R&D should stand for Risk & Development

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Have you ever browsed through one of those Sky Mall magazines they have on airplanes? Can you believe all the oddball items you can buy? You would think that most of the merchandise in the Sky Mall would seem pretty risky as a manufacturing investment, but obviously it’s not. They must sell it or it wouldn’t be in there year after year. Maybe what’s so appealing about this type of merchandise is its unexpected nature. It seems practical, but with a quirky twist. I have to admit I get a certain amount of entertainment from reading about a laser comb that makes your hair thicker or lighted slippers to that help you find safe passage to the toilet in the middle of the night. These and other ingenious inventions just suck me in. In a way this is how ads are suppose to work. So why don’t all of our clients buy our unexpected, off-the-beaten-path, quirky ideas?

Could it be they’re afraid that people will react negatively to something that isn’t familiar and expected? They could be afraid someone inside their organization might notice the quirkiness and want an explanation. Thankfully many of our clients are not afraid. They let us stretch creatively. Those clients who do allow stretching share a few key personality traits.

Trait #1: They trust that we have their best interest at heart.

Trait #2: They are buying what we are selling. They expect us to push the envelope.

Trait #3: They realize marketing works over time. They don’t advertise because their competition does. And they don’t judge effectiveness by an instant ROI.

Trait #4: They understand the importance of nurturing a brand.

Trait #5: They understand that great work will always have a negative response from someone. If no one complains, no one is noticing. (There is always someone that wants an excuse to complain.)

Trait #6: They know that advertising is a combination of science and art. One without the other doesn’t succeed.

Trait #7: They understand that good thinking takes time and that you don’t “crank out” great ads.

Trait #8: They know that there is a reason for everything you do in the creation of an ad and thus are careful not to get too many fingerprints on the work.

Trait #9: They understand that sometimes a better idea comes along during the process that requires you to make a change.

Trait #10: They know sometimes what everyone thought was going to be great, isn’t great. We’ve all done work that didn’t live up to our expectation. Great clients know this is a part of the process and don’t want to do the run-of-the-mill idea to avoid this pitfall.

An agency’s best work will always surprise and sometimes even frighten a client. It will seem risky because it’s exploring uncharted waters. Think about the billions of dollars companies spend on the R&D of their products. They know a great deal of that money will have no return because to find the answer they must explore what is not the answer. Maybe research and development should be renamed “risk and development” because nothing great happens without risk. Most experiments are wrongly called failures. Thomas Edison said, “If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward...” It is failure that creates success in R&D. That’s where permission to use creativity comes in. If a client gives its agency permission to fail they are more likely to come away with even greater success.
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