When good ideas turn bad

‘you learn a lot more from defeat than victory. You win, or you learn – and you’ll be a stronger creative as a result.’

Henry Warrington, partner and Creative Director at Third City poses the question, ‘If a good idea doesn’t work as planned, was it a bad idea all along? First published in PR Week

Creatives need belief – a resolute conviction in the idea, even as expectations mount and the initial excitement wears off. And, when you get your wish and the client finds the extra budget for the supporting content, pop-up activation, or big-name ambassador, the pressure only increases.

When it works – great, high-fives all round, get it up on LinkedIn and start drafting that award entry. But what about when it doesn’t, and to make matters worse, a campaign you’ve seen a million times before is all over the place. Was that great idea a bad one all along? Did you miss it?  

We hear sportspeople talk a lot about process. “If we trust in the process, the results will take care of themselves.” Trust is one thing, but it doesn’t guarantee success, especially in the short-term. That’s why we tune in and trophies aren’t awarded based on squads and team sheets. To use a cliché, it’s the magic of the cup. The underdog, the no-hoper, the million-to-one, can win, but, for that to happen, the favourite must fail. PR, as with sport, is full of variables that are out of our control that can flip the result in a second.

Aside from the dreaded busy-news-day, us comms professionals can be scuppered from everything from rainy days to the wrong person answering the phone, and that’s assuming nothing went awry in the development phase.

Then there’s the innovation versus tried-and-tested debate. Do you suggest a campaign you know will work, with a low floor and equally low ceiling (i.e. low chance of failing, but an equally low chance of excelling), or something more experimental with a rock-bottom floor but a ceiling that’s through the roof? Are you playing to win, or not to lose?

The issue is further exacerbated by the uptick in project work. PR must be for the long term, given a year or six months, it’ll over-deliver… but putting all your eggs in one basket for a project can be risky, sometimes the PR Gods just aren’t looking favourably upon you for that one-off splash.

There’s also expectation versus reality. We may know we’ve generated a great result, but the client just doesn’t see it. Perhaps they don’t know how PR works, or the business is their baby and they can’t understand why the world and their dog won’t write about it. We learn to manage expectations, but even that sometimes isn’t enough, especially when we also need to convince clients to proceed in the first place.

What can we do about these things? Trust in the process, and learn from our defeats.  

We must accept that sometimes things just won’t go our way; the fluke own goal, the freak red card, the terrible playing conditions, but if we keep making the right decisions and control the controllables then, most of the time, things will work out. Don’t let it impact your approach or belief, don’t let it stop you trying new things and pushing boundaries, don’t just default to the thing you’ve seen a thousand times before. And, sometimes, we will get things wrong, but that’s ok, you learn a lot more from defeat than victory. You win, or you learn – and you’ll be a stronger creative as a result.

A good idea is always a good idea, but sometimes it arrives at a bad moment.