Head of Strategy @ Creature of London, Andrew Gibson, ate our members' questions for breakfast.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO PLANNING?

Started at McCann London 7-8years ago. I got in probably like you. Internships in Summer holidays when at Uni. All of that. I had to do a bit as an account executive which was… Fun. I knew I wanted to get into planning but it’s hard. I tried to always play the Junior Planner on every pitch. Eventually I transferred to planning. And then after a while I won some award within McCann for being a ‘bright young planner’ which I thought was great. You know. Went out celebrating as you do. Bought a guitar actually. But what I didn’t realise was that by winning the award it meant that I was then assigned to McCann Global. I got put on global business. I was the planner on Nestle, which I was almost certainly under prepared for! I enjoyed it but didn’t want to travel all the time and so when I got chatting to the  partners at Creature and found them really inspiring I jumped at the chance to join. After 18months I moved into the Head of Strategy role. Been here over two and a half years now. I love it.

 

HOW DO YOU MOVE FROM ACCOUNTS TO PLANNING?

Find the person who is the most ‘under it’. Stretched. They are typically senior. Help them. Be useful. And when you move over from accounts to planning don’t stay on the same account. But yeah, my advice – find a planner who is most stretched, and help them out.

 

DO PLANNERS HAVE A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE TO ACCOUNT FOLK?

They shouldn’t. Fundamentally what we do is a tool (maybe not so much in brand consultancies...). But most of the time we provide something a creative has to execute on, or which a marketing manager has to get on board with and flow through their business. It can’t be that we think of ourselves as the genius in the corner. I hate that. I actually shun it. I am a big believer that planners should be team guys. It makes the work better. The output isn’t the brief. It’s the stuff out in the real world.


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DO PLANNERS GET WORSE OVER TIME BECAUSE THEY DO LESS OF THE WORK AND THE RESEARCH?

Hahaha tricky question for a Head of Strategy! You know, recently I had to go to a pitch and present someone else’s strategy, which is something I always avoid. But he was on holiday so I had to do it. And you just feel so exposed… I don’t like doing that. It is a truth that most FMCG brands come to you with similar business problems e.g. Our brand is going to be delisted. But you can’t just take the same strategy you used for the last FMCG brand and apply it to the other one. It doesn’t work like that. You have to do some of the work!

 

HOW DO YOU CHALLENGE A CLIENT BRIEF LIKE ‘INCREASE PENETRATION’ IF YOU DON’T THINK IT’S QUITE RIGHT?

If you are looking to improve the brand’s success by influencing a different metric, understand that unless you’re super high up the value chain of that client’s business, their brief to the agency/focus on increasing penetration has probably been agreed by multiple stakeholders before it reaches you. So if you’re going to be fighting an incredibly hard uphill battle if you want to ignore that metric. My advice is to try and build your other goal into the approach if you can.

 

ARE CLIENTS LESS COLLABORATIVE TODAY?

When I started 7-8 years ago Planners were grumbling about clients being less open to suggestions because they were developing their own insight teams in house. But in my time, not really that I’ve noticed, in fact I think more and more working models are being based on collaboration rather than a big ‘ta da’ moment.

 

HOW DO YOU BUILD CLIENT TRUST FROM THE START?

I always play my best ‘card’ first. Get them thinking you’re a smart guy that they can trust with their business straight off the bat .

 

ONE INTERVIEW QUESTION I GET, WHICH I HATE IS, ‘WHY DO YOU THINK YOU ARE A CREATIVE PERSON?’ HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER THAT QUESTION?

Haha. Oh god. Loops back to that whole ‘Good strategy is creative and good creative is strategic’ thing I said earlier… For me creativity isn’t neccessarily about having a photography portfolio on the side. You can be creative in anything you do. For example, science today talks about the creativity behind it. The fresh perspective and way of thinking that led to a great leap. So I’d try to think of examples where you had a fresh or creative perspective on something rather than necessarily producing something creative.

 

I RECENTLY CAME FROM AN AGENCY THAT HAD A REAL PROCESS AND STRUCTURE TO PRESENTATIONS. NOW I’M SOMEWHERE THAT LETS ME MAKE IT UP. I WAS WONDERING, WHEN YOU’RE PUTTING A PRESENTATION TOGETHER, WHAT SHOULD BE IN THERE SO THERE AREN’T ANY GAPS?

My advice here is to look at some of the APG creative strategy award papers for some good examples. Other than that you need to demonstrate that you understand the brand and what your output is/will be for them. There key for me in terms of making a presentation is to figure out the 5-7 big points you want to land and then construct your analysis or examples around that.

 

YEAH BUT AREN’T SOME OF THOSE AWARDS PAPERS LIKE RETROFITTED? I MEAN, DON’T THEY OFTEN WRITE THEM TO POST RATIONALISE A GREAT CREATIVE IDEA?

Hey, maybe they do, maybe they do write the ideal journey of how they ‘wish’ the idea had come to be. Doesn’t mean it isn’t useful for seeing how to construct a great presentation flow!

 

WHICH IDEA IN OUR INDUSTRY MUST DIE?

Wow. There are so many.

1.     Creativity or strategy are singular endeavours. The focus of one department or person.

2.     The acceptance of there being a lack of diversity and a gender bias when hiring.

 

HOW WOULD YOU TACKLE THAT SECOND ONE?

Oh I have taken us here haven’t I… Ummm good question. Maybe I’ll have to get back to you on that. It’s all well and good saying that once the COO of McCann started in their mail room. I don’t believe that happens anymore really – and not just because there aren’t any mail rooms. We need to be more progressive in our approach.

 

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH A CLIENT CHANGING THEIR MIND AFTER THEY BOUGHT YOUR STRATEGY?

Figure out what made them change their mind. It’s usually some pressure on them, like a boss or other senior stakeholder has weighed in, or they’ve have a bad quarter. Be understanding of that. Work with your client rather than butting heads to get things back on track.

 

WHAT ARE THE INTERESTING, ALTERNATIVE PLACES TO START YOUR CAREER WITH AN EYE TO MOVE INTO PLANNING/STRATEGY?

Good question. I guess you guys know Junior Planner roles are rare. However, agencies increasingly rely on partners. Consulting, Research etc. Get in one of those places, in a strategy role. User Research or other agencies that exist around Ad Agencies. I fully believe in running fast at short term goals and doing something you think will be interesting and exciting rather than something you think you should be doing will probably yeild better results. That said, at McCann I was very lucky to have access to senior strategy folk. My advice is to take a job somewhere because of the people, not because of an agency name. A week photocopying at one of the big agencies isn’t going to help you too much. The reason why a lot of agencies don’t hire Junior Planners, and something that you have to expect if you do, is that you have to spend the time on training them. Most can’t afford that. Still, it’s ridiculous to post a Junior Planner role that requires three years experience. That just means they want a Midweight Planner but aren’t prepared to pay for one.

 

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DEPARTMENT’S CULTURE? AND HOW DO YOU CREATE THAT?

One of true collaboration. We spent all of Tuesday morning with all 6 of us in the planning department with all of our briefs discussing what the next steps should probably be on them. Obviously a lot of culture is created by the people you hire and their personalities. But the trick is to have structure in place that allows the culture you want to thrive. Other stuff we do is put stuff on the wall and work on the wall, for everyone working in the agency to see and comment on, rather than just you working alone on stuff at your desk all the time.

 

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET INSIGHT?

I am a big, big fan of the expert interview. Call someone cleverer than you. A university professor who has been studying their subject for years. We won a pitch recently for the Royal Horticultural Society. I found a professor at a university who is an expert in ‘the psychology of gardening’. Some of the stuff she said to me just made me go… ‘Well, that’s my job done.’ Haha. With these things however it’s a value exchange. I referenced a quant study on gardening that we had, and she asked if I would mind sending it to her. Which I did. With those kinds of people it’s often not about money, they just want to talk to someone fascinated in learning about the subject that they know so much about. Now bizarrely Creature are getting a mention in her latest book! So yeah, expert interview, that’s my secret weapon.


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