Strategy at a Creative Agency
Whether it’s design, copywriting or strategy, at a creative agency, the work we do happens in the liminal space between an objective and its end. At Fluro, we use our creative skills to influence the means, or the way an objective reaches its end. To use a real-world example, if a carton of milk is the object, and the consumer is the end, an advertising campaign or the brand’s website is the means. The means in the context of a creative agency are the methods and channels used to communicate.
Our copywriter attended Uri Baruchin’s short course at D&AD about strategic thinking. This is a big topic, and there’s a lot of wisdom out there about how to ‘do strategy’. And while we don’t want to ruin the surprise, we thought it was safe to share the bigger lessons we learned from Uri’s Think, Plan, Act workshop.
We are all strategists
While you might not consider yourself a strategist, you are a strategic thinker. Apparently, we all are.
Uri used a 1995 research paper about public toilet stalls to demonstrate the role that strategy plays in the selection process. In the Psychological Science journal, Nicholas Christenfeld conducted a study on which public toilet stalls are most commonly chosen. He used this data to illustrate the way we use strategic reasoning on a daily basis.
And so, it became plain to us all, that when it comes to developing a creative strategy, it’s not always the sole realm of the strategists. Developers, designers and writers are all part of the strategic picture and we all contribute in our different ways.
As well as being an interesting way to break the ice, Uri’s example also helped serve his argument about the dangers of choosing “the middle stall” when it comes to strategic brainstorming.
Strategies that stand out
It’s very easy in a studio environment to get into a creative groove, where the same people keep doing the same things in the same ways. If you keep doing – strategy or creative – the same way every time, you will keep yielding the same results. Uri pointed out that there’s no benefit to staying in your own creative lane, on the contrary, it pays to open the discussion and always cast the net wider.
We’re all guilty of this, because in the end, it’s hard to not be you right? And as much as we fall into this trap as individuals, it’s also common to group work and even society at large.
Uri’s group task challenged the learners to come up with a strategy for a gin campaign. A zoom room full of strangers were broken up into groups to come up with a strategy for their chosen tipple. It was shocking to see how similar the strategies submitted from each group were. The reasoning and resulting strategies were incredibly alike.
This task provided the perfect example of why it’s good practice to cast the creative net wide and explore those less popular, less obvious perspectives.
Whether it’s a small group in an agency, a community, or a society – we often tend to think along similar pathways – and the result is that we all come to similar conclusions. Needless to say that this is not ideal approach to strategy at a creative agency, because we aim to create ideas that stand out.
Take the path less travelled unless you want to end up in the same place as everyone else.
Managing strategic and creative processes
The final lesson learned from Uri’s workshop was that coming up with a great strategy is messy work. There’s a lot of ideas and opinions flying about and it’s not always easy to distinguish the great ideas from the good ones. As much as there are some really useful guides and templates, workshops and mind maps available, there is no magic formula to making hard decisions. Being a good decision maker comes down to experience and judgement – which is why it’s always best to seek the help of a creative agency when it comes to your brand.
While Uri didn’t have the secret to making good decisions, he did provide a handy set of tools to help us guide ourselves through the hard parts; the messy processes between research, concept and execution.
After all, the act of creating is really just a series of decisions. A writer wrestles with decisions about words, narrative and motivation. Designers have decisions to make about colour, spacing, typography etc.
Perhaps the most powerful lesson of all was realising that not only are we all strategic thinkers, but we’re also all creative thinkers. And we will always do better when we work together.