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Martin Bewick, CPL’s content strategist, discusses why it’s good (although not always) to stray from the beaten track
What does it mean to be ‘bold’ with your agency’s creative work? Pondering this question, I’m reminded of an episode of the classic BBC comedy Yes, Prime Minister. Stay with me. In the episode, arch civil servant Sir Humphrey explains that when a ministerial decision is described as courageous, it will be viewed by the public even more negatively than a decision that’s controversial. Controversial loses you votes, it’s said, but courageous loses you the election.
For CPL, being bold is important. It’s at the heart of what we do – in fact, it’s one of our values. It means we are prepared to challenge assumptions, take risks and learn from our mistakes. What it doesn’t mean is that every situation calls on us to be vaingloriously brave, controversial – or courageous.
When it comes to creative work, there’s little point in being bluntly ‘bold for bold’s sake’. A client isn’t often dreaming of winning the Turner Prize when they ask you to bring your creative talents to a project. They want you to create content that works for their organisation and its intended audience. To communicate something clearly. To get results.
Of course, there are heroic examples of creative boldness we would do well to remember. Famously, back in the pre-digital publishing world of 1994, cult US magazine Ray Gun printed a whole interview with louche rock star Bryan Ferry using the Zapf Dingbats font, meaning it was wholly unintelligible.
And then there’s the pitch that became something of an urban myth. At the pitch, the agency treated the client to incredibly bad levels of service – to show the client just how they were perceived to be treating their own customers.
Would you take that risk with one of your clients? It would be a controversial choice. Maybe even courageous.
So, what does it mean to be bold? Being bold is founded on confidence – confidence that you can apply the various skill sets and experience in your toolkit to a range of situations, and to achieve desirable outcomes.
It means you are ready to act when a challenge arises. And it means you know how best to act at that time, and what decisions need to be made for the common good. This involves understanding what’s easily possible, and what might also be achievable if you go the extra mile. It means knowing how your team can, and do, pull together, and how to take the client on the journey with you. And it’s about being open in your communication, so each side trusts the direction and method of travel.
From this foundation, boldness gets interesting. It means remembering to stay focused on the big picture when it’s tempting to get mired in day-to-day detail. It means being firm when you’re under pressure to cut corners and take an easier option. It means being a ‘critical friend’.
It’s not just about challenging the client with your on-point creative, either. It also means challenging your own team not to keep doing the same thing over and over, and offering the same creative treatments time after time.
A journalistic trick that worked for a long-form feature, or a snappy tone rolled out across some copywriting, can soon look tired if the editorial team keeps on repeating it ad infinitum. A visual language that works for one client’s videos might not be suitable for another’s. A top-class illustration style that impressed on a front cover last year might look dated in the next. Remember, the latest TikTok-inspired graphics will soon become tomorrow’s retro-look Hipstamatic filter.
New ways of working
Being bold with your creativity means not always falling back on familiar or preconceived ideas. It might even mean new ways of working, or setting up a contract so it seals in resources for creativity from the start.
At other times it means not reinventing the wheel just because you’d like to brag that (you think) you can. Some trusted solutions are still proven to work, after all. You know it, and you should let the client know too.
How can you tell which response is called for, or when to lead and when to follow? The answer is in collaboration. It’s about listening and learning, but also speaking clearly and honestly.
When a client and an agency share experience and knowledge, it forms a platform for productive collaboration. It builds confidence. From there, being bold in your creativity won’t look controversial or courageous – it will be the right thing to do.
How CPL has taken a bold route
This piece also features in the strategy section of the Institute of Association Leadership website.