A longstanding client. A new brand director. A meeting to tell them how far we’ve come with developing their tone of voice. The words we never want to hear…’I can’t have anything that isn’t going to make a difference. And I don’t see this making a difference.’. We left the room with these words ringing in our ears: ‘I can’t have anything that won’t make a difference’.

It doesn’t matter who you are – whether you’re a supplier with a lovely, longstanding client relationship or a marketing manager who’s just got a new boss. Being told the work you’ve done isn’t up to scratch is hard. Our first emotion was panic. We thought we were going to lose one of our favourite clients. Then we questioned the work we’d done, which then led us to question the work we were doing for other clients.

Then we had a lightbulb moment.

This wasn’t a disaster. It was brilliant. Being told we weren’t good enough was the best thing that could have happened to us after 10 years in business. Just what we needed. And just what our client needed.

You see we’d been given a real chance. To shake things up, to do things better. To fix a problem. Sometimes clients drift away and we have no idea why. This time we had our client telling us we hadn’t quite delivered, and giving us the chance to mend it.

So we set out to do just that. We pulled our team together for an intensive two-day session in London – how could we solve the challenge we’d been offered? How could we really make tone of voice stick in a large organisation where thousands of people write and say things to customers every day.

We started by ripping apart the work we’d done over the last two years, questioning every aspect – was the idea strong enough, did it really stick with staff, would it mean they could help more customers and be better at their jobs? Would it truly change the business?

Taking things apart to really pull them together

With existing clients (or in your own job) it’s not often you get to take a step back and look objectively at the work you’re doing. A yearly review might get you to buck up for a few weeks. Sometimes a prod from the boss will re-energise you. But when was the last time you completely went back to the drawing board? Started from scratch and looked long and hard at what was and wasn’t working, and why?

A few weeks later we went back to see our client. Nervous but excited. We presented something we thought would blow their socks off. And it did.

‘I love what you’ve done – it’s intelligent, well thought-through, effective. World-class thinking. I can’t wait to share it with our management team.’

Daryl Fielding, Director of Brand Marketing at Vodafone

What did we learn? It’s so important to find the time be your own critic – don’t be content to just keep delivering what you know you should. Instead build in ways to look at what you’re doing, innovate where you can and challenge yourself and your colleagues to keep coming up with ways to do things better.