The Knowledge: What every client needs to know - The role of serendipity

How can you get the most out of your agency and ultimately your campaigns, too? Rory Sutherland of OgilvyOne Worldwide offers some key insights...


1. It's a creative process. In producing marketing communications, union rules require that agencies never admit that any useful insight or idea has ever come to us except as the end-product of a completely logical process.

There are three reasons for this: firstly, a methodological approach to marketing problems can lead to useful breakthroughs. Secondly, the need for clients to justify company expenditure and finally, remember that agencies are paid by the hour.

2. Make agencies jump through the hoops of rationality, but allow them to be lucky too. Penicillin, Archmides in the bath, the microwave, the x-ray and radio were all discovered through opportunistic post-rationalisation. There is nothing unscientific about this, as Feyerabend pointed out in his book, Farewell to Reason.

3. Be careful when you define the problem that you are not defining the solution too. By doing this, you will massively reduce your chance of making a lucky break. If you can redefine the problem, as often as not you will find you have already solved it.

4. Be subtle in what you are saying. Do not expect advertising to contain explicitly everything you want a customer to hear. Persuasion (like seduction) can be as much about concealing your intentions as revealing them. Much of the most powerful persuasion is knowing what to leave unsaid. When Richard Dawkins wrote about evolution, he successfully persuaded many people that God need not exist. He lost a lot of force when he tried to go one step further and tell us that God did not exist. He was better off leaving people to conclude that through inference.

5. Let ideas develop. Allow enough time in the process for the problem to be tackled head on, but allow a little slack as a tribute to luck, too. In this business, people too busy to chat in corridors are not the best of employees. Bill Gates understood this when he posted white boards in the corridors of Microsoft, correctly figuring that the unplanned meetings in hallways were often more productive than the planned ones that took place in meeting rooms.

- Rory Sutherland is executive creative director at OgilvyOne Worldwide and vice-chairman at OgilvyGroup UK.