There is a huge and significant difference between a communications strategy and a creative rationale. What happens most of the time in creative agencies is that what ends up being packaged and presented as a communications strategy, is in actual fact, just a creative rationale.
The purpose of strategy
The purpose of strategy is to give direction and enable an environment of decision making that should ultimately lead to objectives and or goals being met or achieved. Strategy is like a torch under a mine if the electricity gets cut. Strategy is like a GPS; even when you are driving in a foreign area, because of the GPS, you navigate the road and area with ease and peace of mind. Strategy helps you go forward with a plan and confidence.
Unfortunately, the way the agency model is set up, strategy is not seen as the guiding light, instead, it is used as an after thought that provides reasons for creative ideas. When strategy is done first and creative uses that as a spring board, magic happens. The creative process becomes natural because the strategy has ultimately outlined areas of creative opportunities. If you ever wonder what the purpose of strategy is, its job is to manoeuvre through the clutter and fat, and come out with a list of opportunities. If a strategy does not give hope, isn’t clear and doesn’t identify opportunities, it probably isn’t a strategy.
Communications Strategy vs. Creative Rationale
Communications strategy, when done right, can unlock creative and strategic opportunities for brands. It can help drive a brand’s agenda effectively. It can lead a brand into new territories, paths and spaces. The purpose of a communications strategy is to find gaps for a particular brand to take advantage of or leverage.
The process leading to the strategic communications solutions, along the way, exposes the strategist(s) and ad agency to various aspects of the competitive landscape; i.e.: the target market, trends, opportunities, competitors, who is in the market, what they (competitors) are saying, who competitors are targeting, how they are talking to them, what they are promising, what new things they have, consumer perceptions, and general understanding the industry landscape, just to name a few.
When the strategy is presented, creatives should be inspired, excited and should have ideas springing out of their heads. Strategy, whether brand or comms, provides parameters which should signal opportunities and not restrictions. When creative concepts and big ideas are preceded by strategic thinking, the creative process will inevitably become seamless, effective and exciting.
The above is what should happen daily inside ad agencies. Creatives should not begin ideating before the strategy has been packaged and presented. Unfortunately, due to a multitude of factors, the above for the most part, remains an ideal that a few agencies, strategists and creatives get to live out rarely.
Often, both strategy and creative are briefed at the same time, and thereby simultaneously begin to work on the brief to try and solve a brand marketing problem or challenge. This is incorrect. Creative should never start working on a brief until a strategic solution has been presented, because 100% of the time, when both strategy and creative commence work at the same time, strategy will always lose.
This is where the concept of back rationalising comes from. Strategy is somehow the more flexible and malleable of the two. Definition of malleable:
(of a metal or other material) able to be hammered or pressed into shape without breaking or cracking: a malleable metal can be beaten into a sheet.
• easily influenced; pliable: they are as malleable and easily led as sheep.MacBook Pro, Dictionary
Key words and phrases from that definition are “easily influenced”, “led as sheep.”
When strategy becomes the malleable one, and creative gets to retain their original thinking, this is where strategy is now being led by creative.
Why Creative Should Never Lead Strategy
Creative has a different agenda to strategy. Strategy is crafted with business in mind, and creative ideas, more often than not, are crafted with Cannes Lion, Loeries, D&AD, Pendoring Awards, Effie Awards and Crystal Awards, just to name a few, in mind.
Which is precisely why I believe that if a creative idea is born before strategy or strategic thinking is applied, any “strategy” attached to that project is not strategy, but merely a rationale for the creative idea.
Strategy needs to shape creative ideas and not the other way around. When creative shapes strategy, clients are merely paying extra money for creative rationale, and not strategy.
Strategy is not a tick box that you show off to client to prove that you have applied some thinking, it is not a formality that is a front for the “real work” (creative/big ideas).
One of my previous clients, whenever creatives would present an idea, he would ask; “What strategic goal is that idea speaking to or addressing?”. This was great because it allowed for accountability from creatives. It meant that creative ideas were led by strategic intentions, and not creative for the sake of being creative.
Are You A Strategist Or A Creative Rationale Scriber?
As a strategist, and seeing how your agency works, are you doing real strategy work or are you merely putting together a deck as a pre-amble for the creative ideas? Are you leading the creative output? Are you the influence and driving force behind the creative ideas? If you are, good for you, your agency, and most importantly, your clients. If you aren’t, you are unfortunately reduced to scribing reasons why the creative could work. Perhaps you need to reassess your role. The agency you work for needs to reassess its strategy department, and how they view its role.
The purpose of the strategy department is not to wait for creatives to share ideas and then start putting together the strategic argument/narrative, which will then, just be a creative rationale. The purpose of the strategy department is to make the creative department’s job that much easier by inspiring and having sound influence that will not only create a space for great creative ideas to be born, but also for those ideas to be effective by aligning to the business and marketing challenges, and strategic opportunities presented.
Hope that you enjoyed this article.
LinkedIn: Bogosi Motshegwa