One of the questions I get asked the most when I present my visiting card to clients and fellow advertising professionals is ‘Wait… are you Strategy or Creative?’ This has always gotten me thinking about how people generally view roles in advertising in silos – the Planners & Strategists on one end and the Creatives on the other, while the Media folks and the ‘Digital Team’ occupy completely different spaces and roles in advertising agencies. Of course, all these ‘departments’ have different specialist functions and have been there for ages, but they are all part of the same fundamental process of developing effective advertising and communication – now entailed under the single umbrella of orchestrating brand experiences.
The way advertising agencies operate has evolved over time, as have the expectations of brand leaders who enlist their expertise. The agency as a whole plays the role of a brand custodian for its clients – and as a professional mandated to look after projects from both strategic as well as creative lenses, I too have evolved in my role to lead communications projects from the point at which the brief arrives at the very moment the final releases take place after their execution – and of course, everything in between.
FOUNDED IN CREATIVITY
What started as a passion for creativity with a forte in copywriting, evolved into a more data-driven approach to concept development. During some of my foundation years in advertising, I was always involved much later in the campaign development process, after the strategy team spent days decoding the brief, subsequently giving us a direction or platform so we creatives could develop consumer-facing communication. The idea of creative liberty did not feel so liberating anymore, given the fact that I was operating within predefined parameters set by the strategy – something I had very limited power over. I was attracted to the idea of defining the ‘what to say’, before I could work on the ‘how to say it’ is part of campaign development.
Spending more and more time with strategists thereafter, I started getting a sense of an entirely new thought process. With help from extensive documents and countless strategy decks spread across my agency network’s global database, I noticed my own styles of thinking evolve. The idea of studying the market, gathering and creating data, extracting actionable insights, and finally translating them into an effective narrative fascinated me. The leadership at my agency had put enough confidence in me to let me take on strategy tasks even for blue-chip accounts when my newfound skills bore fruit. I took on more projects, met objectives, won some pitches, and reinforced my strengths in strategy until this hybrid role was officially bestowed upon me.
STRATEGIC BUILD-UP, CREATIVE FORESIGHT
Even though I am currently viewed as the agency’s solo strategist on a day-to-day basis, I am also mandated to supervise a team of copywriters and take responsibility for copy and concepts developed for both digital and traditional platforms, for several of our clients. While I have been asked many times why I do not give up my creative duties for a dedicated role in strategy, I argue that my role gives me the edge of practicing creative foresight throughout my process of strategy development, i.e. I am constantly scrutinizing my own strategic propositions to gauge their creative potential. This allows me to propose strategies that have greater potential for campaign ability, while also fostering a more seamless professional relationship with the Creative Directors in my agency – breaking the strategy-creative divide early in the game.
STRATEGIZING THE CREATIVE PROCESS
One of the key learnings I have had while working in this hybrid space is how the creative thought process, which usually comprises a non-linear thinking style, can be given a more structured form in order to yield effective results. From receiving the brief from clients and having extensive discussions with them, to taking a 360-degree view of market dynamics and carving a niche for the brands I work on, I have learned to take a more data-driven and step-by-step approach in coming up with creative directions, before having extensive brainstorming sessions with the creative team and locking in a big idea.
While many may argue that data influences the creative process and does not provide ample thinking space, I have learned that the effect of data on creativity is far more valuable when it is used correctly. In my experience, by constantly referring to data, I can minimize subjectivity and focus on delivering disruptive work – from deriving insights to validating even the boldest creative idea. Data serves as a creative compass that guides creative energies in the right spaces.
UNCOVERING DEEP HUMAN TRUTHS
While the typical workday includes following up on ongoing projects, assigning new copy and concept development tasks to the team, studying more briefs, and further developing strategic propositions, there are days when extensive exercises are required to gain a deeper and better understanding of consumer expectations. Whether it is about discovering existing data or creating new data sets through various research methods, the goal is to humanize the data to uncover human insights related to their knowledge, attitudes, and practices. By integrating these insights at the very core of the ideas, the creative part of advertising provides a better connection with consumers, while also providing campaign ability across multiple media platforms, including digital.
Although the hybrid position comes as a surprise to many, as an advertising professional it serves me an edge in not only thought process but also in the effectiveness of results.
Prof. Jef Richards has rightly quoted: “Creative without strategy is called art; creative with strategy is called advertising.”
This article was originally published in Synergyzer Issue 2, 2021.
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