On countless occasions, brand leaders turn to PR agencies and ask to be pushed out of their comfort zones—to help the brand be bold, to be differentiated, to create meaningful experiences.
They grant our creative and account teams carte blanche to ideate a buzzworthy campaign to grab mindshare (and wallets) in a crowded marketplace, a strategic platform to bring cultural equity to amplify a brand’s profile, or a clever activation to reinvigorate a heritage brand. Too often, initial excitement for a concept turns into cold feet because the idea feels “too risky.”
I know this feeling. As a first-time mom during the pandemic, I had to embrace the uncomfortable to help navigate unprecedented times for my new family. Similarly, marketers are emerging from recent events trying to figure out how best to guide brands forward and resume proactive programming while safeguarding reputation and profit. Brand managers want to offer support, not jump on the bandwagon; to impact, not offend; to connect, not dictate.
I hear this every day from brand leaders. So, if risk is crucial for growth, how can today’s marketers warm their feet to the risks worth taking?
After a particularly tough call with a prospective client that didn’t feel their PR program was mature enough for the big ideas proposed, I realized that marketers, like parents, need a toolkit to help them trust when an opportunity or idea that presents a risk makes sense.
Extending a few toddler parenting lessons outside the home to the world of brand management can help ease the anxiety of these daunting decisions. Here is a brief guide to help build your risk confidence:
1. Understand the objective—and commit to the journey to get there.
After months of maintaining a bubble of just three people, I wanted to help my son learn socialization (beyond his parents) and knew that would entail exposure to people other than me and his father. Introducing a new element like daycare or playdates with friends and other family members was paramount for the benefits of socialization.
Now, think of a desired outcome or brand benefit, (e.g., reach new audiences, establish thought leadership, build affinity or loyalty among customers and partners, increase sales, strengthen reputation, etc.). Achieving these almost always entails a change in brand behavior, whether it’s a different campaign approach or a new communications strategy.
As a marketer, you must understand that a change in behavior inherently means introducing something different or new. Remind yourself of the end goal and be open to the journey you have to take to get there. Yes, it may feel uncomfortable, but doing the same thing you’ve always done will yield the same result. Trust that your agency partner has your brand’s best interest in mind when presenting recommendations and providing guidance.
2. Change your mindset and reframe the question.
I read articles and reviewed endless research on the health and safety implications of daycare and meeting with people outside your household during the pandemic. Every piece of content presented a pros and cons breakdown, always encouraging parents to do what was “right” for their families.
But nothing felt right—parents, can you relate? Every scenario presented benefits met with trepidations. That’s when I realized I was asking the wrong question.
The toddler parenting tool from @safebeginnings helped me reframe the question and proved to be most effective at reducing my own safety anxiety. The tool separated risks vs. hazards. It’s a two-step approach:
- Know the difference between a risk or hazard.
- Decide which category your current safety concern falls into.
A risk has some degree of “danger,” but also offers benefits. A hazard has potential “danger” without any benefit.
This reframe (from “Is this right for the brand?” to “Is this a risk or hazard for the brand?”) can help eliminate the confusing and often subjective dialogue over risk tolerance. What feels right to one person (or one brand) might not be right for others.
Your own risk aversion will strongly dictate your answer to the question: “is this right for the brand?” Acknowledge any unfounded fear by asking whether the proposed action truly poses a risk or hazard.
3. Assess the facts: Know the dangers and the benefits.
From the numerous conversations I’ve had over the years with brand leaders, one common thread in cold feet situations is that there is heightened focus on the potential danger of a brand action, and very little discussion around the benefit or brand reward.
It’s important to give any creative or campaign idea the proper due diligence by examining all the possible benefits. Perhaps the campaign puts a spotlight on a company value or mission (making the brand vulnerable to possible criticism from a specific audience), or it helps build cultural capital and relevancy (while alienating a legacy customer base). Or, it expands the brand into a new product category (deviating from the founder’s vision or popular opinion of investors/Board of Directors).
Once you accept that a risk will always be two-fold, presenting both benefit and danger, it’s easier to overcome the emotional hurdle of doing something different. This will allow you to determine how important achieving the potential benefit is, and whether it’s worth the calculated risk or danger.
These small but tangible shifts in how you approach a new brand opportunity can help inform next steps when you find yourself in the gray area of “this feels risky.”
Resist the urge to run in the other direction. Marketers should feel empowered, not burdened, by the responsibility to discern what risks or opportunities have the potential to deliver high brand rewards, versus the hazards that truly have no upside for the brand.
Many brands continue to steer clear of any perceived risks associated with bold or different creative campaigns, media strategies, sponsorships, partnerships, etc., in part due to rising headwinds from consumers’ ever-changing triggers. This creates an incredible opportunity right now for the brands that are willing to do something different—and the marketers who are willing to be brave.
Taryn Finley, vice president of growth at Havas Formula, is a creative, results-oriented public relations professional with more than fifteen years’ experience developing marketing strategies that strengthen brand reputation, awareness, and the bottom line.