An Open Apology Letter To A Client.


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I Now (Finally) Get It. You Wanted Transparency. We Failed.

Everybody messes up. It's human nature. I've been in this business for over 20 years, and I am still learning the do's and don'ts. I am still searching for ways to make my clients happy, and create better partnerships. Now, there are a lot of things I am still trying to figure out, but one thing is for sure, and it's that f*cking up is the best way to improve. Lucky for me, I had a recent f*ck up (and it was bad).

So, of course, this mishap made me reflect, and think about ways that I can improve myself, as a CEO, and better my agency. I thought about all the ways that my team and I could communicate better with our clients. I started to understand the dangers of the "veil of secrecy." I learned a lot, and if you're a brand owner or agency owner, like me, you could benefit from my mistake. In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares an important message about failure, transparency, and client relations.

An Open Apology Letter To A Client. I Now (Finally) Get It. You Wanted Transparency. We Failed.

For The Client Reading This, You Know Who You Are. 

I am sincerely sorry for our f*ck up.

For all my other readers… a couple of learning lessons this week that I experienced as an agency owner. And not really fun ones at that. I’m sharing in hopes that my insights to my lessons learned will help you build more mutually beneficial partnerships.

Because that is what our agency’s core mission is. To empower and revolutionize the way the world approaches building mutually beneficial partnerships. That’s what drives our every action – building mutually beneficial partnerships - whether with an employee, a client or a production partner. We are very good at it, and when we fail in that achievement, we take it very much to heart.

I am very vocal in teaching our team members that we all f*ck up on occasion. Except that I say it without the asterisk. And repeatedly. It’s always good at breaking the ice and getting a laugh. No one expects this 5’2” mid(ish)-forty-year-old agency owner from Texas to be belting out the F-bomb left and right. Or maybe the Texas mention made it seem more likely. Regardless, shock value works. Got your attention, right? Hey, now you think I’m a little spunky on top of being short and an obvious risk-taker. Or you are offended. But you reacted. I got you engaged. And that shock value is achieved.

That all makes up part of my brand - your perception of who I am. I am a woman who owns an agency in Hollywood, and that is all about taking risks on a daily basis. To move the needle. To get clients noticed. To negotiate the best deal. To stand out. To win. 

And The Fact Is, Sometimes There Are Stumbles Along The Way.

And having team members work in an atmosphere which is more supportive and open to the fact that people mess up, makes people more willing to come foward at the first sign that they did indeed f*ck up. And it gives you a little extra lead time in trying to fix it versus it being hidden away, or waiting for you to find out about days or even weeks or months later.

That plays into the 'mutually beneficial' part of building partnerships with employees and agency stakeholders. By having created an atmosphere where people understand they can safely share where they have a problem, it allows the team to come together to better fix the problem. It does not make the problem go away, and by no means am I excusing it. If a mistake was made, the reasons for it have to be looked at to prevent it from a repeat performance. 

You don't want your people terrified of you. Or nothing will ever progress.

Forrest Gump Said It Best. Sh*t Happens.

Because the fact is, my team (and your team) will mess up if they are taking risks, if they are giving it their all, if they are going a million miles a minute trying to create, build and produce those wins. Always learning and growing along the way. For me, that’s much better than the alternative, of their doing nothing but the same job duties over and over again on an endless rinse-and-repeat cycle, never stretching themselves – or the agency.

I ask one thing when that f*ck up happens. For accountability to be taken. To bring solutions. And to apologize.

Because if they truly and sincerely were giving it their all, then no matter how upset I may be at their mistake, that individual will be more upset with themselves than I ever could be. And that will help make sure they do not do “it” again. Sometimes that f*ck up is not accomplished by a single individual, but in a series of events created by an agency practice where adjustments are not made that is in the wrong. In that case, it means I must take responsibility, and ensure we find a way to make sure it never happens again.  

Forrest Gump Quote - Apology To A Client

Case In Point.

We were recently in a situation as an agency partner where we had no way to win. In a partnership that we introduced a brand to a very hot production entity, we remained the middle point of contact between the two to activate the partnership, as is our requirement. We do this so that we can keep the wheels on the bus, as in our world of Hollywood personalities those wheels fly off at any given moment, all of the time. There is always a collective sigh of relief (and woohoo of happiness) when a partnership we have built has come to a successful end.

During the partnership ups and downs – and from the onset, down after down, our agency quietly (although not so quietly) battled behind the scenes to get the partner to meet the contracted stipulations. We provided updates to the client as to the small wins secured, but did not share the nitty-gritty of our non-stop hammering to try to get those bigger promises met behind the scenes.

Our f*ck up was not that we screwed up the partnership. On the contrary, we actually were the glue holding it together and getting it on track. Our f*ck up was that we didn't share the details of the absolute mess we were encountering along the way.

You put the right foot in. You put the right foot out. You do the hokey pokey and… despite best intentions, it blows up in your face.

Frankly, we got off on the wrong foot from the start. The client had shared with our team after signing on for their first branded pop culture partnership deal we had created that they liked working directly with a partner versus through an agency. And at the time all I heard from that was “we don’t work with agencies – hand off this partnership you have contracted for us and go away – begone, we will take over you are no longer needed.” That statement wasn’t presented with a lot of friendliness, and our team was pretty offended by the conversation.

That statement also didn’t get the best of reactions from me. And like a lioness defending her cubs, I went into protection mode. I have built my agency with blood, sweat and tears. I often work 20+ hour days. Business comes first for me in all aspects of my life. I even sold my husband on joining the agency to help better bring our now mutually shared goal to life. We are “all in” and safeguard our relationships with both productions and clients because those are our bread and butter. These relationships allow us to build the ‘magic partnerships’ we bring to life that help shape the brand’s reputations and awareness. To hand off that partnership to either, and just walk away… is not something we can allow to happen.

It destroys our relationships and in the process, and removes the potential of future agency income. I am sure it will come to you with little surprise that Hollywood can be shifty, and attracts not always the best people in a culture focused on power, money, youth and beauty. Partners do not always offer rightful respect and often go around partnership stakeholders, to try to work directly with the client, cutting the agency out. Leaving the agency defenseless to actually protect the client who is in unknown territory and waters filled with sharks waiting to take advantage.

Not Everyone Is Bad. There Is Good In Hollywood.

We have built partnerships with phenomenal people – they do exist in Hollywood. And we have built partnerships with absolute in-it-for-themselves asses, who give headaches a whole new level of meaning.

But I was wrong in my thinking that I needed to go into protection mode with this client.

I didn’t hear what I now believe was actually being said. In hindsight, I don’t think that was what was being meant.  Or maybe it was meant (I mean come ON they said it… but I’m willing to paint a little grey into the mix) – but there still was an inkling of something else that I should have noticed and paid attention to. Because if I had, it would have made a difference. And now that I recognize it, I won’t let our agency fail in that way again.

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But I Was Busy. So Busy.

  • Busy running an agency. My days often are 20+ hours long, and I have pulled more all-nighters this last month alone than most college students jamming in info for a final do in 4 years.
  • Busy dealing with an out-of-state mother who suffered vertigo post-Covid, fell and broke her neck. (She’s recovering well, thank you for pondering… but please get your vaccine and booster, a caretaker gave her Covid, and her life – and mine - has been forever impacted.)
  • Busy onboarding new employees.
  • Busy onboarding new clients.
  • Busy legally dealing with a client gone rogue who owes big money to even bigger Hollywood partners.
  • Busy pitching new business.
  • Busy revising and improving upon our processes and procedures.
  • Busy with client issues big and small.

I Could Go On And On.

I was so so busy these last few months. Mind-boggling busy. 7-days a week busy. No life other than zoom, emails or presentations busy. That kind of busy where your laundry pile grows to be higher than your head and you no longer care what you wear as long as it is clean and kind of matches.

But I’m still not sure I would have wrapped my head around what the client had said. Because this was a new client, and the partnership was built immediately out of the gate, at a very hurried speed as the opportunity was fast-moving. 

When is it not fast-moving in Hollywood? Practically never – only during Covid shutdowns and strikes.

In the earliest of days, when the client and our team just started working together, communication from the get-go was not awesome with the partner. We never had the time to onboard the client to who we are as an agency. They never got to really understand how we work, to build trust, and to get a chance to like our team. They didn’t have time to see the phenomenal personalities of the day-to-day team and hear the incredible insights of our leadership team who have over 100 years combined experience building partnerships in Hollywood. We have great people and we build great partnerships. But this partnership started out of the gate hobbled. And the wheels fell off shortly moments thereafter. Before our team truly was even able to make a positive impact on the client.


The Sad Result?

The client never was open to our agency’s assistance or guidance because they lumped us in with the negatives of the partnership – and the partner.

And that is our fault entirely. We did not manage them the way they stated they wanted to be managed – with full transparency. They didn’t see us as different from the partner, because we didn’t give them the tools – or shared emails where they were kept on copy - to see us differently. That we were fighters. That we came up with solutions. That we had a plan. That they were going to be ok.

Not being in the thick of things, in normal times, this is what a brand has typically wanted. It’s why they work with an agency. To have the agency shoulder the brunt of the weight of issues that pop up. To shield them from the mess of the day-to-day. To find solutions before bothering the client with the problem. That has been the tried and true way for years. But in this case, when the client had enough of not seeing progress made quickly enough to their satisfaction, our team was lumped in with and seen with the same point of view as the poorly performing partner. Because they had asked for transparency. And we did not provide it.

Shielding Clients Is A Business Practice That Needs To End.

In the last twenty-five years, I have built very few partnerships where the partnership broke down so utterly that the deal was just done. Caput. Over. Typically, there is a way to breathe life back into it, to massage it, to get all entities to come back together and again work in partnership. When a deal dies utterly and completely, with no chance of life – that is a gut punch after the amount of work, energy, and brainpower our team has committed. It is a blow that is felt across the agency. A downer like no other. And an opportunity to learn, to re-examine, to ponder.

And to find solutions to shore up and strengthen the agency and future partnerships.

This is my realization after spending the last few days pondering how the dismal decline of the relationship happened, what we could have done to avoid it – and how we can make sure it never happens again. By no means are we perfect as an agency - no matter how hard we try to be, or as much a people pleaser I am (another topic entirely). An agency is built with people. And people are not infallible. They mess up. They communicate poorly. They have bad days. They need to learn. They also need to fix. We are fixers as an agency. Every partnership always needs fixing, and we have the tools and experience to do so.

We Are At A Turning Point With Transparency.

Social media has taught us to seek transparency. To understand what we are buying before we buy it. To learn from afar and look at the big picture to have an understanding of what makes it tick, often diving into the minutia of wanting to understand the very basic elements to get how it works.

When your client has no idea of how hard it actually was to build the campaign, they have very little insight into being able to understand the amount of expertise and work it took to bring it to life. And they will never have the full understanding of respect that is deserved for that partnership – not only for that agency who did the work but for the actual partnership and the true value of what it took to build it. And the magic and value behind it.

An Extreme Amount Of Work.

As an agency, we have weathered storms for clients that they never feel the brunt of. They never feel the pressure of the entire partnership falling apart – sometimes over and over again, where we race from one moment of absolute panic to another before finding a way to shore it back up again. Like a parent, taking care of its child, they are shielded and protected. We ensure that the partnership we are building on their behalf is fruitful and beneficial. And we do our damndest to make sure that the leadership and management team behind the brand feels secure that our agency holds their brand’s reputation in their hands, and that we are capable of managing that tremendous amount of responsibility.

Getting Naked Feels Too Risky, Right? Depends On The Partner I Guess. Maybe This Risk Is Worth It.

This means we typically don’t show the ugly, the broken, the damage along the way. Instead, we find solutions and work things out in the background never for the client to even be aware of, or we bring an option to the client and then address it, sharing the solutions.  That means the work we do, and the campaigns we build, are often under-appreciated. Not respected. And discounted in value and merit. To be fair, it is hard to ‘get’ something when you have had no access to seeing it along the way.

Because in Hollywood, making magic happen on screen is driven by an incredible amount of work. Whether that work is in that moment requiring dozens to hundreds of hours to complete, or whether that work was a cumulation of decades of daily hands-on experience leading to the ability to on-a-dime find success – these deals in Hollywood do not get done without work, people and relationships.

And trust me, they are always under-appreciated. We have a running joke in the office that the goal is not to get a client "thank you" - but to not get any complaints, because then you know you nailed it. Some clients seem to have a fear often that if they thank you loudly and from the rooftops, that the result will be you will charge them more in the future. It's like a way to keep an agency in 'check'.

Or it could just be that as a society as a whole, we aren't so great at saying "thank you." It's hard to say "thank you" when you aren't getting thanks yourself from working your own butt off at your corporate job. Lack of "thank you's" is an everyone issue.

Welcome To 2022 - The Year Of Transparency. You Heard It Here First. 

As we move our agency forward in 2022 we are addressing transparency by providing openly known employee salaries, agency rate cards, job role structures, continued “how-to” agency insights, publicly shared gender pronouns, and all the good, the bad and the ugly of what owning an agency and being in business mean with our team. Even my salary is known.

We have no secrets as an agency. How much people make – or the agency makes – is not a taboo topic at Hollywood Branded. We are transparent in sharing what we believe it means to be a good partner as an employee, as a boss, as a client, as a vendor. We want to be good partners, to do good, and to create mutually beneficial relationships with those in our circles and throughout the Hollywood industry. But it goes well beyond just that.

We want to empower and revolutionize the way the entire world approaches building mutually beneficial partnerships.

Are You Up To The Challenge?

My challenge to you for this year ahead is to join our mission – and to find ways to start creating better more mutually beneficial partnerships by being more transparent in your own relationships. And to the client, I owe that apology to – lesson learned. My sincere apologies.

Are you “All In” at your company, your job, your favored past-time? What is YOUR first step to creating your own more mutually beneficial partnerships? We can do this. Together.

Eager To Learn More?

Want to learn more about Hollywood Branded's culture? Eager to read about more ways to avoid mistakes and improve your business? Check out these blogs written by the rest of our team!

Want to share a few of your mistakes, and how you've learned from them? Apply now to become a guest on our podcast, "Marketing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)."  

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