In April this year, The Works came up with a clever strategy. The independent agency “driven by business minded creative people” convinced Phil Watson to join as creative partner.
Watson has a strong opinion about strategy’s recent burst into adland’s centre stage position. Here it is.
“Strategies are like assholes. Everybody has one.”
Or so Clint Eastwood’s character might have said if he were a vigilante CEO looking at what everyone from the global mega networks down to the independent local retail agency promised to offer.
The berserk proliferation of marketing channels and approaches has led to an equally berserk proliferation of strategists to match. Brand strategist, digital strategist, media strategist, data strategist, crm strategist, social media strategist, shopper marketing strategist to name just a handful from a quick scrape of LinkedIn.
With all the trumpeting of strategic focus you would think the agency world could compete with the Deloittes and PWCs to solve the world’s most pressing business issues. But it doesn’t. Not yet anyway.
In fact, while the agency world has been spruiking its strategic credentials the big business strategy players are looking the other way and buying in the creative skills.
Like the big tech companies, they’ve recognised the value of creativity, innovation and disruption as agents of change.
“Creative departments are the new assholes” our grizzled CEO might now add. “Everybody has one”.
So if the strategy companies are becoming more creative and the creative companies are becoming more strategic will the future see Deloitte winning Titanium at Cannes and Leo Burnett advising the US defence industry?
The former is already a possibility, since Deloitte purchased Cannes winning agency, Heat, last year.
The latter however, seems somehow less likely. Despite the proliferation of strategists (and agency networks buying the likes of Sapient), the creative agencies have yet to embrace the rigour one assumes is required to become a convincing partner to defence administrations.
But does that mean that creative agencies should admit defeat, abandon strategy and instead invest everything in ever cheaper ‘content’ production facilities to ensure all the unused gaps on the internet are constantly filled?
Far from it.
Strategy can be shrouded in jargon but the dictionary description is plain: a plan, method, or series of manoeuvres or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result; a strategy for getting ahead in the world.
And so the question becomes simple: is the strategy on offer good strategy? Will it achieve the goal?
I believe creativity is intrinsic to the answer because I believe all good strategy is by nature creative. Data is the raw material, the creative part is doing something with it: turning the empirical into the magical.
And great strategy is magical because it lights the path for great execution. An innovative, disruptive strategy is more likely to lead to innovative, disruptive communication.
And because great strategy is the result of creative thinking, it’s inherent to the places where creativity comes naturally. The Deloittes of the world have the financial muscle to try and buy it, but it’s not at their core.
That’s why the creative agencies where strategy is part of the creative discipline itself (and vice versa) will continue to have the advantage in a world where every asshole has a strategy and a creative department.