What is creative strategy – and why does the very mention of it bamboozle so many? Our resident expert explains…
“Once you see a campaign in its entirety, you then realise how important it is that it all hangs on something” – Now Go Create’s Anahita Milligan
The importance of strategy in creative campaigns is not lost on Anahita Milligan, a seasoned media planner whose Now Go Create courses leave delegates with a crystal clear picture of how to map out their next campaign. Our interview with a creative strategist reveals her take on how strategy and creativity feed off each other.
What do people often incorrectly think strategy is?
There are so many issues with jargon and people not really being sure what things mean that I think strategy is often confused with tactics/ideas. People think that ideas are strategies, when really the idea or the tactic needs to fall out of the strategy. Sometimes people even think that channels are ideas. You might say, ‘This is the strategy, let’s have an idea for it, and they’ll say, ‘OK, my idea is that we do social media.’ That’s not an idea, that’s a channel.
How do you help to unravel all this?
The first thing I tend to do on any of the Now Go Create courses that I run is spend some time picking the language apart so that everybody is clear on what their personal and also their company’s definitions are. We all need to know what objectives, ideas, strategy, tactics and so on are so that everyone’s working off the same page.
For the record, then, what’s your definition of strategy?
It’s about giving clear and exciting direction and it’s the thing that everything else hinges off. It’s your most effective means of getting from A to B in a way that is articulated so that everybody immediately knows what you’re all striving towards and how you’re going to get there.
Ideally, you should be able to explain it in a sentence, so that everyone knows exactly what the plan is. I think good strategists are people that are clear and jargon-free, and also have vision.
When did you come to learn the importance of strategy?
I spent nearly 10 years with Manning Gottlieb when I had the great privilege of working with some amazing clients, from government agencies to Sony PlayStation, and so much of what we needed to do was to be clear and effective and single-minded and directional. And that meant that devising strategies was absolutely key. We were working with many people, many agencies, many departments within those companies, so we had to make sure that everybody was working together to be greater than the sum of our parts.
“Part of the whole creative process includes that frustrated bit when you’re banging your head against a wall.”
Are there key steps when it comes to strategic planning?
Yes, there are key elements to what makes a good strategy, but before that there are key steps to getting there.
The single biggest thing is defining the problem in the first place. It’s really important to know exactly what it is that you’re trying to solve. And that sounds really easy, but it’s surprising how many clients don’t know what it is that they’re actually trying to solve. If you do enough work in that early stage and really define it properly, then you know where your starting point is, you can see what you need your endpoint to be and therefore you can explore all the different ways of getting there – your strategic options. It’s surprising how often in-depth investigation throws out the thing that you didn’t even know you were looking for.
What about the strategic planning itself?
What makes a really good strategy is having proper focus – focusing all your energy and resources in a way that can accomplish what you need it to do. This then cascades into favourable outcomes for other people – for example the client and the consumer. I think it also needs to be really simple: you need to be able to boil it down into no more than a slide with a core reason for your diagnosis and your solution.
I think it has to be based in insight. It has to be really robust. And it has to be a really clever diagnosis of the situation before you even start. So it’s got to give direction and be empowering – because it has to be actionable – and then it also needs to be agile, because if it’s any good then there’s an element of risk involved and if there is risk, you need to be flexible. A good strategy should allow for that.
How does this all dovetail into creativity and Now Go Create?
In terms of Now Go Create, we’re all about creative problem solving – but that isn’t just at the brainstorm. I think there’s a misnomer that the creative bit all happens when you’re having a brainstorm, but the creativity should all be happening right from the beginning. You should be using tools and techniques to tease out what your problem is and what your solution might be, because there might be many – you should be speaking to different stakeholders, calling on different resources, leveraging different elements of the marketing mix and so on. There are many ways to skin a cat, as they say, so you need to do divergent thinking at every stage – and then convergent thinking at every stage, too. It should be fun, but challenging. Part of the whole creative process includes that frustrated bit when you’re banging your head against a wall, but you really need to go through that. I explain how to keep that interesting, and show people the tools and techniques that can help at every stage.
Are there certain key moments that often seem to resonate with delegates – moments when they suddenly see how strategy works?
I often play a trick on people by asking them to do a word association on something really ubiquitous. And when you get the words back, you see that actually, even though they work in the same company or in the same industry, they have very different starting points, very different brain-banks. And I think that can be quite an ‘Aha!’ moment.
We also spend quite a lot of time unpicking really creative strategic campaigns. We might go through the latest Cannes Lions winners and work out where it all came from. We’re lucky enough to work at Cannes every summer and it means we get to ask the winning strategists and creatives how their ideas came to be.
- What do you think the strategy was?
- What’s the insight that has driven the core idea?
- How do you think they employed it?
- What were the tactics?
“We tease it all apart, and once you see a campaign in its entirety, you then realise how important it is that it all hangs on something – that it has direction. Nothing should exist for the sake of it, it should all be there for a reason, and if you’ve done a good strategic job, everything will be. And it will make it all so much more powerful.”
To book a place on Anahita’s open training – ‘How to Devise Strategy’ training workshops, please email email@example.com