Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Off-the-peg strategies

Five years ago (gosh, how time flies when you're enjoying yourself) I wrote a couple of posts about crowd-sourcing: not crowd-sourcing the general public for ideas for a new flavour of crisps, or naming a boat, but going into a creative pool (I hesitate to say community) for design and creative ideas.

My conclusion at the time was that I was sceptical, especially when it came to what the creatives got out of it - and that the logical next step, which I rather hoped wouldn't happen, was a similar set-up for strategy.

Since then, I have joined one freelance pool for writers, and I must say upfront that I don't have a problem with the idea of freelance pools in general, and matching up freelancers to clients.

But it's the competitive element that I find destructive.

In theory, accessing good thinkers ("an exclusive, worldwide community of the finest Creative Directors and Planning Directors") to solve tough strategic problems sounds fine. But if this organisation (and others like them) are throwing the client brief out to a number of "the world's best thinkers" then picking the best of what comes back (in their view) for the client, then that is worrying.

It devalues the work of any one particular planner and turns strategic thinking into a commodity that can be bought in bulk.

As a freelancer, I take pride in becoming an independent plug-in for my clients for as long as I'm working with them. I take time and care to listen and learn about their organisation - how things work today, and where their hopes and vision are leading them tomorrow. I ask lots of questions. I'm a part of the organisation for the duration, but an outward-facing one.

I see that as my responsibility, and it goes far beyond the weeks or months that I am working with the brand.

I've tracked down the 1994 all-staff memo from David Abbott that talks about the dangers of "a giant ad factory where quantity is more important than quality". It's just as relevant for strategy as it is for creative: "great work comes with ownership, understanding and time."

I may be old-school, but I firmly believe that strategy is not something where you can fail fast, test and learn and all that design-thinking tra-la-la.

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