the high-value collectors who come into his store.


I don’t know about you, but when I see work that makes me jealous, I’m not just jealous that they had a great concept or ingenious execution. I’m wondering how they managed to convince someone—or as in most cases, multiple, multiple someones—to produce it.

A couple case studies in point are Loctite and REI’s #OptOutside campaigns. So good. So smart. So everywhere.

And I’m pretty sure the versions that ran in the market are the same as the ones in everyone’s portfolios.


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