Whether Flying or Managing Client Creative, Complacency Can Kill

Posted by Michael Kroha and Colleen Brown from Ogilvy CommonHealth Market Access — North America on April 20, 2018

What does managing client creative have to do with flying? Most of us would probably say, “What? Nothing.” But Mike Kroha (MK), SVP of creative services and our own resident “cool pilot guy,” would beg to differ. In a conversation with Colleen Brown (CB), he offers his thoughts on the unique corollaries between flying and managing creative for clients—starting with the potentially deadly role of complacency.

CB: In discussing an approach to this blog, it became evident that while flying and client creative might seem worlds apart, they are actually very similar.


MK: Absolutely. What keeps coming to mind is how vital it is to avoid complacency at all costs. Pilots are trained to follow the same pre-flight checklist, in the same order, before each and every flight. That checklist—which includes not only a review of the aircraft, but also a personal inventory of your own flight fitness—protects against complacency that could later prove to be a fatal oversight. This same fundamental approach to client creative can help keep your project on track, on point, and on budget for a successful outcome. Ideally, this leads to client retention and company growth.

CB: “Fundamentals” and “creative” appear to be oxymorons, though.


MK: On the surface, yes. But think about it—from the fundamentals comes the confidence and freedom to fly. When you are absolutely certain that your basics are securely covered and are grounded in experience-proven strategies—whether on the runway or in a client meeting—you can be free to experiment within certain individualized parameters.


Right from the start, listen to your clients carefully, remain true to your core competencies while avoiding complacency, manage expectations clearly, and enjoy the process. 

CB: Give us an example of what those parameters might be.


MK: Well, if you’re flying, it might be the level of your skill, the capability of your aircraft, your destination, and/or the weather that day. If you’re working with a client, parameters could include the client needs, target audience, regulatory guidelines, budget, preferred style, and nature of the project. But once the basics are covered, you can design creative that is individualized to each client—and that’s far from complacent in approach, content, and impact.

CB: My dad was a commercial pilot who flew back in the day when airlines were constantly receiving bomb threats. He always said, “If I worried about every threat and every little mistake that happened during a flight, I’d crash the aircraft.” This always spoke to me of the importance of remaining flexible, mentally adept and alert, forward thinking, and forgiving. How might this apply to client creative?


MK: All of these are key to the give-and-take of client relationships. To that, I would add the critical importance of always taking the larger view—that is, assessing and considering your surroundings—and having a backup plan. When flying and landing, I can’t just focus on the sky or the runway ahead—I have to keep alert to things on either side that might or might not be happening. And, I need a backup plan—what alternate airports or landing areas are available in the event that I need to change my original flight path? It’s the same with client creative—always have a few additional concepts that you keep aside but can produce quickly in the event that your original suggestions “don’t fly,” so to speak.

In addition, I’d add the importance of teamwork. Years ago, the aviation mantra was that the captain had the final say in everything. After this led to a fatal crash, things changed. Commercial flights are now a team effort between the entire flight crew. The captain is still the leader, but he is not the only arbiter. The same applies to creative—the best products result from collaboration. Now, someone still has to take the lead to keep things on track, but inviting others to have a say makes for a more enriching and rewarding process.

I recently read an article in which pilot Margarita Rivera (www.fightersweep.com) very elegantly summed it up: “By consistently asking ourselves simple questions and taking honest assessment of our personal readiness, we can avoid complacency, remove unnecessary risks, and live to fly another day.”

The same could be said for successful creative. Right from the start, listen to your clients carefully, remain true to your core competencies while avoiding complacency, manage expectations clearly, and enjoy the process. When all goes well, it’s an amazing feeling. The view is always better from on high.