Today’s guest post is by James Ellis.

It’s strange something said by Mike Tyson would have such legs, but his quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” really seems to resonate with people

Marketers especially.

You see marketers, who traffic in things called marketing plans, are surprisingly averse to planning for that knock-out moment when they get punched in the face.

For example, what happens when that social media plan gets up-ended when someone (or a lot of someones) decides to use that social platform to poke holes in the brand’s image? (Paging Motrin Moms, BP Public Relations Twitter accounts, or rogue Domino’s Pizza employees.)

Worse, what happens when that meticulously considered plan just doesn’t work? What happens when no one shows up? When no one comments? When no one shares or likes or follows?

The Right Hook

The thing is, every boxer knows they are going to get punched in the face at some point. Well, they know it with their head, but they might not know it in their heart. Maybe they secretly hope that they can win the bout without having to feel that sting. They practice bobbing and weaving, envisioning the victory, but do they really plan for what happens when they get hit in the face? Or when they fall to the canvas?

Every marketer, whether they admit it or not, plans to be able to take the victory lap when things work out. When the marketer can show an ROI higher than anticipated, they are quick to send that email. But no one plans for the “what if” where things just fall apart.

The Upper Cut

No marketer has a perfect track record. Everyone has at least one semi-traumatic adverse event in their past. And while we presume the marketer has learned from that misstep, that doesn’t mean they are protected against any future catastrophes.

Obviously, the reason marketers are reticent to make such plans is because of ego. If the brand paid the marketer a great deal of money to come up with a plan, that plan must be a good one. So why would a good plan need an ejector seat?

And yet, all jet fighters, no matter how well designed or the cost to build, have ejector seats. Pilots demand them, as will brands very soon.

It is the smarter marketer who knows Murphy is alive and well and quietly plotting against us all. That marketer goes through a process of scenario planning, considering everything that might go wrong and outlining every worst-case scenario to determine the smartest corse of action. And that course should be considered ahead of time, not in the heat of panic and crisis.


Thus, the marketer can build a working contingency plan: A way to quietly or quickly roll things back to minimize the damage (or a plan for a new message in case the target audience reacts negatively); or a clearly defined point at which the team realizes things aren’t working and what specific steps you’ll take to tweak the message or pivot – or even bin – the project.

The smarter marketer will quickly realize that rather it being a time waster, planning for every possible negative scenario actually enhances the likelihood of a successful project. If you know and define what can go wrong, you’ll take steps to make sure it won’t happen.

This kind of contingency planning will soon be par for the course, not just in highly regulated markets like pharma and financial sectors, but any time someone pays you for smart marketing thinking.

Adding contingency planning isn’t an admission of imperfection, but an acceptance of the world as it is. It makes for better marketing and better marketers. So let’s step it up. And be prepared for the day we take that punch in the face.

James Ellis is a digital strategist, mad scientist, lover, fighter, drummer, and blogger living in Chicago. You can reach out to him, or just argue with his premise, at