Taking responsibility for your fuck ups

*Disclaimer: the f word will be used at several points in this post, because there is no better way to describe a mistake than ‘fuck up’.

South Africans are terrible at taking responsibility for failures. Generalisation – yes, but it occurs in every aspect of society – not just with politicians.

Fortunately, for more than three years i.e Retroviral’s existence, we have made a helluva lot less mistakes than we’ve had successes and we like to consider our clients more friend than contractual obligation. We’re human. Sometimes we fuck up and it’s important to put your hand up and acknowledge said fuck up.

We work in an industry that is based on relationships and human interactions and sometimes the relationships are more like relationshits, as Dane Cook so eloquently describes them. Sometimes it’s best for brands and agencies to go their separate ways because marriage is not on the cards and that’s perfectly cool.

There are however other occasions when one party (read: agency) doesn’t put in enough effort. They entered the relationship for the wrong reasons; brand popularity or size of retainer are attractive properties, but doth not a recipe for long term commitment make. The reality of the situation is that there’s always going to be a bigger, more popular brand out to pitch.

Tree of trust time. We didn’t do the best job we could do on a project back in March. There were many reasons for this failure. We should’ve pushed back harder and been more stern with the client and made recommendations why the event time should’ve been changed. We should’ve been more proactive in making calls and getting all suppliers around a table to address our concerns and nip any risks in the bud.

It was a multi faceted project. Fortunately we didn’t fuck up the other components.

When we met around the large 20 seater boardroom table after the first fuck up phase, I put on my big girl panties, admitted that we had indeed under-delivered on our objectives but were hellbent on making things right going forward. Always use going forward around a 20 seater boardroom table.

Fast forward to June, we completed the project, implemented an incredibly successful second phase and now there is even talk of future work with the client.

The lesson here is that clients are human, they are under copious amounts of pressure that agencies will never ‘get’. The same goes for agency pressures. We have to keep an array of clients happy and make them feel like the only person in our lives when we all know we are dating multiple brands, concurrently. It’s a numbers game. Statistically we are going to fuck up at some stage.

Man up. Admit to the fuck up and clients are more likely to respect you for being adult enough to take responsibility. Go one step further and develop a plan to create a solution post fuck up. Turn the fuck up, into a fuck yeah.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Happy weekend folks!



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  • Filip on Jul 26th 2013 at 02:16

    Squeezing into big girl panties and admitting you “fucked up” before the client has a chance to say so is quite rare. Yet that’s one of the strongest ways to build trust, isn’t it? Even if the client may not have noticed you fucked up, you pointing it out shows respect and makes people believe when you say something went well.

    To those agencies keeping hush / not getting vulnerable when something goes wrong or not as well as expected: no one believes you long term and the agencies keeping it real will scoop up your clients sooner or later.

  • Chris M on Jul 26th 2013 at 03:35


  • Dean on Jul 29th 2013 at 08:04


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