Closing the gap between strategy and execution

International Creative Services MD Anne Miles
By International Creative Services MD Anne Miles | 19 April 2018

With a mission to close the gap between strategy and the creative execution, Anne Miles MD of International Creative Services hosted a research project to determine how the creative industries can produce more effective work, more consistently.

The outcome of this project determined five key areas of focus for the industry that Miles believes still remain untapped opportunities. These imperatives include a shift in research practices, collaboration, subjectivity, wider distribution of insights, and to redefine the role of the producer and project manager. Each of the key findings will be explored in the coming weeks as a series. First, Miles talks about research practices.

Whilst in the research project there was universal rejection by senior creatives of engaging research companies at concept stage, there was a genuine respect for research driven insights to provide strategy and inspiration up front to help them create the most creative and effective work.

With 81% of winning cases in the Effies Effectiveness Awards showing evidence of wellobserved insights and 94% used research to sold the problem, this is not new news.

The interesting discoveries about the research process begin here. Many senior creatives and strategists feel that they don’t need research to help identify an effective idea.

They often feel that applying research to the creative process could mean the best ideas can be overlooked, or at least watered down, blaming risk-averse stakeholders.

Ironically, agency creative directors and senior strategist were identified as stretched too thin and unable to effectively immerse in the individual needs of many projects, however.

Couple this with the fact that the industry participants also acknowledged that not all creatives have the experience to identify the best ideas without validation by a research process.

With the industry downscaling talent as discussed previously in AdNews it seems this is also going to impact the research process as a more important way to validate good ideas than ever before.

We will likely rely on research for some time. The opportunity is then going to be about managing the processes to make the best of this.

With verbatim insights direct from customers’ mouths from focus groups still a valuable asset for copywriters, there are some positives to respect from this methodology despite larger questions over the validity.

Subjectivity was a major concern of all participants who felt that the research companies often swayed the research process, intentionally or subconsciously. It seems a part of the industry still in crisis.

During this project, the observing marketing directors, marketing managers and other onlookers were very shocked to learn how narrow the insights from their coveted research and two strategy reports is typically distributed through the agency team.

Most agencies distribute these assets as far as the account team, assigned strategy planner and creative director but often no further. They are certainly not often shared with neither the creative teams nor the production department, and (less still) with significant suppliers.

This was deemed one of the most important insights to ensure production execution becomes more aligned with strategy.

With my experience client side I could see first hand that the agreed brand blueprint doesn’t even make it through the key agency team, and certainly not to the production teams actually producing the work, causing the creative to be without one brand voice and even off brand completely.

Many creatives feel that the marketing or account management team locks the research insights away, and that the strategists made summations and creative briefs filtering out some of the best insights.

Participants positively received the idea of being involved throughout the research process, but ultimately this may be a head hour cost to the research process to be weighed up.

Production suppliers involved in this project strongly felt that much cost and time was also wasted in the production process because revisions were created by the fact that the strategy hadn’t been properly considered. Many production people believe that if they could speak to the client directly to help them understand the product and the customers, then the most strategic and effective work would be produced, and with fewer costs.

Key findings that remain imperatives to improve the research process and the implementation of those insights throughout the execution in order to produce the most effective work include:

  • Experienced creatives value the customer and brand insights gained from the research process before beginning concept work
  • Many creatives are not experienced enough to know the best ideas without research to validate, but there is a lack of trust in the research practices
  • Research practices need to be fool-proofed against subjective bias (conscious and unconscious) and to avoid watering down or missing great ideas
  • Use concept research to validate and sense-check without getting caught up in executional subjectivity, and focus on answering the strategic brief
  • Be clear on the questions you’d like answered before progressing into research
  • More flexible and robust research practices are required, including more flexibility in
  • interpreting results
  • Immerse experienced creative talent and strategists to improve effectiveness
  • Widely distribute the research and insights with key people through the project including all creatives, producers, project managers and important suppliers
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