Sometimes you do a great job and everything goes as planned. Your marketing campaigns are great, your metrics are through the roof, you dazzle your marketing boss and executive team and they’re thrilled. But sometimes (read: lots of times) it is just not that simple. Here’s my advice for having tough conversations with your marketing boss who just is not happy.

First things first. Your main job is to do everything you can to ensure that a campaign goes well from the outset.

Kicking ass on the campaign and having a happy boss is the number one way to not have to have a hard conversation. Put together a meaningful and comprehensive agreement with your boss and make sure you’ve got a smooth operating system while the campaign is rolling.  If you’ve covered all your bases and things are still going south, here are some rules to follow to right the ship.

Rule #1: Avoidance will make everything worse.

Does it totally suck to talk to an unhappy marketing boss? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.
If you try to avoid your boss that seems upset by not answering her emails or avoiding select tough questions and answering other softball ones… you’re gonna brew up a seriously bad situation that you will have to deal with once it boils over. Just bite the bullet (or “eat the shit sandwich” as someone would say) and address the issue head on with your boss. Heading off issues allows you to be on the offensive instead of the defensive. That leads us to rule #2…

Rule #2: Frame the conversation

Start the conversation with the things that are going well before you dive into all the bad stuff. Tell her about some of the small victories– the content is performing really well, the creative is all complete, etc.– then dive right into the issue. This is rule is not designed to make you seem evasive, but it is important to help shape your boss’s state of mind. She might be entering the conversation thinking that things are worse than they really are, this is your opportunity to show them what is going well before you address what isn’t going so hot.

Rule #3: Take responsibility

If there was something that went wrong and it was clearly your fault, fess up to it right away. This is just part of being an adult. If you know what happened to make the program derail, odds are that your boss also knows or will soon find out. So unless you feel like being caught in a lie and having a triple-time awkward conversation later on, just explain what happened. Here are the steps to take:

  • Explain what happened. Don’t make excuses but do give them the reasons that things went wrong.
  • Own it. Take responsibility for the failure.
  • Apologize. Tell them you are sorry for the oversight and the confusion it caused, the time it consumed, etc.
  • Make it right. This is the most important part. Don’t just say “woops, sorry” let them know what you are doing to fix it. Are you going to give them something extra to make up for it? Are you going to add another person to the project to make sure it stays on track better? Etc.

Rule #4: Provide a smart wrap up

You should give your boss a report on how your specific campaign went. This should include all of the successes, but it should not gloss over the harder topics. Campaigns don’t always go well. Experienced marketers know this and you should know it too. If your campaign did not perform quite the way you expected, don’t just say “oops, sorry” and leave it at that. If you want to maintain a working relationship with your boss and your whole marketing team, you should do a postmortem on your unsuccessful campaigns. Provide your thoughts on why the campaign might have underperformed. Putting this kind of thought into each campaign wrap up will not only impress your boss and give you a great reputation in the field, but will also help you hone in more quickly on which campaigns are more likely to be successful.