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Risky Business: how embracing risk will help your agency grow

In over 25 years working in the creative industries I’ve rarely met a creative agency, studio or consultancy that didn’t regard itself as being in the ‘idea business’.

Businesses where the key to growth and success lies in the discovery of that elusive disruptive, ground-breaking, game-changing ‘big idea’.

We all know the ‘one’ – the ‘big ideas’ that will re-imagine, re-define and revolutionise our clients’ products, services and organisations and in turn help secure the future fame and fortunes of the creative agencies brave enough to bring them to the table.

IdeaThere’s also never been a better time for selling the creative ‘big idea’ which is increasingly being demanded by clients as the key to addressing the new challenges and complexities of an always-on, multi-channel, real-time ‘brandscape’. Big ideas that can help unify, simplify and amplify the overall brand experience at a time when the traditional notions of marketing disciplines, channels, and agencies themselves, are being increasingly tested and challenged.

Not surprising then that I’m seeing more and more emphasis, time and effort being spent by agencies on the pursuit and high-stakes pitch of the ‘big idea’ that will matter most and make the most difference to clients.

Unfortunately, on such occasions there’s also likely to be a very big elephant in the room that all too often creative businesses completely fail to notice, respect or address.

And that is RISK.

For creative businesses RISK is the flip-side of the IDEA coin. One where, the bigger the creative idea, the bigger the client risk in buying it.

For decades, the Creative Industries have been wrestling with how best to sell and promote the business value of their ideas, the value of design, to nail their value propositions and then how to pitch these ideas with passion and confidence.

But value, like beauty, is always in the eyes of the beholder and in my experience clients can usually see the wider value in a creative idea – even if the agency presenting it struggles to fully appreciate or articulate it.

And once the dust settles on the ‘concept’ discussion – and usually once the agency has left the room – the client conversation will quickly shift from excitement around the potential of the creative ‘idea’ towards the consequences of the ‘risk’ it presents to the client company…the financial risk, the market risk, the technology risk, the consumer risk, the cultural risk, the capability risk, the political risk, the reputation risk (to the client as individuals and as a business). These will all be very real risks serving as potential fatal barriers or blockers that will need to be carefully evaluated and mitigated before any ‘big idea’ will be given a green-light to fly.

ideaUnfortunately, all too often the RISK side of the IDEA coin is completely neglected or avoided by creative businesses when selling ‘big-ideas’ instead preferring to channel all their creative energy and persuasive powers into the upsides of their big idea – how it will transform the business, sell more products, engage staff and customers alike.

All too often this unbalanced approach to selling big ideas in itself betrays the ambition and intent of the creative business looking to position itself as a client ‘business partner’ and will all be for nothing if the client regards the risk as too great.

The agency upon rejection, then consoling itself in the misguided view that the client simply “didn’t get it” before embarking on yet another expensive and unbalanced one-sided toss of the coin.

The truth is that the average client understands risk far better than they understand creativity.

Because anticipating risk, understanding risk, taking risk, mitigating risk and managing risk – in all its forms – is inherently at the heart of what drives the leadership debate in all client businesses.

Given this, I believe that the creative businesses that will flourish in the future – and those that will have the greatest success in pitching ‘big ideas’ and partnering with clients for mutual benefit and growth – will be those that become as capable and confident in embracing the ‘risk’ side of their ‘idea’ coin.

On the one side setting out ever more compelling creative visions and narratives for what the client’s brand future and brand experience can become…

And on the other having the respect, responsibility and diligence to fully appreciate the risks and consequences implicit in bringing these ideas to life and who can put forward equally compelling proposals for how these risks will be mitigated and overcome.

In short, creative businesses no longer prepared to risk their creative future on the toss of a coin.

Sound like anyone you know?

About: Ralph Ardill

Ralph is an internationally recognised expert consultant on branding and experiential design, with over 20 years experience both client and agency side.

For 10 years he was Marketing and Strategic Planning Director of Imagination, Europe’s No.1 design agency where he worked with many of the world’s biggest brands.

Today, Ralph continues to work with global brands such as Hiscox and Carlsberg, as well as with UK design businesses to help them transform and grow. Ralph’s passion is for harnessing everything he’s learned, to work with smaller and medium sized privately-owned UK businesses – both corporate and creative agencies – to help them deliver accelerated and coherent brand-led, design inspired, transformation and growth across their businesses.

Ralph is a DBA Expert

Image credits: © Anton Skavronskiy | Dreamstime