Unless you’re a bit scared, you probably aren’t presenting an award-winning idea

The vital role of courage in driving creativity

As a young account executive nervous about presenting a bold campaign idea, my then crusty creative director advised me “unless you’re a little bit scared, you probably aren’t presenting a great idea.” In the next breath he also warned me (half-jokingly) “don’t come back unless you’ve sold it!” (the campaign).

Both expressions underscore the boldness required for breakthrough creativity and both highlight the importance of agencies and marketer teams working as true partners, grounded in strong mutual respect and trust. Such partnerships enable the courage to push boundaries and present daring ideas that have the potential to win awards and transform brands.

Courage is crucial

It’s a timely reminder in the midst of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week. Apart from showcasing the pinnacle of advertising and marketing communications, the event also celebrates the importance of the relationships that underpin these achievements.

The strength of the client-agency relationship is a consistent theme among the most celebrated campaigns.

At this years event, AB InBev global CMO Marcel Marcondes echoed this thought saying “To deliver greatness you need to take risks. To take risks, you need to have trust and to build trust it takes time.” Perfect!

“To deliver greatness you need to take risks. To take risks, you need to have trust and to build trust it takes time.”

AB InBev global CMO Marcel Marcondes

Marcel also used a popular ‘marriage’ analogy with the client-agency relationship, when he continued “Building brands is like marriage. It’s always a 50/50 responsibility between us clients and agencies. We co-own this thing, so this is why we take it extremely seriously”.

For agencies to deliver their best work, they must feel empowered to take risks and innovate without fear of harsh criticism or rejection. A relationship built on trust allows agencies to challenge conventional thinking and propose bold concepts. When clients respect and value their agency’s expertise, it creates an environment where creative risks are encouraged, and groundbreaking ideas can flourish.

Conversely, agencies that operate in fear of their clients cannot harness their full creative potential. Fear stifles innovation, leading to safe, mediocre work that fails to stand out. So, fostering a collaborative, respectful partnership where both parties are open to honest feedback and brave ideas is essential. This mutual respect and trust are the bedrock of award-winning creativity, driving campaigns that captivate and inspire.

The influence of strong relationships on creativity

The 2024 State of Creativity report by LIONS Advisory provides compelling evidence of the positive impact that strong client-agency relationships have on the creative process.

As shown in the chart below, companies with robust client-agency relationships report markedly higher effectiveness across several key aspects of their creative work. For example, they are 13 times more likely to produce high-quality creative briefs and seven times more likely to transform insights into actionable ideas. Such statistics underscore the foundational role that these relationships play in achieving creative success.

The LIONS State of Creativity 2024 report
Source: The LIONS State of Creativity 2024 report

Award winning campaigns are often the result of seamless collaboration, clear communication, and mutual trust between clients and agencies. They serve as powerful examples of how strong relationships can drive creativity and innovation, leading to work that resonates on a global scale.

Courage not just for ‘creative’ agencies

Bold, breakthrough ideas are not the exclusive remit of creative agencies. Far from it. Some of the best ideas I’ve seen throughout my career have been media-driven.

Regardless of the scope or discipline, impactful work demands collaboration and shared vision. Strong partnerships empower teams to push boundaries, presenting daring ideas that captivate audiences and elevate brands. As with creative agencies, this courage to innovate stems from a foundation of mutual trust, where risks are supported and creative freedom is encouraged.

In all communication fields, such synergistic relationships are essential for producing award-winning, transformative work.

Key factors contributing to stronger, successful relationships

Several factors contribute to the strength of client-agency relationships, and these factors are often reflected in the success of Cannes Lions-winning campaigns:

  • Clear objectives and communication
  • Empowerment and honesty
  • Frequent and open communication

Aprais have determined seven behaviours that have the greatest influence on team relationships. These behaviours are common to all teams (including marketers and agencies) and thus comarable in our unique benchmarks. Among them is a behaviour we call ‘challenge’. Defined as ‘using one’s initiative to challenge the status quo and not allowing conflict to go unaddressed’. It encompasses a willingness to initiate and adopt change, to think out-of-the-box and to push back when things aren’t right’.

Our recent analysis of many client-agency relationships shows that ‘challenge’ is both wanting and craved by both sides of the relationship. Without challenge there is no courage and, as this article suggests, both are crucial to unlock the full creative potential of teams.

A powerful reminder

The Cannes Festival and other creative award shows serve as a powerful reminder of the critical role that strong client-agency relationships play in driving creative success. The 2024 State of Creativity report provides compelling evidence of the positive impact these relationships have on various aspects of the creative process, from writing better briefs to transforming insights into ideas and measuring impact.

As the creative industry continues to evolve, the emphasis on strong client-agency relationships will remain a key driver of innovation and success. The most celebrated campaigns at Cannes Lions are a testament to the power of these partnerships, showcasing the best in creativity and highlighting the importance of working together to achieve outstanding results.


Kim Walker is founder and chairman of Aprais