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Why I love complaints

I love the coverage generated by Ken Burnett’s comments at the Institute of Fundraising Conference about how we should be generating more complaints!

The point is not, of course, to generate complaints for the sake of it. The point is that our marketing, campaigning and fundraising messages need to be sufficiently challenging, compelling and, when appropriate, hard-hitting to attract the attention of the people they’re aimed at! And more often than not they aren’t. Check out a few of the masterclasses on the SOFII website and you’ll see that the seminal campaigns did not usually mince their words.

There are billions of communications floating around in UK society alone so how do we honestly expect our messages to achieve any kind of cut through when they follow the path of least resistance?


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In my first marketing job I was introduced to our Director and the first thing he told me was that if he wasn’t “bollocking me” at least twice a year for generating some negative “flack”, I wasn’t trying hard enough. And he wasn’t joking – he did!

Now of course he, and Ken Burnett weren’t talking about deliberately making huge mistakes that cause irreparable reputational damage. Thiscomplaining man on the phone - Danilo Rizzuti position is at one extreme end of a spectrum. Unfortunately, at the other end is ‘decision-by-committee’, super-bland, don’t-even-get-noticed marketing messages which are all too prevalent at a time when we need more impact, not less!

Someone very close to me was almost sacked for managing a direct marketing campaign which talked very blatantly and factually about breast cancer. One letter of complaint was sent to the Board and the proverbial s*** storm ensued. Only when some hard financials evidencing the success of the campaign were presented to the Board did people start to calm down.

And I bet some of you see this way too much.

My old director (Mr. Constantine you were a legend) and Ken Burnett are both right to challenge any status quo if that scenario makes it impossible to succeed. Without a passionate appetite for challenge and commensurately channelled energy to make a success of the new, we wouldn’t have Comic Relief, iphones, text giving, seatbelts or gift-aid.

If you are a leader in any organisation, can I appeal to you to encourage your people to deliver the kind of activities that are so compelling that they will, on occasion, put someone’s nose out of joint? Because when you do, they will give you more energy and more passion in pursuit of your goals and that will filter down to your bottom line.

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Thanks to Danilo Rizutti for the image