Safety Instructions for Creative Daredevils

Safety Instructions for Creative Daredevils

Everyone wants to run innovative, ground-breaking marketing and communications programmes. We all want to create beautiful campaigns that make a real impact on a brand or company. To ‘play it safe’ earns no bragging rights on the marketing playground.

But so often, we follow a familiar course because we know it’s what’s worked for the brand before. We carry on because the audience eats it up; albeit sometimes like my finicky toddler son. We don’t bother to push for more because we’re less stressed committing our already-stretched budgets to a safe, if dull, pair of hands. Why?

Marketing and communications have changed explosively in the past 10 years. We now have access to the world’s largest, real-time focus group called social media; access to channels that sit directly in our audience’s palms; reams and streams of data (more than is usually useful) to tell us how our messaging is landing and which creative performs best. But still, marketers recycle last year’s approaches and campaigns, slapping on a fresh veneer to support this year’s big product push. Communicators duplicate what they’ve seen other brands doing successfully in a series of incremental one-upmanship that commoditises our profession into a slowly iterative arms race to annihilation by boredom.

How can we continue to break new ground in a way that feels comfortable? How can we make big bets that feel safe?

At FleishmanHillard, we put a few principles into force when innovating with our clients. We’re grateful to have our client’s trust in managing significant budgets and have a duty of care to make sure that we provide meaningful business results.  But, also fundamental to our work, is our duty to remain future-facing to help clients navigate tomorrow’s creative and business unknowns.  These principles give us a reassuring safety net while allowing smart, thoughtful creative risks.


At the heart of every successful innovative communications programme, lies a hypothesis we’d sought to prove. Ask yourself, what was the most surprising finding from the performance of your last campaign? What would happen if you focused fully on that insight?


FleishmanHillard often convenes a ‘brain trust’ to support our clients. This is a cross-disciplinary group of people with varying expertise and seniority, who don’t work on the day-to-day business of the brand. Think of them as mentors for a brand, bringing outside perspectives and fresh, objective points of view to bear.  Your brand may already have a group like this in place, sometimes in the form of customer panels or brand ambassadors. How are you harnessing their unique perspectives to creatively address a need or opportunity?


Don’t base your innovation entirely on gut instinct. Use data and insights to form your hypothesis, looking for trends and anomalies that might be exploited, or gaps in the data that might tell an interesting story. Measure the heck out of everything you do with your innovation budget. Learn from successes, and indeed, mistakes, to make all your campaigns – even the safe ones – insidiously clever.


You’ve got the creative idea – now it’s time to align your bravery with a budget. Think of it as hedging your bets and diversifying your communication investment. We’ve all been inspired the Coca-Cola 70-20-10 rule – 70% budget on the norm, 20% budget on the new, and 10% on the next. Despite this being a point of inspiration, marketers still only contribute about 9% budget to innovation (Gartner, 2014).


Finally, while it can be tempting to follow every transient marketing trend or shiny technology bauble, the long-term relationship between your brand, its communications and your consumer hopefully runs much deeper.  Authentic engagement is about making certain that what you say, who says it and how you say it truly aligns your consumers’ expectations with the experience that you the communicator and the brand ultimately deliver.

To successfully innovate in today’s uber-competitive chase for ‘what’s new’…be curious; bring others along for the fun; use data to support your creative brilliance; find the money to match the ambition and always be authentic and true.

This article originally appeared in The Holmes Report