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Managing CEO Shock

Posted by: Fred Burt on August 05, 2013
Fred Burt

I've been talking to a number of colleagues recently about how we help clients adopt bold ideas. The challenge is a common one: the agency and core client team develops a breakthrough approach which they're confident can radically improve the brand's business, but senior stakeholders kill the idea for a whole range of reasons (well reasoned or otherwise). There seem to be a few techniques that can help mitigate this risk:

1. Establish your approach

Before the idea itself can land, the senior stakeholders need to know that there's an approach that governs what you are trying to achieve. For example, what is the orthodoxy in the category that is creating consumer or customer apathy, and which needs subverting? Or what is our philosophy about brand building? This should be established and socialised well in advance of the big solution, so that when the solution comes, it's a long-awaited answer to a question they've been asking themselves for a while. It also means the audience is primed for "difference" so will be expecting to be taken out of their comfort zone. And this also helps overcome suspicions that the 'approach' is simply a pre-amble to help sell an idea.

2. Anticipate issues with research

We all know that certain standard research techniques can kill breakthrough ideas. By anticipating this, and ensuring that appropriate techniques are used, we can avoid death by focus group.

3. Make this a joint idea

If this is the agency pitching an idea, it's easy to dismiss. If this a CMO or C-suite stakeholder presenting the outcome of weeks of joint effort, which client and agency team members are all behind, then it's more compelling. It also helps overcome the sense that some clients I've spoken to have about accountability. Their point is that agencies only have the account at risk, whereas clients have their job on the line. The more that agency and client can be seen as in this together, the harder it is for senior stakeholders to be dismissive.

4. Get a credible sponsor

One of those people standing up and putting their necks on the line should be someone the CEO truly believes in, who has a track record of success. It can be the CMO, but if this is a new idea and his or her first time in the spotlight, think about bringing in someone else. Again, this helps the senior stakeholders see this as a considered and informed bold step rather than a leap of faith.

5. Feel it, don't think it

As business people, we tend to look analytically at work, often together in a boardroom, and try to second guess whether it will work in the marketplace. The target market, however, will spend precious little time in such analytical processes, will see it in the real world and will draw far more sub-conscious and intuitive conclusions. Try to get the senior stakeholders to feel it first, and then analyse why it works secondly. The impact should be intuitive and instantaneous, even if they can't instantly rationalise why they feel this.

These were 5 tips and techniques that I gathered from some of my colleagues. What other approaches have worked for you?

Fred Burt is Managing Director, Global Accounts for Interbrand.





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