Seeing The Emperor's New Clothes, a child cried out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"

How does your business, or agency, react to seemingly foolish ideas? Sceptical amusement? Nitpicking negativity?

I’ve been lucky enough to work for a lot of marketing, PR, communication, digital and advertising agencies. I am very grateful to them for employing me.

A list of things it's ok to do at GDS. Will encourage psychological safety

A list of things it’s ok to do at GDS. Will encourage psychological safety

I’m often called in to help with new business or pitch work, especially when it has a content component.

What usually happens is this:

Agency is preparing for a pitch and / or is responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP).

In the brief it says the client wants content. But the client is not sure what content will resonate.

Planning director (or someone similar) looks at the brief, looks at their workload, looks back at the brief and then gets their recruiter to find someone to give them a hand with Knowing About Content.

I Know About Content. Especially aligning stories and content to, as yet unidentified, customer need. So sometimes it will be me who gets the call to help out at the initial stages of their project.

Fast-forward past the admin bit.

Now, I’ve read the brief. The project team are around the table.

And then I’m asked: The potential client will answer questions about the brief. What questions should we ask them?

Then, more often than I would like, I respond with the most blindingly simple questions. Usually along the lines of “what does this mean?”

This is when we get to (at least to me) an interesting bit. The team reacts to my questions.

It’s the reactions that can be quite telling.

The reactions can be caricatured as: Sceptical amusement and curiousity versus dismissiveness and nitpicking negativity.

It’s the amused and curious reactions that I prefer. They’re usually a good sign that the agency nurtures psychologically safe teams.

In my experience, a culture of psychological safety is one characteristic that successful agencies all share.

This is because psychological safety allows employees to ask seemingly foolish questions without feeling they’ll be harshly judged.

The expression of foolish questions is important to agencies because they stimulate honest exploration and conversation.

If we take the RFP process as an example, honest exploration and conversation is important, because, frankly, many client briefs are full of jargon.

Jargon has to be challenged and decoded if we’re to deliver the results the client would like.

But if we’re all too hesitant to ask the “too obvious”, simple questions, jargon goes unchallenged, miscommunication abounds, and the ensuing response is unlikely to be convincing or effective.

And if the response to the brief is unconvincing, then the agency won’t win the new client.

So, as someone famous once encouraged, do try and: “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.


See also
My insight services for content marketing, sales teams & more
Digital tension at agencies

Psychological safety
It’s ok to say what’s ok
To Be the Genius, You Have to Risk Being The Fool

Published On: June 1, 2016By

Get in touch

Digital strategy consultantContact Ciaran for a chat about improving your business website and increasing sales via inbound marketing.

We offer all-in-one packages, plus research, content, SEO, development, website management services and more.

Find out more