Once you’ve finished a significant project with your marketing agency, take time to evaluate how things went. This postmortem review can help you both make the next project even better.

The first quarter of the year for my agency is trade show season. Several clients of ours have their largest shows during this time and thus it’s always busy. At times it gets downright hectic. Trade shows are big projects with a lot of moving parts and a laundry list of things to get just right. As projects they last for months from start to finish and sometimes consume more than their fair share of marketing budgets. That said, I think they’re a lot of fun!

Being a full service agency gives us the opportunity to really roll up our sleeves and dig in to making these shows a success. I’ve personally coordinated entire shows for key clients end-to-end — from booking the space, handling freight logistics, ordering carpet, electrical, rigging, etc. to then flying to the show site, helping setup and staffing the booth. I’ve even given formal presentations to attendees about my client’s product. Becoming truly integrated as part of the team, acting not as a vendor or contractor, but more like a member of the client’s staff.  Then after the show closes I’ve helped pack it all up and get our freight and storage paperwork in order.  The value of time spent together as client and agency when not strictly engaged in a meeting or working on a specific task is hard to overstate as it contributes to the nurturing of a positive partnership.

At the end of the “big” show for one client of mine in particular, the CEO likes to bring the entire team together for a “wrap” dinner.  This dinner is mostly a celebration of putting another successful show in the books, but also an opportunity for everyone to talk about the good, great and could-have-been-better. This conscious decision to take time to discuss the entire project while the body is still warm (so to speak), has been shown to be tremendously valuable for all involved. There’s time for self-reflection and honest evaluation of how things aligned with our assumptions prior to the event. You have the chance for both a collective pat on the back when we knock it out of the park, as well as the opportunity to admit failure when we totally missed and struck out.

Honest, open dialogue from all in attendance at the trade show is immensely valuable because both the client and the agency can hear the perspective of each team member, regardless of role.  So, while the CEO may have been engaged in high-level meetings during the show hours, the team members staffing the booth will likely have many anecdotes to share from visitors to the booth the CEO may have missed. And vice versa. Same is true for agency staff in attendance.  Seeing and hearing how everything played out contributes a great deal to being able to effectively guide clients for the next show. The agency staff present can evaluate their role and how the creative work and/or strategic plans the agency was responsible for played out.

Perhaps the most benefit comes from discussing the things that could have been better.  Admissions of failure, however small or grand, allow for positive change to take hold after the project has wrapped up. Capping off the postmortem review with a great meal leaves everyone in good spirits, ready to return to the office and work to improve.

But trade shows are far from the only projects that can benefit from a formal postmortem review. Any significant undertaking can yield insights for the next task. This is true even for projects that don’t repeat as trade shows often do. For instance, your company may not launch another product again anytime soon, but a review of how your product launch efforts went will help inform the rest of your marketing collaboration. Some projects will lend themselves to providing real data points you can use for analysis as well. A good example might be the completion of an ad campaign with a trade publication. The publication will often share with the client and agency performance metrics, either in the form of a reader survey, number of clicks and impressions in a digital campaign, even the total number of readers who may have requested more information via the magazine’s reader response code. This sort of data can give you insights into how effective the creative was, or even if it was an appropriate fit for the medium selected. Also, if you had measurable results in the form of sales goals or audience participation, reviewing the entirety of the project after it’s been completed is worthwhile to grade yourselves on how well you performed.

We often have a tendency to forget everything we went through to make a project a success as soon as it’s behind us; the next big thing is always waiting in the wings. However, I’d strongly encourage taking a few moments and reflecting on the past, even if briefly, to allow it to contribute to your future. Give your past project that one last chance to contribute to your current and future success by honestly reflecting upon how the workflow was between your agency and yourself, if your assumptions were reinforced or rejected, what you’d do the same next time, and finally what you’d do differently.  As the old adage says: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Strive to repeat only the good and revise the bad.