Blagging – the cunning art of talking people into things – is commonplace in the creative industry because it often feels like the last resort. But does it have to be?
The first blagging problem: you’ve (barely) engaged in a pitch. Your studio or agency is overrun, and you’ve only started to focus three days before the presentation – too late by any reasonable measure. Your strategic observations are dull, your creative answers lame and the beers, pizzas and all-nighters are making things worse not better. You’re finishing up a disheartening pitch presentation on the train on the way to the meeting and your boss calls to say you’ve got to win it. What can you do?
You can blag. You can blag about your firm and how it’s the hottest shop in town or the steadiest ship in the ocean. You can blag about your working practices and how collaboration is your lifeblood. You can blag about your creative solution and how it will game change not just the client’s business but the world of communication. What else can you do?
The second blagging problem: you’ve (remarkably) won the job. But the senior talent you’ve promised the client has gone south, reassigned to pitches. And the weekly status meetings you’ve promised the client have broken down in week two. Collaboration is failing and game-changing is doing little better, because you’re limping towards the first creative presentation without a solution. The 17 ideas created by your interns are on brief but creatively meh. So you pull one from your bottom drawer which is creatively magnificent but redefines wrong for the category. You’re finishing up a disheartening creative presentation on the train on the way to the meeting and your boss calls to say you’ve got to sell it. What can you do?
You can blag. You can blag the thinnest strategic rationale for your wholly inappropriate work. You can blag about the way the best creative solutions feel so wrong at first. You can blag about the phenomenal difference the next stage of creative development always makes. You can blag about the brilliance of the negative feedback your client has given, and how it’s exactly the sharpness you’ve been looking for. What else can you do?
The third blagging problem: you’ve (somehow) made the work. Yes it was collaborative in that you made it and your client paid. But it’s not exactly game-changing your client’s business because the hits on their site have gone down not up. It’s not game-changing the world of communications either since no one from It’s Nice That or any other title is returning your increasingly desperate emails. Your one piece of coverage in an obscure Belgian blog has attracted two horrible comments. And a period of silence, your client has sent you a diary invite for a “post-mortem”. You’re finishing up a disheartening campaign summary on the train on the way to the meeting and your boss calls to say you’ve got to defend it. What can you do?
You can blag. You can blag about the shock of the new, and how part of that shock is that people often ignore the new. You can blag about solid year one foundations from which sensational year two campaigns are nearly always created. You can blag about hits on a website, and how, when the quantity goes down, the quality nearly always goes up. What else can you do?
The fourth blagging problem: you’ve (barely) engaged in a repitch. Your client’s lost confidence in your ability to do pretty much anything, but you begged for a chance to show them how your work can grow and develop. But your studio or agency is overrun, and you’ve only started to focus three days before the presentation and, so far, the work is growing and developing like a disease. You’re finishing up a disheartening pitch presentation on the train on the way to the meeting and your boss calls to say you’ve got to retain it. What can you do?
Well, you can choose not to blag. You can choose to see that blagging is not always the best resort, even if it looks like the only resort. To see that blagging comes from the Provencal word ‘blager’, meaning to talk, meaning you’re a gabber not a doer. That blagging is the opposite of knowing when your clients are paying you thousands of pounds to know. That blagging promotes a false god: the slippery gobby type, not the strong silent type. That blagging is skating on the thinnest ice possible, and you’re neither Jayne Torvill or Christopher Dean.
You can choose to see that blagging is a sales tool, but only a sales tool to sell bad work, because good work sells itself. That blagging is the art of covering up for what you couldn’t manage to do, when you could simply apologise for not not having done it.
You can choose to see that blagging is the slippery slope of over-promising, overcharging and over-earning when you could simply promise, charge and earn a little less. And that blagging besmirches creativity with a suspicion of cunning rather than dignifying it as a craft.
Some talk up blagging as plea for instinct, for living on your wits, for showmanship, for oratory – but those people are blaggers of course. Blagging is a problem that infects an industry that needs as much credibility as it can get, not as little as it can get away with. The antidote is simple: a little honesty.