Break the rules, change tactics and thank your account manager – David Droga, Sir John Hegarty, Steve Henry & Dave Trott offer their thoughts on brave advertising

How does bravery define great work? This was the question David Droga, founder of Droga5, had flown in to London for Advertising Week Europe to ask a panel of his mentors.

“Our industry loves to celebrate awards and shiny things, but we never really dig beneath it and understand how it happens,” said Droga. “And that’s what I want to explore with bravery, what’s between an agency that creates something great, and one that doesn’t?”

Droga invited industry heavyweights including Steve Henry, founder of the now closed HHCL, Sir John Hegarty, one of the founders of BBH, and Dave Trott, founder of GGT and asked them each to explain what bravery means to them and how to create work which will push boundaries and ultimately stand the test of time.

Steve Henry - It’s Brave To Care

“We were accused of being different for the sake of being different – yeah that’s the whole point,” said Henry of his agency HHCL – which closed its doors in 2007. “We would look at what everyone was doing in the sector and say we’re not doing that. Break the rules but do it in a way that resonates with the audience.”

At the time of running HHCL, Henry said the challenge was in finding talent who would go against the grain and so he would only hire “neophiliacs”, those who by definition see tradition, repetition, and routine as something to be fought against.

But today, Henry explained the biggest challenge in advertising is the approval process.

“The advertising industry is full of talented people and we attract great ideas on a daily basis but they get shot to pieces, killed, in the laborious, tedious, terrible killing fields of approval processes,” he said, but added that technology is helping creative to get the work out there at a faster pace.

For him, the brand getting it right is Unilever as he applauded CEO Paul Polman’s vision for the company with his Sustainable Living Plan.

“This is the big mind-fuck question around ethics in advertising. Consumption is bad, advertising is about fueling consumption. So where does that leave advertising?” he said.

“Sustainability is centred in marketing and we have an opportunity to address the biggest issues for the plant with our clients and use marketing budgets to do good.

“We all have the opportunities everyday to talk about this. Advertising needs to get its head round technology and then look at the moral, ethical side of things. And it will make everyone in advertising harder but all the interesting stuff is about fighting, bravery and sticking to your guns. And this area is incredibly important and rich for people in advertising.”

Sir John Hegarty – Selling Bravery To Clients

While Henry urged creatives to be bolder, Sir John Hegarty said he had two observations around bravery in advertising.

Firstly, he said: “Agencies don’t make great decisions they make recommendations and when we talk about agencies being brave, we’re not, it’s our clients.”

And secondly: “We spend a lot of time trying to get clients to buy brave work and my latest observation is if 10 per cent is bought by clients you’re doing quite well. So you're being paid vast amounts of money for being ignored 90 per cent of the time.”

Hegarty admits that despite his efforts trying to get clients to be brave with advertising, they are simply not “attuned” to taking risks. His solution? Change your approach.

“There is no point in saying ‘I want you to be brave’. You’re not going to succeed,” he told the advertisers in the room. “We need to challenge this notion that we’ve got to sell more bravery because people won’t like it – we’ve got to think of a different word for it.”

Hegarty revealed he now uses the word "excitement" when talking about bolder work to clients.

“I find I get better reception for the thing I’m selling. If we use that word in place of bravery or risk, you’ll have much more success in selling better work.”

David Trott – Don’t Overlook The Account Men

“Being brave is all very well, but it takes hard work to go beyond what exists,” said Dave Trott on the notion of bravery. “If you don’t think it’s going to run, if the client doesn’t want it, why the fuck would you bother?”

For him, the most crucial relationship is that of the account manager and the creative.

“Account men loved the challenge that we would give them something superb, something that most people couldn’t sell and you would see them in the pub discussing how they were going to sell it,” said Trott. “You don’t see that anymore.”

“It all starts in account handling. We can do it but we need to know it will run, we need to know that it’s wanted.

“Those are my thoughts on bravery. You don’t look in the obvious place, you look at the person who creates the context, the person who makes it happen.”

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Jennifer Faull

Jen Faull is Brands Editor at The Drum. Based in London, she has interviewed major business figures including top marketers from Mondelez, Unilever, Tesco, and Lidl.

All by Jennifer