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June 15, 2005
Bravery in Advertising

Given the seismic shifts that have occurred within the advertising industry over the past several years, we are all feeling more acutely than ever the need to “adapt or die.” Advertising has never been a profession for timid wallflowers. Yet for all of this urgent talk about the need for bold and different thinking, ad professionals still do not execute brave strategies often enough.

Bravery in marketing isn’t necessarily about charging into burning buildings to rescue someone. It can be measured as a big or small step—but a step nonetheless—that breaks away from conventional wisdom and signals the pursuit of intelligent risk, unpredictability and originality.

If it seems too obvious to want courageous and original work, then why aren’t we all acting courageously out of habit? How can we inspire our clients and employees to think and act courageously? How can we utilize the truth behind corporate platitudes of bravery in order to create the action that gives our words real weight?

And, most important, are we ourselves being honest about being brave?

Be Brave With Your Clients
While it’s unrealistic to hope for a whole stable of high-stakes gambling clients, it is entirely reasonable to look for clients who understand that some amount of risk is necessary to reap rewards. Thinking differently is not a brand-shattering move — in fact, it may be the smartest, safest thing to do, because maintaining the status quo is becoming more and more hazardous in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace.

Years ago, when we were asked to introduce Rimadyl, the first canine arthritis drug, Pfizer believed that veterinarians would be the primary audience and that the potential existed for a $10 million brand. We asked them to join us in thinking bigger and braver, as our analysis showed a large universe of consumers willing to go to great lengths for their older pets. Thus was born the first direct-to-consumer animal pharmaceutical campaign, and first year sales were more than five times what Pfizer had projected. Years later, after introducing the next leap forward in canine arthritis drugs, Deramaxx, we recommended our client Novartis forgo nearly all advertising and think PR instead. The result was a banner sales year that outperformed even the most optimistic projections.

Brave marketing is often less about tactics and more about the big picture, of visualizing the future that you and your client want to create and then having the moxie to go out and actually create it. Building strong and compelling cases for the client’s proactive need to be bold — and not merely as a reaction to the dire straits they may find themselves in — is the key to encouraging your client to take that brave step with you.

Be Brave With Your Employees
If you have visions of achieving world domination, then you need the support of a committed army. Employees need to be convinced that you won’t abandon battle cries of bravery and then invent the agency’s next great mission statement six months later.

Brave thinking within the agency will exist only if and when bravery is institutionalized in ways big and small each and every day. Bravery needs to be pervasive. It needs to exist on your Web site, in your new business pitches, in your press releases, in your creative brief, in your recruiting and even in how you answer the phone.

Incorporate criteria for bravery in performance reviews. Establish internal workshops and professional development programs that encourage employees to think big and take risks. Publicly celebrate and reward the brave insight and inspiration that led to those great opportunities. Make bravery interesting and fun, as well as an utterly essential, organic element of everyday agency life. You cannot graft statements of bravery onto business-as-usual at your agency and expect it not to be incredibly shallow. Bravery needs consistent and concrete reinforcement in order to truly succeed.

Be Brave With Yourself
Recently, a team of people at Colle+McVoy did what we do every day for all of our clients: We decided to take a fresh look at our own brand. We took a very critical look at our core strengths and what our brand promise could be and, with a little help from the epic poet Virgil, adopted “Fortune Follows the Brave” as our key message.

Authenticity is the coin of the realm, and as executives, we need to be brave ourselves if we expect bravery in those around us. Institutionalization of “Fortune Follows the Brave” at the agency began directly with Colle+McVoy’s leadership and our conviction that personal virtue transforms into action.

If bravery is supposed to be a defining quality of your agency, it also needs to be the honest and transparent personal philosophy of the people driving the agency’s business decisions. If you want to preach bravery, you must live it and breathe it yourself.

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For more than 20 years, Phil Johnson has provided wise counsel for regional and national clients at various stages in their day-to-day and long-term strategic direction. As the Chief Operating Officer of Minneapolis-based Colle+McVoy, Phil carries the agency flag, helping to bring Colle+McVoy’s mission of bold and brave ideas to its clients, which include Novartis, Red Wing Shoes, Explore Minnesota Tourism, Nestlé Purina, and the Minnesota State Lottery.
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