Tournament or Match Play? Managing Creative Risk Helps You Get to the Goal

Managing Creative Risk Helps You Get to the Goal

The 2019 Masters Tournament was a nail-biter for many dedicated spectators, including me. Tiger Woods emerged from a long comeback, finally winning a major after an 11-year drought. But as I watched the final three holes of his victory, I feared he was about to choke and lose the tournament. (It wouldn’t have been the first time the leader fell apart on the final day at Augusta.) Woods’ final drive bounced into the rough, forcing him to chip up to the green; then he rimmed his first putt before putting spectators and viewers out of our collective misery with his win.

Later, a golfing friend “golf-‘splained” Tiger Woods’ final-round play. He was not in danger of “choking,” my friend said. He played match-play style, as if playing to finish ahead of an opponent, not rack up the best score. He went into the final hole knowing he had a cushion in strokes, and that he just needed to finish within that cushion to win. He wasn’t going for a birdie, although the crowd would have loved that (and his first putt came soooo close…). He knew that, barring catastrophe, he would win the tournament, and chose to manage his risk. The strategy paid off. (For fans of golf movies, see “Tin Cup” for a spectacular example of throwing risk management to the winds.)

Calculating the Risk Factor

What does this have to do with the advertising and design business? Ad agencies focus a lot on creativity and creative risk-taking. That’s because we understand that creative ideas grab attention, and are more likely to motivate the actions our clients want consumers to take. But sometimes, we are so busy going for the impressive score that we forget we may also achieve the goal without taking such a big risk. 

If we cede a little risk to make the client more comfortable with the creative strategy, we can still push the envelope enough to motivate our audience to act. In other words, the boldest way to the goal is not the only way, or always the best way.

Risk avoidance is a concern for most businesses, and especially for smaller businesses like most of our clients.

If we always insist on taking huge creative leaps of faith, we risk losing client trust. But some degree of creative risk-taking is needed to emotionally engage consumers in a cluttered and always-on advertising environment. So agencies must become masters at not just developing risky creative strategies, but calculating how to calibrate that risk so clients are less fearful and yet the idea still resonates with customers. 

Here are some questions to ask as you develop and present creative ideas. 

  • What are the goals and objectives? How far do we need to push the envelope to achieve these? Tutor clients in the benefits of moving beyond “safe” creative strategies to ideas that better grab customer attention and motivate action.
  • How comfortable is the client with risky ideas? Be sensitive to client comfort zones, and present ideas that are just beyond the edge of those zones. 
  • Help clients understand that doing “what everyone else is doing” in their category is a great way to disappear into the crowd.  Riskier creative helps the client stand out, grabbing attention, awareness and brand advantage from competitors who opt for safety in numbers.
  • Can you achieve client goals with less risky ideas? Always keep the scope of work in mind.
  • If you believe a riskier idea will deliver much better results, explain why you believe in the bigger risk, and encourage clients to trust you by assuming some of that risk.
  • Boost less risky ideas by crafting integrated campaigns to boost impact and effectiveness. A well-executed good idea can serve the client better than a weakly executed great idea.
  • Always benchmark, measure and report on effectiveness. Over time, clients will develop trust in your effectiveness, and accept more risk. 


See also: Convincing Clients to Embrace Risk Is a Matter of Trust


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