Why should creatives care about strategy?

by Jerry D’Ascoli, creative consultant, art director, search and rescue. See his work at jerrydascoli.com

Strategy

We’ve grown to hate the word, creativity’s kiss of death. “Let’s keep on strategy.” “We’ll need some real strategic thinking here.” “Strategically, I don’t think we’re in a good place.”

So why is this exhausted term even important? After all, we just toss the strategy and do what we want anyway. Since we, as creatives, know what the client really needs.

Here’s the thing. We do know what is engaging, convincing, and different. But for all our ego and grandstanding, without a solid strategy, our efforts are for naught and the agency, client and product are done a huge disservice. Strategy is what will elevate good creative to the hallowed halls of greatness.

Huh?

I’m talking about an Umbrella Strategy. This goes way beyond a specific ad, execution or campaign. This gets to the root of the Brand. Its voice, personality and direction. And everything that represents the Brand needs to resonate from it. If it’s optimized—clearly defining the Brand and distinguishing its character—it becomes the most powerful creative tool you have. Truly.

The Client’s Brief

A creative brief: it at the least, points you in a direction and at the best, arms you with tons of background and support points so you can just “create” (ahhh, dare to dream). But what we tend to forget is that ultimately it’s the Client’s brief. If the agency team—Creative and Account—takes the time to generate an umbrella strategy with the Client, the Client becomes vested in not only the process but the positioning. Every brief that ensues—from the door hanger to the integrated social-viral-mobile-digital effort—becomes one traceable to the core brand attribute. Nice.

Checklist

Let’s see, we’ve got a great umbrella strategy? Check. A client vested in it? Check. A brief based on it? Check. A marketing challenge to solve? Check. Now let’s go off, think big and broad, stretch our imaginations and the client’s limits. Killer ideas. Even better executions. The walls are papered with them. Pizzas have been consumed. Brains have been stormed. Creatives exhausted.

Offense or offensive?

“The best offense is a great defense.” Trite but true. And especially relevant to us. We scan the culls. A great range of inspired work. Most push the “comfortable” edge. But wait a second, these actually support the brand. They come straight from its voice but they’re not merely the “brief” at all.They’ve transcended it. And yet they fall right into it. Guess what? Now we’re not presenting ideas with callous bravado,we’re tenable.

Epiphany

The client’s a bit nervous, these ideas are more than they expected Different from what they usually do. Exxcelleeeent… Remember that umbrella strategy we worked out? The brief bred from it? Look, these all speak to it. You’re uncomfortable, that’s good. It’s different, precisely. But listen to the voice—the positioning’s dead on. Exactly what we need to say but in a way that no one else is, or can. Rifle shot! The perfect offense: everything shown was defensible. And the client provided the defense.

Epilogue

Brilliant insight. Killer execution. Epic result. It couldn’t have gone any other way. We laid the foundation and build the specs with the client, which ensured we’d exceed their expectations. Creative, on strategy, impregnable, and quantifiable. Congratulations!