As a creative director, I truly believe this: if you're a client (current or prospective) and my ideas are not a wee bit outside of your comfort zone, I'm probably not doing my job. (By the way, this is different than me making most of the people around me, young and old, uncomfortable, but that's another post entirely).
I bring this up today because not too long ago, I mentioned this notion in a new business pitch and there was some head nodding, but also a whole lot of nervous laughter. At first, I chalked this up to the normal, status quo response, but I got to thinking about it a little more, and it started to trouble me.
No, not the reaction - but my own premise of a little necessary discomfort.
Why? If everyone values creativity so highly, why should it simultaneously make people uncomfortable? Recognizing that, of course, there are some boundaries clients would never push. And yes, I tailor creativity so it's client- and audience-appropriate. And no, I'm not suggesting a porn-star spokesperson in EVERY program. So why the nervous laughter and dubiousness?
Fear. That's why.
Fear of the unknown. The untried. The untested. The fact of the matter is (and as a former client, this is something I can attest to), most of our clients are paid to not sink the ship. Rare is the organization that embraces, let alone rewards creative risk taking. They're encouraged to maintain the status quo. As a result, clients are far more apt to take the safe route. After all, it's their head on the chopping block and human nature convinces them it’s better to go with the known. The familiar.
So, how do we begin to alleviate fear for the client and entice them to dabble with innovative ideas?
By changing their perception of what "safe" means through consistent, timely delivery of the right creative solutions. Just like consumers, our clients cannot hear great creative just once. They need multiple touch points for behavioral change. Even if they don't buy the ideas for the first assignment. Or the second. Or the 15th. The only way you'll lead them into game-changing creative programming is by going after them again and again as well as by recasting and repackaging creative ideas in different ways to make them readily applicable to the client’s business needs and provide them with the opportunity for differentiation.
Don't get discouraged. Don't feel defeated. And never be dissuaded by reasoning that "the client would never buy that idea." Keep going back to the well. Eventually, clients will overcome their fear of the new, and when they allow us to execute the programs we envision, we'll make them look like heroes. And they'll want more of that. Unless we're talking about big spiders. Those things are scary.
Marc Levy is creative director at Ketchum New York