“If you are not facing resistance, it is because you are not pushing too hard” – Bob Sutton, Innovation Professor at Stanford

Resistance has a bad reputation. When facing opposition, we tend to feel stuck or fight back. Actually, building on a phrase that Bob Sutton repeated over and over when I was at Stanford last winter, resistance is caused by change. When it happens, it is a good signal. Instead of fighting it, we can use that energy in our favor. This story is about how we dealt with resistance in the shape of two storms: a natural catastrophe and an internal one.

Ideas at the Speed of a Hurricane

On September 2014, when Mexico’s Los Cabos, a tourist destination favored by Americans, was about to get ready for its peak season, it was suddenly hit by a hurricane. Our client the Mexico Tourism Board called us immediately to help with the crisis.

As I discussed in previous pieces, the traditional advertising development process resembles an assembly line. Creative work moves from one department to another. When a client is affected by a sudden catastrophe we need to develop solutions at the same speed. This was the perfect test for our still new collaborative and human-centric creative process.

“We built a war room, connected to real-time data and talked to people that were affected by the hurricane to learn and get inspired from their stories,” explains Pablo Sabouret, account supervisor. “In less than 72 hours we had three fertile creative solutions — based on a human truth — with various executions to be presented to the client.”

Fighting many storms at the time. Does it ring a bell?

The major realization was that when Americans think of a hurricane, they immediately think of Katrina, which not only caused a huge damage but also took many years of recovery. Even though the Mexico authorities achieved their goal of getting Los Cabos back in business in eight weeks, would people believe it? Our key challenge was to fight skepticism. In addition to that, we had to clean the Internet: social media networks were full of images showing the damage caused by the storm as well as stressed out tourists.

The overarching idea was to fight skepticism by showing real evidence that Los Cabos was as good (or even better) than before the hurricane. Social Media was critical to showing the before and after. From celebrities replicating selfies that regular folks took before the hurricane, to Instagraming bef0re-and-after images of Los Cabos, we engaged in an real time conversation to rebuild the social reputation.

The Internal Storm

“When it’s on your desk, it’s yours. When it’s on the wall, it’s ours.” — 72andSunny

You would think that a campaign that was created in 72 hours, won at every major award show including Cannes and increased tourist visits (when a 24% decrease was expected) would have initially been well received internally. But it wasn’t. Those results were after the fact. I’m not here to sell you the work (though you can check it here) but to share what happened in the kitchen during the process.

When the team shared the work with department heads, an internal storm got started raising questions like: “Why wasn’t I part of the process?”, “Why are account and strategists seen the ideas before me?” “Why were you all brainstorming together?”

Felipe Cabrera, VP, strategy, said it better: “We didn’t expect such resistance as the solutions were great. The feedback we received was focused on attacking the process rather than helping improve the work.”

The advertising industry, unfortunately, like many others, still deals with bruised egos. Thus the storm we faced internally. The process we instilled to speed the creative development was met with resistance.

We are now in a much better place. We are still struggling a little with sharing the work in a raw form, but getting there. Our colleagues from 72andSunny put it nicely: “When it’s on your desk, it’s yours. When it’s on the wall, it’s ours.” Not all creative minds thrive in a collaborative and open environment. We lost some good talent that couldn’t adapt. But we’ve also attracted some great people that truly believe that great ideas are the result of collaboration of smart and generous minds.

Lessons From the Storm

Here are some first-hand learnings from the protagonists themselves:

  • Make sure that the team is aligned throughout the process. “We had to convince the team to trust us, facing resistance is inevitable, you need to be ready to face it as a team.” — Pablo Sabouret
  • Beware of tensions driven by hierarchies. “Hierarchy creates power struggles. We need to prepare the teams to deal with resistance coming from the ‘boss’.” — Felipe Cabrera.
  • Design the experience of selling the idea. “Don’t rely solely on your work, design the experience of selling, prepare for resistance. Moving forward we have to celebrate how we got there too, the process behind the success story.” — Felipe Cabrera

Funny enough the hashtag used for the campaign was #unstoppable. Though it was conceived to represent the resilient spirit of Mexicans I can’t help but making the connection with the process. It’s easy to defeat one person, but much harder to fight a team that’s aligned on the process and vision. No matter what resistance or storm they faced, they became unstoppable.

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