The Law of Constant Compromise

Why is it that marketers cannot simply declare what their objectives are and then go about the business of getting there in a swift and decisive fashion?

Similarly, why is it that agencies cannot simply declare what their solutions are (or will be) and then go about the business of executing them in a swift and decisive manner?

The answer to both is the same.  There are no “straight lines” in marketing.  Even the “shortest distance” between two points (such as problem and solution) will be pocked with turns and tumbles, sideswipes and stumbles.  We are in a near constant state of compromise, and until we recognize it, we will suffer losses in the face of it.  This is why I have coined the term “The Law of Constant Compromise.”

This law is simply stated as:  No matter what the plan is and what the solutions are, expect to compromise at virtually every intersection on your way to the finish line.  This is a great heuristic for those of us in the projection business, those of us in the creative business, and all of us in the marketing business.

In nearly every facet of marketing, we’re faced with challenges, changes and charges to improve on the last execution or set a tone of success if it’s our first time out of the gate.  We draw a straight line between where we are now, and where we want to be at the end of the program/project/contract.  And then the shitstorm begins:  major and minor mishaps that mire progress on any level:  the client wants the logo bigger.  The photographer thinks Oklahoma City is a better backdrop for this shot.  The media doesn’t quite have the inventory they promised you. Your software was just updated.  The new designer you hired may have exaggerated a titch on her resume.  The competition launched a new product and you didn’t see it coming. And those are just the obvious speed bumps.

And on and on it goes.  This is life in marketing.  So at each turn, you have to be quick on your feet, keep your objectives in mind, and come up with an alternate re-routing (or 12) of your original plan.  In other words, you must learn to constantly compromise.  And compromising is about retaining your original intentions while reacting to and managing the current obstacles.  We don’t give up, we don’t kick and scratch and demand to have it our way, we compromise our way into a workable solution.

I see it based on a simple equation: our original intent, divided by the nature of the current challenge, then multiplied by the value of the revised solution.

So, if the Law of Constant Compromise exists, how do we use it to our advantage?  Keep these five factors in mind:

  1. Remember why you’re compromising:  You had a big idea.  Or you have a great plan to introduce it to the world.  You don’t scrap the whole darn thing if you believe in the value of the original destination.  Hold on to your big idea.  Let the twists and turns add or remove certain features, or change the timeline, but don’t let it re-design or derail the entire program.
  2. Remember your prior mistakes, but don’t hold someone else accountable for them.  As you look to work around challenges and changes, make sure you remember your previous stumbles and take care to not repeat them.
  3. Be prepared for things to change. We spend a lot of our time dreaming of the perfect execution, the perfect campaign, the perfect dashboard to demonstrate how our metrics held up.  But the bottom line in our business is that things change hourly, pretty much.  Just know that things are coming that can blow out your tires, then be prepared to adapt – and quickly.
  4. Respect mandatories.  Every agency and every client has mandatories that must be honored.  Respect these, and let them be the guideposts as you create new solutions when necessary.  You may have to veer off the intended course for a while.  But as long as you end up at your point B, does it matter what route you took to get there (as long as nothing surreptitious was purported?)
  5. Get better at workarounds.  We can’t see every obstacle as a dead end.  Every time we’re faced with a challenge and we create a compromise, we do have the opportunity to make things better, make the solutions cooler, create something insanely greater.  Remember the equation: your original intent gets divided (therefore minimized) by obstacles.  But your original intent is also multiplied (thus maximized) by the value and power of your new ideas.  So bone up on quick-on-your-feet-how-about-this-instead skills.

Get a grip on the Law of Constant Compromise, and your experiences may be that the compromises along the way are actually what lead you to the greatest successes of all.  Challenges won’t seem so unwanted anymore.  You’ll welcome the opportunity to create better plans, craft better stories, build better relationships. And you’ll find out a lot about yourself– or your agency, or your business model–in the process.

4 thoughts on “The Law of Constant Compromise

    • Anonymous January 30, 2012 / 4:05 pm

      Hey, thanks Phil. I’m sure you’ve had plenty of experiences in this context. Any notable anecdotes?


  1. Mark Kolier (@markkolier) January 30, 2012 / 3:36 pm

    Great piece Nader. While compromise is a constant and is constant, fighting hard for what is at the core of your marketing message and having a willigness to NOT compromise when your core principle is being tossed takes real stregnth and conviction. It’s getting harder to find clients that appreciate that but well worth it.


    • Anonymous January 30, 2012 / 4:08 pm

      You’re right, Mark. It is really hard. I long for the days when agency and marketer were linked at the deepest levels, and fought market battles together. Even at small engagement levels, the “relationship” in client-agency-relationship seems to have evaporated at roughly the same rate as channels have proliferated. Do you agree?


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