The risk of not taking risks

Macmillan Bob Cope Charlie You'll Never Shut Me Up

Bob Cope, Senior Content Manager at MacMillan, talked The risks of not taking risks at our latest Relay event, Rethinking Storytelling in the Third Sector.

What does the dictionary say about risk?

The dictionary always talks about the costs of taking risks – but there’s rarely a mention of why people take them. No one talks about what’s to gain from taking risks, and therefore why people do it.

How many times has a client or a stakeholder said they want to try something fresh, bold and break new ground? What do they normally go for?

 “We really want to try something new and bolder!” Risk aversion

What is taking a risk for a charity film maker?

It could be trying a new tone of voice, a new platform, format or style, or even playing around with the brand. Basically it means anything that’s uncharted territory.

So looking over Macmillan’s creative assets, there was something Bob noticed as the ‘mug and sofa’ phenomenon. Everyone at one point would be holding a mug and sat on a sofa somewhere – either in a home or hospital or clinical centre. Everything looked the same and it seemed that perhaps cancer was quite a comfortable place to be.

What can we do about it?

It’s clear that other charities are being more bold – but what held Macmillan back?

  • Repetition is easier for clients to manage.
  • People are worried about the bottom line, ROI and targets.
  • The significance of staying firmly within the brand.
  • Worrying about alienating or offending existing audiences.
  • Sometimes lack of creative confidence can obscure a clear vision.
  • Teams often don’t have permission to fail and learn.
  • Have a clear responsibility to our donors.

Testing the existing model.

The films that already existed for social media all followed a similar model; real people talking about their cancer experience, usually a while after it had happened when they’d had had time to come to terms with it. They usually led with an interesting line to draw audiences in, an interview setting with Macmillan entering at some point to make everything ok. This resulted in a clear beginning, middle and end.

So, in this case, trying something new and testing this model resulted in following someone’s ongoing journey. A series of weekly videos over the course of 2 months, mainly led by a beneficiary’s own user generated content but with an element of ‘produced UGC’.  

The series would follow Charlie going into treatment for tongue cancer, where she’d have to learn to talk again. It followed her experiences, her family and her perspective, framed around an empowering name for the series; ‘You’ll never shut me up’.

After 8 or 9 episodes, unfortunately things didn’t go as planned, and the final episode revealed that Charlie had sadly passed away due to complications in her treatment.

This wasn’t the outcome that Bob and his team expected – and of course neither did Charlie, her family or the audiences who were following her story on social media every week. But, with long conversations with Charlie and her family, the decision was made to continue.

The risks

The format itself wasn’t a particularly big risk or, indeed, a new thing for charities, but it did represent a lot of risks for Macmillan:

  • Handing over editorial control to Charlie.
  • Committing to a series without knowing what the outcome would be.
  • Putting Charlie and her family centre stage was a main risk, and required heavy moderation to keep them safe and comfortable throughout the process.
  • Sharing this journey with such a heartbreaking and unexpected outcome could be scary for audiences who may be going through the same journey.
  • Getting consent from everyone involved.
  • Making the decision and getting buy-in to let Macmillan feature naturally in Charlie’s story.

What were the results?

9 videos, plus a live Facebook Q&A with Charlie earned 350,000 organic video views on Facebook, with one of the videos becoming the most engaged video in all of Macmillan’s social media history. Charlie also took the time to respond to on average 150 comments on each video, and Macmillan received a Charity Film Award, which was collected by Charlie’s son.

Charlie’s family was grateful Charlie was able to create something positive out of her experience, and giving her something positive to focus on during her journey gave her a lot of strength.

How to remove the risk from trying new things
 Choose the right area of content - utility vs hero / targeted vs mass 

So what was the risk of not taking risks?

  • When you do the same thing every time, it’s not dependable: the law of diminishing returns means it’s impossible to make the same product every time and get the same response.
  • Danger of preaching to the converted: with GDPR slicing our audiences, there’s a real danger of preaching to people who already support you and share your point of view.
  • Lack of distinctiveness in a crowded market: there’s a real rise in the experience economy, with platforms as services such as Uber and JustEat creating content marketing that focuses more on users experiences. This means it becomes harder for charities to distinguish storytelling from corporate storytelling as the 2 merge in the middle.
  • Lack of relevance: if you’re not saying something new or even telling the same thing in a fresh way, you risk becoming less relevant to your audience.
  • Less cut-through: not being able to adapt to changing attitudes, habits and popular culture means earning PR cut-through becomes more difficult.

How to limit the risks?

  1. Choose the right area of content to take risks – is it your utility content or your hero? If you want to try something new with content aimed at mass audiences, try some low level testing first to establish your new approach, get it off the ground and then sell it in to bigger campaigns.
  2. Use insight that’s beyond your data by getting users involved and undergoing user testing at key points of the development and production process.
  3. See the value of what you’re putting out by understanding all of the performance data and look for things you can learn from it.
  4. Don’t be afraid to admit failure as long as you always, always, always learn from it.
  5. Create the space to try new things by looking for opportunities that are unbranded, partially branded or in partnership.
The risk of not taking risk from Raw London

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