THE IMPORTANCE OF aligning Strategy & Creative

Daniel Ward-Murphy (Strategy Director)

When I first joined the ad agency world, I believed that agencies were the best at using insight in a truly directional way, but I also felt the best research work existed outside of agencies. As a result, I wanted to use my personal experience in both areas to build a department that did both, really well, with rigorous research underpinning the strategy that would then, in turn, guide the creative.

At Thinking Juice, I’m very lucky to work alongside an experienced creative director who understands the value of good planning and is thirsty for a clear, narrow brief. This provides us with a fantastic foundation and there is limited interference to get in the way of great work, but it still needs delivering.  So how is that done?

Firstly, robust research is conducted to draws out the key insight or insights to inform the development of strategic recommendations. This research will consider areas such as Market, Competitor, Customer and Brand. The guiding findings will be utilised to form strategy and the irrelevant, shelved, rather than discarded totally.

The real ‘magic’ is then being able to add a layer of truly directional strategy on top that gives the right weighting to your assorted findings. There is no science in being able to do this well. This is more akin to art and, as such, relies on a blend of talent and experience.

Agencies live and die on their ability to do this well.

It is worth focussing on the narrowness of the brief that in passed to your creative team. There is absolutely no point in delivering a wide brief, as the creatives will either knowingly or unknowingly decide the strategic direction through their work.

Matt Turner (Creative Director)

“We’ve left the brief open, so you guys can go crazy.” These are the words I hate to hear when I get a brief.

Alternatively, if a brief gives me a tight message to communicate, who to communicate to and the channel it’s going to be delivered through, I will skip away happily and drum up the team.

For me, our planning department are part of the creative team. They’re the foundation of the brilliant work that works and some of them are bloody good creatives too (but don’t tell them I said that). I’ve had times where the strategists will come into briefing sessions and toss in a starter-for-10 idea, and you think: “sh*t, that’s really good, I better beat that.”

So what is it that Daniel and his planning department actually do for us? He gives us a strategic advantage. He finds the strongest positioning and where the competition is weakest and identifies an opportunity that no-one else has seen. For me that is creative.

He has employed some great and talented individuals and he’s been training them in-line with his own approach so we have real consistency. The outcome is that it really is working for us. We haven’t reinvented planning in advertising, but we are maximising its advantages and placing it at the core of our business which makes the difference to our clients.

The planners and my creative teams have really been putting this into action over the last year or so and the results are starting to speak for themselves. It’s work that is outperforming our previous work on every level.

It amazes me that some agencies and creatives still don’t hold planners in high esteem, as brilliant work really does start here. Fudge the planning and the work is built on a flimsy base.

A brilliant example of this is our client uSwitch. Our planners went off to research the market and discovered there was a place for an honest brand that traded on simplicity. They came to the creative department with a perfect brief – and even with executional ideas which meant all we had to do was come up with the creative wrapper. As a result, we were able to provide our client with the best performing TV advert they ever had.

As creatives left to our own devices we wouldn’t have gone down the same direction. Would it have delivered the results and reached the target audience as effectively?  Probably not. So the biggest winner was the client – right strategy, right message, amazing results.