Marketers cannot afford to be held back by fear!
How many of you have sons and daughters taking their GCSE and A levels now? I empathise. My son, Sam is revising for his A levels. Unlike his sister, Jaz, who worked every minute of the day, I find myself arguing the relative merits of risk and reward, imploring him to sit for more than a few moments to study. I suggest the reward of working for just a few more weeks is the freedom to make choices for the rest of his life, I must stop myself from nagging too often about the risk of not revising at all.
Risk and reward is everywhere in our daily lives. As children we begin the learn about it: the risk of touching something hot, the reward of warmth, food and love. Risk is in our DNA – it’s what drives humans to climb mountains, put in gum-shields to play bone-crunching sports like rugby or to strap themselves to huge rockets filled with fuel to blast off into space. And the reward for such risk is very personal
In sport the risk of losing is binary. There is only one winner, one gold medal. A horse racing at the Grand National costs millions of pounds: buying the horse, training, the jockey, and the extreme risk of death. Including 'Up for Review', the latest fatality on Saturday, 85 horses have now died taking on the Aintree course.
At the weekend I found myself thinking about the other risk and reward conundrum… Shall I risk eating the extra piece of cake knowing that I will have to run more miles to get into my bikini on the beach or not?
At our last Oystercatchers' Club evening, part of the Xeim Group, @hamyardhotel we brought together a panel of people familiar with pushing boundaries, to talk through getting the right balance between risk and reward in their personal and professional lives.
The assembly included Helen Calcraft, co-founder of Lucky Generals, Sharry Cramond, Marketing Director for Food & Hospitality at Marks & Spencer, Bruce Daisley, European VP of Twitter and author, and, Ben Kay, former international Rugby Union player and co-founder of Pablo.
When faced with risk, be it falling flat on your face or personal injury, the panel urged the value of ‘going for it’ and maintaining self-belief. Ben said: “If you go out with a mindset where you’re questioning yourself, you’ll never perform” and added that self-doubt means missing an opportunity.
He pointed out that taking risk should be allied to an agile mindset that can adapt to changing circumstances and added: “In most of our life things go wrong but it’s those that adapt quickest and can recognise it that are more likely to succeed”.
Personally, I can think of many businesses from Kodak to Toys ‘R’Us that have not recognised changing circumstances or customer trends fast enough and gone into decline - adaptability is a key survival trait. Risk perception is very subjective. The risk that I might have taken as an entrepreneur may seem extreme to someone starting their first job. Profit is the reward for risk taking, losses are the penalty of business failure.
For the marketing world, the focus must be on taking creative risks. It’s how a brand differentiates itself - but agencies and clients need to be bold. This boldness should be baked into the DNA of an agency from the start and as Helen said: “There’s no complicated supply chain in advertising but the risk is your own reputation - if it doesn’t work, then it’s on those who started the agency - there’s no hiding away from it.”
Sharry agreed that getting out of the comfort zone was essential for marketing that really drives results, but cautions “crazy creative” that overshadows the brand is not going to get results. “If we don’t feel slightly nervous then we probably haven’t gone far enough but it [the idea] has to be based on strategy and what the business wants to achieve.”
Helen added: “Invest in and believe in the creative idea above all else. Serve the brand not the team”
The need to give people time to think is a catalyst for creativity but also a form of risk for those businesses driven by processes and efficiencies. Sharry said that risk-taking can take a while to deliver payback and Bruce, who has penned the book The Joy of Work encapsulated the problem: “Ideas live in the gaps between things. In daydreaming and boredom. But we’ve eradicated boredom. And it seems we’d underestimated the value and magic of it.”
A couple of weeks ago I was in the final agency meetings with the M&S agency pitch , Clothing and Home. Pitching brings with it some of the greatest risk and reward issues for our industry on both sides. For the client, running a pitch is risky, it’s time consuming, the MD is often involved in and scrutinises the result. The reward, if the choice is right is a fabulous campaign that can help change the fortunes of a brand, and a potential agency partnership that can over time make a career. For the agency, the risk of pitching is time consuming, costly and might not result in great work ever seeing the light of day. The reward maybe a Cannes Lion, promotion and profit. Risk, reward and the blend of both within client and agencies are something that Helen and Sharry are all too familiar with - just see Campaign's article on the M&S pitch
All participants shared the biggest risk they ever took – for Helen it was resigning one of her former agencies’ largest client “because the fit wasn’t good and it impacted upon the agency”, while Ben said that retiring from a sport he loved early was a risk but he had the opportunity to grow another career.
For marketing to rise above the safe and mundane and to justify its role in business, then we need the dreamers and the do-ers who are prepared to roll the dice and pursue a great idea.