Leaving room for chance
The power of a strategy of openness
Head of Planning
There was a time that individual offices were the norm in agencies, where sign-off was needed by the “powers that be”, and divisions between departments were clearly marked. At, Grey we bucked the trend with our philosophy of Open. We tore down the walls, empowered people to do what they’re good at, and believed to our core that none of is as smart as all of us.
But never before has the industry felt as nervous about the future. And never has there been as much talk about the rise of consulting, and the need for strong strategy teams. So, never has there been a better time to go against the tide once again, and to find a different way. To not accept processes or constructs because of what they’ve been, but to question what we should change, what we should lose, but perhaps just as importantly, what we should remember.
Here are three provocations as to how a determination to be Open can influence our approach to strategy.
Open our doors
Opening ourselves to a range of skills within an agency is a great start. But as the problems that clients face become more multifaceted, it’s naïve to assume that all of the answers lie within the confines of the agency environment.
Strategists need to push beyond their own walls and encourage diversity of thought in order to answers the questions they face.
Opening our doors means getting out there to talk to “real” people too – to get into the wild. It also means opening our doors to different strategic schools of thought. Sir Martin Sorrell famously encourages “horizontality” across the companies within WPP. Strategists need to look beyond even their own agency siblings, to platforms such as Google, Facebook and to do it early in the game. We need to work together, at speed, and most importantly, without egos or agendas. Like they say in Game of Thrones, “Winter is Coming”, and strategists especially must band together, learn from each other, be open to different perspectives and learn from each other’s strengths.
An important aspect of flinging open our doors is not just about agency people getting out, but also letting people in. There are experts who have deep and valuable knowledge of consumers, and there is value in sharing both knowledge and workspaces. Semioticians, psychologists and behavioural economists have much to offer; a simple invite in enriches us all.
However, as we open our door to a bevy of experts, we strategists need to adapt from just being masterful storytellers, insight gatherers and problem solvers, to being masterful navigators too, helping to steer a ship full of experts to a consolidated opinion. Those who can best navigate and disseminate seas of information will win.
Open our definition
We have reached a turning point, where the top brands are not purely product brands but service brands. Couple this with the current era of internet-driven transparency, the fame or infamy of a brand now rests on the whole consumer experience rather than just an image we help project. This means that an agency strategist’s role cannot merely be to determine what a brand should say in order to influence consumers. Memorability (or mental availability) is entrenched in the entire brand experience. We must reframing our role, becoming creative problem solvers who can help drive mental availability through the combination of a brand’s communications, services and product offering.
Open to serendipity
Agency strategists have been lying awake at night worrying about the rising threat of consulting firms eating their lunch. So, what’s a strategist to do? Well, it’s time to embrace what has always made our industry unique. The creative industry, and agencies in particular, have always been open to uncontrollable midnight flashes of inspiration, serendipitous moments where two things that we never thought would come together do, and weeks of doodling to get to something magical. We instinctively know that sometimes the best thing to do is define a solution just enough, then leave room for something magical to happen – to respect the space creativity needs to breathe.
This is what sets us apart from a linear consulting approach. To squelch the wonder of chance and serendipity through trying to mirror a purist obsession with rigour or data will weaken, rather than strengthen the creative solutions agencies provide. Whatever shifts we make in the future, we should be careful not to stifle these treasured moments of chance.
The future for strategists and for our industry will be bright. But let’s not be tempted to close our doors, our minds or our chance-loving spirit. If we continue to be Open, agency strategists will sail confidently into the future.