Great Creative Work Isn't About Risk


I've been in the advertising industry for over 25 years and I love strong creative work. However, many people in our industry believe that risk is the essential component to great creative. Every advertising rookie learns early on that career success is dependent upon doing or being associated with edgy, award-winning campaigns.

The myth is that risk is the linchpin to all great creative.

But over the years, I've seen too many people fall on their swords for mediocre ideas masquerading as "edgy" They push the envelope too far without having a sound strategic idea and it's one reason why agencies often find themselves at loggerheads with their clients.

Look at things from your client's perspective; in every other aspect of their business, their goal is to mitigate risk while maximizing profits. Yes, sometimes risk is crucial for innovation. But that risk is generally calculated risk and supported by sound strategic thinking and ultimately leads to long-term success. That's the difference between a calculated risk and simply trusting the outcome to a gut feeling or chance.

If you look closely at what makes great creative, it's not really about risk. It's about illuminating an idea that resonates in the marketplace.

Truly great creative work is steeped in an understanding of the client's brand, positioning, and customer insights. The strategy is inherent and; customers instantly understand how the product or service is relevant to their lives. That's what creates consistent, revenue-generating communications.

The body of work Wieden+Kennedy has done for Nike since 1982 is a great example of doing effective, cutting-edge, creative based on a deep understanding of the brand. Dan Wieden has been an amazing steward of the Nike brand.

So agencies must constantly ask themselves if their ideas are based on sound strategic thinking. Just because an idea is attention- getting or funny doesn't make it great creative work.

For agency creative teams, true creative integrity is having the courage to do what's strategically right for your client's business while having the insight and understanding of knowing when the work is on target and effective. This does not preclude the work being provocative, humorous or unexpected. In fact it should help guide the work in that direction. Ultimately, great work resonates with the audience. Its value is self-evident.

On the client side, it becomes incumbent upon the client to judge the work based on strategic merits. In other words, a client doesn't have to "like" the work. It's not about the layout, or a favorite color, or the headline. It's all about whether or not the idea represents the right brand attributes and is designed to achieve the agreed upon business objectives. It's the job of the agency to help the client see how the work aligns with the brand and their business objectives.

So before you are tempted to roll the creative dice, let's first be sure that the odds are in your client's favor. Let's build trust by letting them know you are putting their interests first. And let's make it clear to clients that investing in the creative work you produce for them is a sound business decision.

Then the greatest risk of all lies in not running the ad.