How an Excellent Promotion Idea Bombed, and What I Learned

Whose fault is it when you sell a great promotion idea and the client screws it up?

Radio sales tip: it's your responsibility

Photo by jstaley4011/dpc

My friend Rod Schwartz took issue when I said this on a recent post:

“If you put together a program that drives traffic to your client’s website, and that traffic never turns into money, you have failed. Don’t just shrug your shoulders and blame the advertiser. You are an Account Executive. Your job is to execute. If the campaign fails and the client cancels, it’s on you.”

Rod’s reply:

Is it also on the AE if his radio or TV ads bring traffic to the store, but the traffic never turns into money because: a) the store doesn’t have the merchandise;
b) store employees aren’t doing their job;
c) anything else that isn’t directly under the AE’s control causes the prospect to take his money elsewhere?

Of course not.

The AE’s job is to execute the actions for which he is directly responsible. Holding him accountable for the client’s failure (to convert traffic into sales, or whatever), when he hasn’t been given the authority or resources to effect the necessary changes, seems a bit much. Of course a conscientious AE is going to call attention to problems he spots and suggest solutions, but in the end, it’s on the advertiser.

I believe that the salesperson needs to be actively looking for ways that things can go wrong, and taking pro-active steps to make sure those issues are dealt with before the campaign hits the air.

Here’s a story of a time that I failed to do that.

In 2006 I was a  salesperson for Clear Channel Radio (now iHeart Media) in Portland, Oregon. I stumbled onto a great summer auto dealer promotion idea in a newsletter, and took it to one of my biggest clients, Beaverton Mitsubishi.

The idea: on a designated weekend, everyone who takes a test drive gets a free half-gallon of ice cream.

The logic: many buyers — especially used car buyers — spend an afternoon on Auto Row, going from dealership to dealership test driving the cars. It’s frustrating to spend significant time with a customer only to have that customer wave and head for the lot across the street. Give them a carton of ice cream, and they have to go home and put it in the freezer. Your lot is the last one they visit for the day.

The store GM loved it and we scheduled the promotion for a weekend in July. I told the general manager to tell the salespeople to give everyone the ice cream after a test drive, whether they asked for it or not.

This wasn’t really a traffic-driving promotion — even though we ran radio ads, I wasn’t convinced a lot of people would make a special trip to Beaverton Mitsubishi just to get some ice cream. The aim was to change the behavior of every customer who took a test drive, not just those who responded to the radio.

The GM promised he’d let his sales managers know, and they’d tell the salespeople. That sounded fine to me.

Big mistake.

I found a company to rent us a freezer and had it delivered to the dealership. The GM was supposed to buy the ice cream, but a couple of days before the event he asked me to do it because he “didn’t have time.”

Warning sign. I missed it.

I picked up 25 half gallons of ice cream, brought them to the store and stocked the freezer. I showed them to the GM and told him to call my cell phone if he ran low and I’d pick up some more.

The weekend came and went. No calls from the store. On Monday I went back to the store, and there were 20 half-gallons of ice cream still in the freezer. The manager told me that the promotion had bombed.

It turned out that the managers hadn’t really explained the concept to the salespeople. Some of them had no idea why there was a freezer in the back office, and the ones who knew about the promotion thought they were only supposed to give the ice cream to people who mentioned the ad.

Whose responsibility was that? It was mine. Looking back on it, what were the odds that an auto dealership manager was really going to take the time to explain a radio promotion to his salespeople? Slim, at best.

I could have shown up at a dealership sales meeting, played the commercial for everyone, told them exactly what to do, and explained how they would benefit. I could have shown up on Saturday morning, taken a few minutes to talk with the salespeople, made sure they remembered that this was the weekend of the big ice cream promotion, and gotten them enthusiastic about it.

I didn’t. The GM had told me he would let everyone know, and that sounded good to me. One less thing for me to worry about.

It would have been easy to blame the store for not executing the promotion properly. But was the Account Executive. Responsibility for execution was mine. 


Beaverton Mitsubishi is long gone, but I still drive by the lot on Canyon Road every now and then. Each time I do, I think about the ice cream promotion, and I wince.

Next week I’ll be in the Midwest, and one of my meetings is with the owner of a chain of weight loss clinics. The advertising drives people to their website, where they are supposed to sign up for a consultation. I looked at the site, and found that it takes several unnecessary clicks to get to the signup page, and once I got there the instructions left me confused. People who are confused often do nothing. The website doesn’t pass The Mom Test.

I could just shrug and say, “The TV is doing its job — it’s getting people to the site. It’s not my fault that the site is screwed up.” But I know that’s a cop-out. Next week I’m going to pull the site up on my laptop, show the client exactly where her prospects are getting lost, and tell her what changes she needs to make before her ads go back on the air.

The success of the campaign is our responsibility.


1. Spend a few minutes reviewing the upcoming campaigns you’ve sold. Ask what has to happen to make each campaign successful. Is the product in the store? Do the front-line employees know about the promotion? Can the advertiser’s website pass The Mom Test?

2. Begin including a “To Do” list with each presentation. Give the client a list of tasks that must be performed. Agree, in writing, on who will perform each task. Follow up to make sure everything gets done.

3. Start a discussion with your peers. Share this on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


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