Just finished reading a nice post about risk over on Heehaw Marketing. I started to comment and realized I'd written a full post - and since I have neglected the fuck out of this blog for so long, I thought I'd dump it here instead of there. Please - read Paul's post first.
I don't play football. I have never played football, and watch only enough football to use the following terms with only the loosest of academic knowledge.
But here's a risk metaphor: The Quarterback.
He can hand it off (low risk, minimal gain)
He can throw a screen pass (a little risky, get the down?)
Or he can throw the fucking bomb.
Who throws the bomb? The quarterback who knows himself, his team and his opponent well enough to know that he can probably (and yes, not definitely) throw it far enough, accurately enough, to the guy who can catch it, despite the guy who's covering him.
That's no willy-nilly bomb. That's a split second calculation based on a TON of experience. And the odds are NOT GOOD that he'll make it - but if he does? At the right time? He's the "Hail Mary" story.
Good quarterbacks aren't scientists. They're artists. They read a hostile climate and then they send the fucking ball into the sky with a lot of confidence/hope/skill/style/velocity and take the breath of millions of onlookers. If he makes it, he's a genius. If he miscalculates by six inches, he's a fuck-up.
Ad agencies are like quarterbacks. They call the plays. They read the distance, the competition, the weather, the time left on the clock -- all very scientifically. And then, before time runs out - they have to part with the ball. Whether it gets stuffed into the cradling arms of a scrappy running back or miraculously delivered 86 yards to the waiting hands of a wide receiver. Or grabbed by the other team and run 97 yards the other way.
We take risks with our client's money/brand/product. Do we always fling the Hail Mary? Of course not. When should we? That depends on the stakes - the score, the time, the defense, the Quarterback and the receiver, the climate, and the stakes. But we're going to have to let go of the ball at some point. Or we'll never score.
And if you don't score, you can't win.