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The importance of learning from campaign failures

In a recent article titled ‘Learning from our mistakes’, UK-based communications consultant Pete Moorey affirmed that while marketing and public relations is a sector obsessed with monitoring and evaluation, the industry is very reluctant to talk about failure.

So how can you avoid failure? And if you do fail, how should you handle it?

Set realistic expectations

Setting realistic expectations is extremely important before rolling out a campaign. It’s crucial to agree what success looks like from the outset and to remain honest with your feedback. Be careful not to overpromise if you know from the conception of the campaign that an outcome is not possible. It will leave everyone feeling underwhelmed and frustrated.

Consider smart objectives

Workshop a range of quantifiable goals and objectives and be sure to prioritise them. Having achievable goals ensures they can be easily tracked and measured throughout the campaign. This also means you can address any underperformance issues early on.

Optimise along the way

If you can see that the campaign is not progressing in the way that you planned, reset your objectives and expectations to better fit reality. You might also have room to tweak the campaign strategy. No one likes to hear that things aren’t going well, but being on the front foot ensures transparency. Finally, don’t dwell too much on the issue. Switch into solution mode and work through multiple options and recommendations to recalibrate.

There’s a chance you’ve done everything you can and you’re still not getting anywhere. What happens then? In his article, Pete Moorey raises an excellent point that sometimes campaign failures can catapult you into the next phase. Consider what you’re going to do if plan A fails. What is your plan B, C and D?

Plan for the future

Rather than focus on the negatives of a campaign, take time to host a post-campaign wrap up and analyse what did and didn’t work. These key findings can be taken on board and used to guide and inform future campaigns.

Just because the campaign didn’t work as planned doesn’t mean you have failed completely. This may be the push that everyone involved needed to see that the route they were heading down wasn’t right. Remember, sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.

Madeleine Leonard, PR and marketing executive


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