Nir Wegrzyn of BrandOpus: why the client search for creative perfection leads to a state of paranoia

Nir Wegrzyn is CEO of award-winning design agency BrandOpus. He was managing director of design agency JKR for ten years and before that a senior executive at FCB and Publicis. In the first of a series of articles he looks at the obstacles clients put in the way of achieving the unique differentiation they should be trying to achieve for their brands.

The anxiety that clients have with the creative process has always interested me.

It seems to be driven by a pressure to get the right answer and remove risk, but bizarrely it achieves the reverse. The drive for riskless utopia is generated from a fantasy about the creative work, which is a combination of their belief that there is ‘a right answer’ and the pursuit of perfection.

In fact, the work is never right or wrong and most definitely never perfect. It might push new boundaries, search for originality, or try to unlock new ways of inspiring people. It should certainly seek improvement.

In reality a riskless, safe creative solution that all consumers in a research group like is highly likely to be either a failure in the real universe (Tropicana and the London 2012 logo come to mind) or just another marginal insignificant move.

At its core, the job of the marketer and the agency is to work together to understand the issues facing the brand and work with the ideas at hand to maximise their effectiveness.

It has always amazed me how quickly the focus changes from the generation of creativity into a mission for safety.

It inevitably kills off the idea as it removes the risk. The objective of removal of risk altogether is naïve and counterproductive as it isn’t achievable.

Reassuringly, this isn’t a problem unique to the marketing industry: to paraphrase UK prime minister David Cameron’s words on health and safety, “The monstrous idea of removing risk creates a culture of fear”.

Ultimately, the gap between the unattainable that we want to achieve and the standpoint from which we strive for it stops creativity.

It drives anxiety, stress, panic or even paranoia, but does not improve any work. We need to turn away from the drive for perfection that frees us to collaborate in an environment that promotes creativity: it is then that an ownable and clear path for the brand can be developed.

Embracing innovation

Doesn’t every new idea look strange at first? The majority of innovation is viewed as unnecessary and nonsensical, because it is unfamiliar…

“Not to mince words, Mr. Epstein, but we don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out; four-piece groups with guitars particularly are finished…The Beatles have no future in show business.”

Decca Records Executive, 1962

“Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput.”

Sir Alan Sugar, 2005

The reason clients should come to agencies is not to remove risk. It is uniqueness and differentiation that are at the crux of almost every brief the creative agency receives. Wasn’t point of difference the whole reason the brand sought expert opinion from the agency in the first place?

Cultivating a culture of creativity

Research is clearly required at points – but creativity is more important. And creativity is about the perception of the unique in the situation, about drawing out a range of possible ideas and working with those ideas, allowing them to mature, and aiding the selection process by using research in a way that helps development, rather than stifling it.

Perhaps Microsoft’s recent purchase of Nokia (undoubtedly for their phone manufacture expertise and creative sensibilities) illustrates how staid, traditional risk-adverse brands are beginning to understand the importance and value of such ‘unknown quantities’ as creativity. Post-purchase, all eyes are on Microsoft to pull something innovative and creative out of the bag. We are waiting to see what prevails: creative thinking, or ‘the right answer’?

Contrast this with Apple, where the search is for ideas, not truth. Steve Jobs (left) once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something… they didn’t really ‘do it’, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

Google’s refusal to be typecast, and willingness to explore countless new avenues is testament to the success of an exploratory approach. The fluidity of ideas has played an enormous part in the brand’s growth.

Defying the need for perfection

Paranoia enters our world as a symptom of a perpetual need for perfection. As an industry that exists in order to come up with original ways to resolve brand issues, we must refuse to conform to the norms of how to approach a project.

Whatever the norms are, they will stop us. Challenge the convention in order to achieve creativity, differentiation and innovation. The removal of risk is a dangerous fantasy; along with the notion ideas can only be revealed through the correct methodology.

This paranoia is exactly what stops us and our clients identifying, evaluating and exploring new ideas.

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    A very interesting piece obviously written from the standpoint of someone who is very used to dealing directly with clients over creative work. Back at CDP, many of the most famous campaigns would never have survived research as applied today but that they went ahead at all was testament to client’s trust and belief in the agency’s ability to come up with something. And incidentally, nothing ever came out fully formed as a campaign. Usually things developed and matured nicely as a campaign progressed. Who now allows agencies the luxury of that approach? At Propaganda, then (1990’s) the leading and the biggest production company in the world, one great piece of work after another flowed out the doors, driven by great agencies such as Chiat Day, Goodby Silverstein etc. and wonderful director talent, but also from exceptional executions of campaigns from less obviously exciting but still competitive companies such as Y;R, DDB etc. who really wanted to be excellent and wanted success for their clients as well. I can’t quite figure out just what has been lost in today’s mix? All the clients and agencies we talk to seem to want exceptional and ‘standout’ work. But they mostly end up with ‘me too’. I think Nir’s last three paragraphs have it.