What Pop-Up Books Can Teach You About Commitment

I recently spent 3 weeks assembling 60 pop-up books for a client. Quick math tells me that I effectively earned less than minimum wage for my trouble – plus cut fingers, a sore back, and a crick in my neck.

So what does this have to do with commitment? This is one of those lessons that you know that you know, but every once in a while you have to re-learn. In this case, it’s a lesson on over-commitment.

We all know the business maxim: under-commit and over-deliver. Expectations are everything in a relationship so no matter what you actually accomplish, if more was expected, then you have unhappy clients. We all know this, it’s logical, it’s obvious, but sometimes in the heat of a sale, we can forget.

Which brings us to our story.

The Road To Hell Is Paved With [Desperate] Intentions

The president of our parent company was working on sales material for one of his key clients. The client was to participate in an industry event where important retail partners would be attending. Our president successfully pitched the idea of using a pop-up book to hold the sales material. It was a genius way to distinguish our client’s information from the myriad other vendors at the show. Great idea and the client loved it.

Great for us too, as we’ve done many pop-up books before and the negotiated price was very good. Just one problem – in the eagerness to “wow” the client and help secure future work, one key question was overlooked: timeline. As it turns out, the show was in less than 2 weeks.

In the pop-up book world, that is not enough time to design, layout, test fit, get approval, set up the dies, print, cut, assemble, and ship the books. So we were faced with 2 options: renege on our commitment and ruin a client relationship; or create the books by hand. Our answer of course was this:

Making pop-up books by hand.
Making pop-up books by hand.

The details are long and painful (physically and allegorically). The punch line is that we worked long nights and through three weekends, paid for temp help, but in the end missed the deadline to get the books to the show. Sure we got enough of the books done, but they were done late and had to be shipped overnight to Europe for the show at great expense.

Did the client appreciate the enormous effort to get the work done? Of course not. Should they have? Of course not. The commitment was to have the books ready at a certain day and time but they were not. Never mind that enough books got to the show in time, and that the client loved the final product. In their eyes we did not meet our commitment.

Lessons. Lessons.

The moral of the story is of course to under-commit and over-deliver. In this case we got it backward. We risked losing a very important global brand client, and most certainly lost a good chunk of our lives getting the work done.

Lesson re-learned.

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