Thursday, September 10, 2009

DWC: view as to how we mere mortals operate in your digital world

When the girls from DWC asked me to speak tonight I was initially daunted by the prospect.

I wondered why a group of digital experts would want to hear from someone who is less than an expert in the digital space.

But as I started to think about digital and how it affects my life I realised that perhaps what I had to offer you tonight, was a view as to how we mere mortals, operate in your digital world.

So for the next 10 minutes or so I’m going to offer my opinion on digital media wrapped up in the best experience of my career to date – winning a gold media lion in Cannes.

So first, a bit about me.

I started working in media in 2003. At the time I was studying International Communications at Macquarie Uni and had an overly ambitious boyfriend with both a medical and law degree earning the big bucks at Clayton Utz. It wouldn’t be a lie to say that the relationship was a tad too competitive and I entered into full time study and full time work to prove a point more than anything else.

Irrespective of how it began, I soon found that it was the right decision. Entry level positions in media are less than underwhelming in their scope and at best mundane in their job description. But what this completely packed year did, teach me good time management skills and how to multitask.

I stayed in my first job for 3 and a half years before realising that as a 25 year old, 50 hour working weeks and a $40K salary was not only unhealthy but somewhat of an insult so I packed up and headed to Europe backpacking.

When the year was up I applied for a position as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development in Samoa. This position was described as a role that encouraged the sharing of skills between young professionals and local counterparts. The reality was it was incredibly tough.

At the end of the year I returned to Australia and joined bellamyhayden as a strategist. The people, particularly the women, who I met whilst working at bellamyhayden are some of the most influential and inspirational people in my working life. They constantly strive to be better than their best, are steady in their approach to work and above all are strong.

I now work at Universal McCann and am tasked with driving strategy at every stage of the communications process both within the agency and for a broad range of clients.

I am NOT a digital specialist but digital is part of everything I do. In fact this is the first key subject I want to address tonight; that in the communications industry, digital is all too often used as a noun rather than as an adjective.

Despite digital technologies proliferating almost every aspect of our lives, marketing and advertising people alike insist on referring to online communications as digital. Personally, I disagree with this use of the word. In fact, I see it as an insult to the opportunities that digital technology avails.

Digital technologies have unarguably changed the way we live our lives both as communications professionals and as consumers. I suggest that we would be hard pressed to find any person in the developed world who is not touched by a digital technology in some way or another each day.
What has been difficult for the communications industry is the speed at which digital technologies and thus online communications have progressed and availed themselves to consumers.

The result has been an array of specialist agencies employed to prop-up those ‘traditional’ agencies overwhelmed by advances in the online space.

This would be fine if digital was contained to online activity, but its not. We now have digital TV, digital radio, digital outdoor, digital mobile handsets… the list goes on. The point is that the necessary separation of online from offline during the nineties means that very few people are now geared up to deal with true cross platform campaigns that harness the power of digital both on and offline.

This is not to say that the work being produced at the moment is not fantastic, far from it, but unless communications professionals start to see digital as an adjective rather than a noun, moving forward they are likely to miss digital opportunities in offline media.

So, this is where my role as a strategist becomes important. I serve to bridge the gap between specialist online agencies and traditional agencies whilst trying to ensure everyone is across digital developments in both on and offline. But what complicates my job is the speed factor.

A good idea is no good to anyone if the competition executes it first and this is the problem with the speed of innovation in the digital world.

Speed to market and speed of response have become powerful competitive advantages for agencies and clients alike and for the person that links all of this together – the strategist – the ability to make quick but educated decisions has never been more important. As such we’ve started to see a trend towards fast strategy.

Richard Huntington who writes the blog adliterate put this well when he said;
“The days of the stereotypical strategist are over. The business world has little time for the desperately bright, painfully academic, socially inept and ponderous planner.”

And this became abundantly clear to me when I recently competed in the Young Lions competition in Cannes.

For those who aren’t aware, the Young Lions competition is part of the International Advertising Festival in Cannes. The festival celebrates the best creative work from around the globe and fittingly, the Young Lions competition is designed to unearth young, yet creative minds.

After being selected via a rigorous and competitive process in their home nation, pairs from each country are briefed by a charity to solve a communications problem. The teams are then given 24 hours to respond to the brief with less than ten slides in a maximum of five minutes.

There were three firm and fast things I took from this process and that I think are essential for effective fast strategy;
1- Play to your strengths
2- A big idea can come from anywhere
3- The best solution is a brave solution

Playing to your strengths is exactly what it sounds like and is something that creative teams have been doing for years in their art director/copywriter relationship.

Fast work requires confidence in your abilities and a very candid approach to working in a team. There is no room for egos and the ability to let go and trust your colleagues is essential.

For the Young Lions competition I was partnered with someone who had less than half of my professional experience, who had never actually written a strategy but who had a creative mind, natural charisma and artistic ability. With such a short amount of time to construct and sell in a strategy we had to concentrate on what we were individually good at. So I acted out the business role while Tristan was the trustworthy guy next door. It worked well for us and ensured I didn’t have to worry about Tristan skipping key structural elements and Tristan didn’t have to worry about me presenting an ugly slide.

The next major learning I took from Cannes was that a big idea can come from anywhere. This notion was mentioned in almost every seminar that I attended in Cannes but it was mentioned in the context of working collaboratively with all of a client’s rostered agencies.

However in responding to our 24 hour brief what I discovered was that we communications folk, often become so engrossed in research and theoretical information that when answering a brief we forget to look to the people who have the greatest insights – the consumers.

Our winning idea in Cannes was actually inspired by my boyfriend. An admittedly artistically and musically talented person, but still, a bus driver who has never worked in the communications industry.

As a strategist I have been guilty of overcomplicating ‘big ideas’ but having to deliver a response in 24 hours forces you to be decisive and have clarity in your thinking as there is no alternative. I am also a firm believer that if the strategy is too complex for the communications professionals to understand then it will almost certainly be misinterpretated by the consumer. So entering into a fast strategy situation with an open mind is key to success.

The third key learning from my Cannes experience was that the best communications solutions are brave. This doesn’t necessarily mean employing the latest technology or bucking the trends in your category but it means pushing the boundaries.

So when we were briefed by the World Food Programme to raise enough awareness and funds to feed 59 million hungry people by 2015 we didn’t want to present a solution that encompassed new technology just because we could. We wanted the idea to push the boundaries and to write the execution itself.

We looked for a real insight that made us feel slightly uncomfortable and from there put an idea in front of the client that was so big that in a real life situation many clients would have shied away from it.

What we learned was that bravely standing by your idea and truly believing that it is the best solution shines through during the sell. It wasn’t about supporting our idea with reams of numbers or theory and it wasn’t about second guessing ourselves to deliver what the client wants to hear. It was about putting our best thinking forward even if it initially seemed too big to handle.

So in keeping with the purpose of tonight’s launch to start to shape the DWC community I would ask you to bear in mind my opinions and experiences from a non-online perspective. Consider digital as an adjective and how it may travel across all consumer touch points, consider the death of the stereotypical strategist and consider how fast strategy might benefit your business.

Thank you for your time tonight and please contact me to continue the conversation.

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