It’s OK to say “No”


The Pontiac Aztek remains a perennial punchline. So much so that when the writers of Breaking Bad wanted a car to exemplify just how much of a loser Walter White is at the start of the series, they gave him the Aztek. The Aztek checked all the right boxes.

As Former General Motors CEO Bob Lutz said in a recent Road & Track interview, the Aztek was born in a company committed to innovation and was a “vehicle that achieved all its internal objectives.” Yet, it still landed on Time Magazine’s 50 Worst Cars of All TimeThe truth is, the Aztek wasn’t a result of bad thinking, it was a result of never hearing “no.”

Says Lutz:

The guy in charge of product development was Don Hackworth, an old-school guy from the tradition of shouts, browbeating, and by-God-I-want-it-done. He said, “Look. We’ve all made up our minds that the Aztek is gonna be a winner. It’s gonna astound the world. I don’t want any negative comments about this vehicle. None. Anybody who has bad opinions about it, I want them off the team.” 

This isn’t just a problem for a major company like GM, it’s a huge problem in the world of communications consultants like HB. We pride ourselves on our collaborative method of doing business. We want our clients to say “HB is our partner and a valuable extension of our team.” It’s also why we often say “no” when a client wants to walk down a path we think would be harmful. Nevertheless, we all easily fall into the trap of doing things just because the client asked. After all, clients pay the bills and if they want it, we do it, right?

While there are certainly times when we can easily say “yes” to a request, we can serve our clients better if we pause to ask smart questions. Who are you trying to reach? What information is this supposed to communicate? What behavior are you hoping to change? How will you measure impact? More importantly, how can we make sure the initiative achieves its goals.  In these cases, diplomacy is key. So is integrity and the willingness to earn our keep by increasing every investment’s likelihood of success.

Maybe the Aztec should serve as a warning to agencies that want to foster a collaborative relationship. When collaborating just means saying yes because the person on the end of the line is “the client,” bad products and even worse marketing campaigns can be the outcome. When we foster a collaborative relationship with our clients where we can feel comfortable saying, “No, but we have an alternative,” award-winning work is likely to result.


About Mower Boston

Boston's Mower office is a full-service technology marketing, PR and branding agency. Our B2B stories illustrate projects and campaigns in a variety of markets and media that range from local impact in Boston and New England to global proportions.

Speak Your Mind