It’s better to beg forgiveness

You know the old adage “It’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission”? It’s practically my mantra. Good. Well, get ready for trouble.  For those of you working in large government institutions – your manager doesn’t want you to read what follows.

I worked with government nearly 12 years before starting Build Strong Cities Corp. I know how slow government can be to change programs and processes, and to eliminate redundant or ineffectual practices. The institution I worked in was notoriously slow to upgrade technology and marketing outreach to social and digital media. Making the case for change, I convinced my CEO and IT Director to let me launch a social media campaign for one specific area of programming: an FDI (foreign direct investment) attraction event that had a tech savvy target audience.

I won approval for the pilot social media campaign primarily because it had fixed start and end dates. I thought that if I could start with a small pilot, I could test some concepts, learn best practices and then apply them to a larger, sustained campaign. I was convinced that through a pilot I’d be able to prove that social and digital technologies could support our overall economic development efforts.

The test run was a success. We accomplished our goals and decided to keep the program going to sustain the social and digital communities we’d built with this sector.  However, when I approached my CEO with a social and digital marketing plan for the whole organization he said, “absolutely no way!” He felt we didn’t have the budget or organizational capacity to support it.  But I’d proved just the opposite!

I went back to my mantra, and proceeded to plan and launch our institution wide social media strategy. I’d already tested the strategy on a smaller program. I took what I learned and applied it to our larger goal: technological advancement of the whole organization.  My plan was this: if I could launch it and show good results, I’d gain notoriety, and my CEO’s full support!

For a year I spent my spare time quietly building the social platforms and campaign. I monitored its growth and the progress we were making. Then, in 2005, success!  Our organization became among the first to exploit the wonderful world of digital and social media.

My hard work was validated a few months later when a national research firm ranked our social and digital media campaigns in the top 5 of Canada.  Amazing news. Now all I had to do was tell my CEO that I’d launched the campaign without his permission and that it was already winning awards!

The conversation went something like this:

“I know we talked about social media and you felt it wasn’t a great idea for the organization. But following the success of our trial campaign, I thought I would keep tinkering with it. Well, turns out someone’s been paying attention because our social media just ranked in the top 5 in Canada.”

No begging for forgiveness, just stated the facts. To my relief, my manager was so impressed he gave me permission to properly promote and pursue a comprehensive social media strategy. I had free reign to research best-practices from other industries and adopt applicable strategies and tactics. Our campaigns went on to rank in the Top 5 Canadian Digital Campaigns for economic development for three consecutive years. In 2012 we were ranked #4 internationally by fDi Magazine (a Financial Times Publication).

Yes. Economic development and government agencies often tend to be slow to adopt new technologies, so take a measured approach. Test an idea and show your results. If you don’t get a green light right away, keep going. Sharpen your tools, hone your plan and measure more carefully until your manager is firmly in a position where they can say “no” no longer!

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