Fear of failure holding back innovation, TBWA global chairman warns

Jean-Marie DruInnovation is being hampered by a fear of failure as brands, and employees with an eye on their career, look to protect their reputation, the chairman of TBWA Worldwide has said.

Jean-Marie Dru warned that unless marketers and creative staff approach their work in a bolder fashion, and are prepared to see ideas flop, companies will struggle to truly innovate.

Speaking at an Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) conference in Sydney today, Dru said 10 or even 20 initiatives may have to fail before one succeeds.

Asked to identify some of the major barriers to innovation, Dru said: “The first one is a fear of failure. You might have to fail many times before you get it right but companies are afraid of failure.”

Later, Dru told Mumbrella that staff whose role it is to develop product or draw up marketing plans are – understandably – nervous to blot their copy book and become associated with a failed project.

“It’s not enough to find a unique idea, you have to make it marketable, you have to have the price and the distribution to be sure it’s going to work,” he explained at the sidelines of the AANA’s Reset conference said. “But there is no way you can find good ideas if you can’t find bad ones as well. You have to fail but companies are afraid of failure.

“People are in a job for two or three years and they have a career so they don’t want to jeopardise their job and their career for something that failed. ‘He’s the guy who did that, he failed’. They don’t want to hear that so people are uncomfortable by the thought of innovation.”

Dru urged more marketers and agencies to have greater involvement with research and development teams as they can often drive ideas.

“Innovation is about imagination and invention and people in the agency business work with imagination and we invent things every day,” he said. “We open our minds to new things so that is why I believe agencies can help marketing and R&D people to come up with innovations in many different ways.

“Our job is to build brands and you cannot build brands without good product. We can be part of the thinking and contribute at our own level sometimes in a big way, sometimes in a small way but we can be part of that.”

There are only two ways to grow a company, through acquisition or organically, Dru continued.

“And who is in charge of organic growth? Marketing. And organic growth can come from one or two ways, selling more of your product or selling new products. So that is why I think marketing should be very close to R&D and innovation.”

Steve Jones


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