Shock ‘N’ Roll


There's a time and a place for taking risks in business. Here's 5 rules to help you decide when and where

Shock-N-Roll-Lisa-Messenger-Collective-HubPhoto via Stocksy
This week I received a wonderful compliment from a Collectiven Hub reader. “Lisa, your magazine never fails to surprise me,” she said. “I don’t know how you do it – constantly coming up with the unexpected every single month, over and over and over again.” She was talking about our July issue, in which we broke a conventional rule of magazine-land by using an Instagram photo of someone’s back as our cover ‘star’ instead of a celebrity or household name.

I apologise to this reader for the weird face I pulled at that moment. I didn’t suddenly smell a bad odour or remember I left the iron on that morning. My expression was a mixture of panic, guilt, pride, excitement, adrenaline and a four-letter word you shouldn’t say around small children. Because her innocent comment touched on a dilemma I grapple with constantly. As an entrepreneur who prides themselves on being daring and disruptive, on pushing the limits and breaking the boundaries, how do you continue to shock your audience with every new move, over and over and over and over? Oh goodness, the pressure!

That particular July issue sold 35 per cent more than our previous best-selling issue. It proved taking a risk can pay off; creating a stir can be profitable and tried-and-tested rules sometimes need to be broken. But it also left us in a dilemma – how do we push the limits with our next cover, and the one after that, and the one after that one? When your brand’s mission revolves around breaking new ground, big and small (because not every move will be an epic one), how do you constantly traverse the road less travelled – and more importantly, should you try to?

As anyone who has read my books or columns knows, my personal mantra is all about shaking up the status quo and doing things a little differently in every aspect of my life. I doubt I will ever waver from this ethos, but I am also extremely aware that you don’t want to break the rules just to get a rise from people or shock for the sake of shocking. Many entrepreneurs – including myself – can fall into this trap, because we think conforming will be seen as a weakness. But where does it end? As much as I love playing and experimenting with The Collective, I also don’t want to sway into ‘shock jock’ territory just to prove I’m living up to my daring and disruptive reputation.

As I was pondering this thought, I scribbled some rules I recently learned in my journal. We don’t need to be the Lady Gaga of the business world and wrap our brand in a meat dress just to get a gasp. With that in mind, here are my five rules for rebelling for the right reasons. But it’s important to remember you don’t always have to push the limits – sometimes you can just give the limits a little prod instead.


It might surprise some people that the month after our Instagram cover, we seemingly chose to ‘play it safe’ with an image of Sarah Jessica Parker. But there were clear, strategic reasons for doing so. First of all, I genuinely love SJP – yes, she is a mainstream celebrity but she is also a businesswoman with a career that has spanned decades. On top of this, that particular issue of the magazine was scheduled to be sold in Australian department store Big W for the very first time – representing a more conventional audience who may not yet be familiar with our brand. There is a time and a place to shake things up and I didn’t believe this was it. At the end of the day, my number one aim is to build a welcoming, inclusive community and not intimidate or alienate people.


Don’t get me wrong; when I talk about ‘playing it safe’ I’m not saying you have to become beige (unless that’s your favourite colour!). When my team and I were designing the aforementioned Sarah Jessica Parker cover, I still wanted to do something a little differently. That’s why we decided to run the cover lines vertically instead of horizontally. I admit even some of my team, who are used to my crazy ideas, tried to talk me out of it. What if people couldn’t read it? They’d have to turn their heads sideways! Of course they would – that was the point! We need to allow ourselves room to be rascals, in life and play.

Try to remember, rebelling on a small scale can be rewarding. It could be as simple as redesigning your business cards with a logo that makes you feel like a hard-arse, wearing exactly what you want, making your office space unexpected or refusing to use acronyms (you think I’m joking – those in the corporate world will get me). You don’t have to tear up the whole rulebook to make a difference; you can just crumple one page of it.


If someone asked why you made a surprising decision, could you sum up your reasons in just a few sentences? I am lucky in a way, because I run a brand with a public presence, I know I will be asked to justify my actions at some point. Whether it’s by a blogger, a reader at an event or someone on social media. I know that if I don’t genuinely believe in my decisions, people will be able to see right through me because I am not a good liar! If you’re considering shaking up a product, service or industry, take a moment to imagine how you’d react if you met a customer in an elevator and had 10 floors to explain your reasons for doing so. Practise your response in the mirror; look yourself in the eye, and ask yourself honestly if your reasons seem genuine.


I have bad news for sexed-up brands – sex doesn’t sell, according to the results of a new study. The research paper, published in the academic journal Psychological Bulletin, combined the results of 42 years’ worth of studies and found sex and violence in advertising actually distract the audience to the point they’re less likely to remember a brand’s name or purchase the product. It’s an interesting point for rebellious brands to consider. Is your target audience too busy picking their chins off the floor to put their hands in their pockets? It can be tempting, especially in the Internet age, to go for a quick publicity boost by saying something controversial or shocking, knowing it will be click bait. But always consider the long-term lifespan of your brand first and foremost. Don’t be the onenight stand who never gets called again!


In my new book Money & Mindfulness, I’ve dedicated a chapter to the topic of risk resilience. After 14 years in business, I have developed a high tolerance to risk and feel like I now know exactly how much I am prepared to lose and the level of failure I can bounce back from. When we were planning that July issue, and decided to go with the cover shot of a woman’s back, I had to face the worst-case scenario that it might not sell well… or at all! To give you some context, an issue that flops can cost us a figure in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although it would be a huge disappointment and a costly exercise, I knew The Collective could financially survive it, absorb the loss and make up for it in other areas.

Whilst I’m all for spontaneity, don’t let adrenaline cloud your business sense. If your idea bombs, do you risk losing your life savings? If yes, consider reducing the risk with a compromise (see Rule 2) or putting a pin in it for the time being. Does this column mean I’m becoming conventional? Not likely! We’re currently cooking up our next gasp-worthy move. I can honestly say, it’s okay if it doesn’t shock you. But we certainly want to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Lisa Messenger



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