Ditch the synthetic danger and recycled campaigns - and stand up to clients

I learnt the craft when the world outside looked every bit as mad as it does today, but back then the world of PR was raw.

Mark Borkowski: 'So many agencies specialise in synthetic danger that is actually just cheap shock factor'
Mark Borkowski: 'So many agencies specialise in synthetic danger that is actually just cheap shock factor'

It wasn’t corporately chlorinated by career path zombies, grateful to spend their fat management consultancy bonuses on surgical procedures to remove noses from their clients behind.

Instead, PR was littered with mavericks and eccentrics who came from different places and came with individual mindsets.

Tropes can only get you so far - is lack of original thinking hampering campaigns?

Of course we still recycled and adapted good ideas, but it was culturally different. It was daring, fun and spectacular – and there’s no reason why it can’t be like that again in this sensitive age.

Nowadays, as I hear PRs describing the challenges they face edging strategies through the decision process, I am reminded of the Finno-Ugric indigenous Sámi people who live in lands which encompass large northern parts of Norway and Sweden, they are said to have around 200 words for snow.

Back here, in London, CMOs have 10 times that for ‘yes/no – but, 'maybe’ every time they are asked to take a creative risk. And because of this verbal back peddling and side-stepping, which amounts to a refusal to stand up to their clients in the name of creative audacity, there just aren’t enough people out there taking risks and pushing back.

Instead of people creating their own ideas, we see agencies blindly chasing preconditioned metrics – and reverting to endlessly recycling the same once-golden ideas – every iteration just a little bit blander.

I’d list some examples here but they’re so forgettable that you wouldn’t remember what I’d said by the time you reached the end of the sentence.

And I see so many agencies who specialise in synthetic danger that is actually just cheap shock factor. Campaigns like that miss the point - it isn’t just plain shock, sex, blood and guts that make stunts compelling, it’s the risk itself. That’s what drives forward our art. A refusal to play it safe, churn it out and cash it in.

That’s why it’s so important to stand up to clients and to dare them onto to do truly great things.

To tell them the truth no matter what, I’ve lost work and burned bridges by doing exactly that, but when a client does take the red pill - although the risk factor increases exponentially - that’s when we tend to form our best relationships.

When was the last time you pitched an idea so out there or gave some advice so firm that you thought could lose you the entire account?

Maybe that isn’t the road to instant corporate cash injection, but it’s the way you end up with clients who respect you and your work.

In this game, it’s always been the mad and crazy that truly conjure from the ether the ideas that stop folk in their tracks. They’re the ones who deliver the campaigns that last and last. And if we aren’t aiming at that – what’s the point in employing us? What’s the point in even being us?

Mark Borkowski is founder of Borkowski

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