Saying yes can get you far, but saying no can get you further

Polkadot Communications founder Dionne Taylor looks at how the powerful - and the importance - of refusal.

It is never easy to say no to business opportunities. And over the past 15 years I have learned the hard way.

From back when “everyone is a potential client” to the modern version of the agency when “we hand select our clients,” I have enjoyed the evolution of Polkadot Communications and how both the team and I have given permission to ourselves to challenge the opportunity, not just accept it.

In the early days of the agency I participated in a mentor program through Public Relations Industry Association (PRIA) and was lucky enough to be assigned Geoff Michels, co-founder of Michels Warren who told me “there’s no point in focusing on what’s happening today. Focus on what is happening tomorrow, and go for it”. I wrote this on a Post-It note and taped it to the wall next to my desk, and always referred to it when new opportunities were presented to me.

It was this philosophy that led us to change the way we do things at Polkadot Communications and not just accept what opportunities came to us, but rather challenge them and ensure that every commercial decision we make meets the following criteria:

  1. Can we benefit from this business opportunity as much as the client will benefit from the great work we do?
  2. Do we believe in what we are promoting, and is this brand making a difference?
  3. Do we share the same views of success and can the client be educated to what is deemed successful?
  4. Will this be a pleasurable experience for both parties?

This so-called “litmus test” in the agency is what we face whenever we are presented with opportunities, from staffing talent to partnerships to new business.

And saying no to these four questions has always resulted in the best outcomes.

Ask any agency owner and they will likely agree – inbound briefs are awesome – that you don’t need to go hunting for business, and the potential client is already committed to investment. But often what can happen is you can pour hours of time into finding out more about this potential client, researching their industry, their competitors, their vision, only to find that they are the wrong fit. You know you can do a good job for them, but will that serve you and your team well in the process? The answer isn’t always yes.

In a post-COVID world where work in certain categories dried up, we were in a position where we didn’t want to say no but instead holding true to the four criteria of what makes a successful partnership. We have turned down a lot of work since March 2020, only to benefit and grow with our existing, loyal portfolio of clients.

There is greater value in growing with your current client fold than seeking new ones. This is a lesson I have learned and deep down believe is the fundamental reason agencies can grow not broadly, but vertically. We have done this, and as a generalist agency, we represent some of the best brands across a variety of industries.

We have and continue to maintain our check list going forward. It’s served us well, and no doubt will continue to do so for at least the next 15 years. It’s been a journey, and I have loved every minute of it.

Dionne Taylor is the founder of Polkadot Communications.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.