Monday, June 06, 2005

:: adgruntie :: Importance of strategy

+ A. Louis Rubin 's "The Marketing Company Communications Disconnect" over at brings up some great points on strategy. Here's his list of five ways to develop a good strategy:
1. First acknowledge that strategy is what you are selling. Not an ad. Not a logo. Not a list of public relations tactics. These are only executions and that makes them commodities to be evaluated subjectively, or worse yet, based on price of execution.

2. Tell the truth. Suppress your excitement at having a revenue-potential client at the table and focus on the truth about product reality, competitive strengths and weaknesses and organizational problems and issues. CEOs have trouble determining truth from myth because everyone around them has an agenda to sell. To stand out, tell the truth.

3. Throw out your factory -- the daily special on the menu -- to offer what the customer wants, not what you have in inventory. You must solve the client's business problem, not go in with your CFO's cost structure of how you have to utilize the specialized resources on your payroll.

4. Focus on the client’s customer. Avoid the product attribute discussion that your client wants you to execute. Building a great strategy begins with an understanding of customer needs. And too often execution panders to internal audiences versus a strategic insight about the end-user.

5. Hire people who think strategically. Now this may sound just plain dumb, but how many of you have recruiting policies in place where you go and visit Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Swarthmore, etc. in the spring to find the smartest, most imaginative minds in the world? How can you expect your organization to grow with the best talent if you don't have a program in place to find them?
Personally, I think some of the best ad creatives are also great strategical thinkers. For the most part they go hand in hand.

Being an art director or copywriter takes more than just knowing how to layout an appealing ad or write intriguing headlines. The ability to create a concept that works with the strategy to communicate the message simply, effectively, and interestingly is a major factor. And that comes from not just creative thinking but yes, thinking strategically.

It's one of the reasons I sell myself as a creative problem solver, not just a copywriter. There's more to creating advertisements than the words or images. Yes, they are important, and it's important to know how to do so. But, there's nothing worse than a weak idea as a starting point. Sure, sometimes if the images or copy is strong enough, it can help to save a concept that is weak, but most of the time, it cannot. Just like a building, a solid foundation is a critical piece to building a good advertisement. It's rather basic ad knowledge, but it's also something that is easily ignored or more likely forgotten. It's also another reason never to present a weak concept to a client. If they do buy off on it, you're stuck with a shaky base for completing the ads.

Strategy is also useful in this as well. If your AE knows your client well, as they should, then they can aid in helping figure out what the the client is looking to achieve (which is slightly different than the strategy that would be written for the creative brief). And note I'm not saying what the client wants. There is a big difference. Clients can be so caught up in their own business (and rightfully so) that they don't always see the forest for the trees. But, using strategy (and of course good concepts) can help you to sell the best idea to a client who might not normally go for it. It's preparation for a presentation that can be as important to selling a good idea as the idea itself.

And of course, the strategy in a creative brief can be the most important information. Creatives have to have a good grasp of what a this should be, if in the case that it is not written well, they know what questions to ask the AE or client to probe out the right strategy. Yes, there are a ton of good AEs who know how to write a good brief, but there are plenty who also don't know any better than to laundry list everything the client wants to shove into the ad (just like there are plenty of good and bad Creatives, media, etc in the ad biz). In my opinion, a good Creative understands the right questions to ask of an AE to help pare down those longer briefs. One message. There can be many points to back it up, but there should only be one key message to communicate. As a Creative, if you receive a brief that lists multipule messages to communicate, many times it's you who ends up trying to discern the single most important message (aka SMIM). This is also one of the key reasons some agencies bring AEs, Creatives and media together in creating the brief. And I think it's a great idea. Yes, it's one more meeting to have, but it's an important one to create the best possible work.

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