The Strategy Is All Wrong

How many times has this happened to you?

The entire creative department is briefed on a new project for a big, important client. Everyone works tirelessly for weeks—concepting, arguing, re-concepting, designing, writing, honing, refining—until a polished campaign is approved by the agency executives. Then it passes through multiple layers of clients until it finally reaches the C-level client, who nonchalantly declares, ”The strategy is all wrong.”

If you’re nodding your head right now, you are not alone. I’ve personally experienced this scenario dozens of times. When it happens, I don’t even get frustrated anymore. I just chuckle. 

The question that everyone asks is, “Didn’t they sell the strategy up the chain first?” And the answer is almost always, no.

Throughout the business world, tens of millions of dollars go up in smoke every year from this common blunder. Not to mention the massive sacrifice of nights and weekends for dozens of very talented workers. 

It’s a debacle that can be so easily avoided, if only one simple principle is employed: sell the strategy up through the chain before beginning creative development.

Not only does this common blunder waste time and money, it destroys confidence in the leaders. Exasperated employees become frustrated and cynical. Which might be even more damaging than the financial injury, because erosion of trust eats at the most talented and ambitious employees like cancer. The senior executives begin to be viewed as obstructionists, hindering individual career aspirations. When that happens, they start seeking employment elsewhere. 

Why don’t highly paid planners, creative directors and account directors learn from these lessons? I wish I knew the answer. Perhaps because the ones responsible for developing the strategy and overseeing creative development aren’t the ones toiling over the work. When everything dies, they simply don’t feel the sting. Or the blame, which they usually direct upwards.

Anyway, I could rant forever but it’s fruitless. Let’s focus on solutions. Here’s one: write the brief and develop a platform before creative development.

More specifically, follow these five steps:
  1. Write the brief (and please, make it singleminded).
  2. Get the brief approved by the top client (or final decision maker)
  3. Ask creative teams to develop platform ideas only. This is key. (A “platform” is typically a tagline, theme line or phrase, followed by a short paragraph explanation. It’s a concise statement to your audience. And it should fit on a single piece of paper.)
  4. Get the platform (or multiple platforms, if you’re indecisive) approved by the top client.
  5. Develop creative ideas from the approved platform.

Do this and you’ll provide crystal clarity to creative teams. There’ll be less flailing and more focus. Furthermore, the top client will already be primed and ready for the creative solution. 

You’ll also engender trust and respect in your employees which is incredibly important (yet rarely ever considered). But most important of all, you’ll develop the best creative ideas possible.