Campaign Promotion: The Ideas People On The Record - Jim Taylor

In this Ideas People interview by Campaign for The Economist, Jim Taylor explains how making the complex simple, and the simple magical, leads to genuine breakthroughs.

Underpinning Jim Taylor's thinking about media planning is a belief that communication which really listens to consumers has the scope to be creatively outstanding and commercially right. Taylor has worked for leading full-service agencies in the UK and South Africa, and he launched a prominent communications planning agency in South Africa which was sold to Tempus. He now runs comms planning globally for Mediaedge:cia and heads a specialist division, MEC Retail, in Europe. Here's how this admired comms planner works:

- Tell us about your inspiration

I've always been inspired by travel. As a global communications planner, I immerse myself in local markets. The nature of communications planning and the cultural nature of many ideas demand an understanding beyond that of the tourist. Earlier this year I did a SABMiller project in Colombia (of all places). I was blown away by it - the beauty, and the smart, fun people.

- How do you make your working environment work for you?

Work can sometimes seem to be one long meeting. When do we all have time to think? So diary management is important. I block out half days here and there, and refuse to fill it with meetings. I think best in the mornings, so if I need to come up with an idea or write something significant, the worst thing I can do is open the inbox when I start work.

- How do you turn a good idea into a great one?

If I've got a half-formed idea, I'll seek out one of my mates who I really work well with, and I'll entice them to go and take a walk down by the river or sit in a cafe somewhere to play with the idea. Steve Hatch is my "strategic creative" ideas go-to man, and Nick Vale is my "creative creative" ideas go-to man. And I'll try to work iteratively across a week with the same partner, progressively shaping and improving it.

- How do you unstick an idea when it's stuck?

I don't fight it. I just go home. By the morning, my sub-conscious will have unstuck it for me.

- Give us a real example of how you came up with a good idea

Many of you might know Camps Bay beach in Cape Town. Well, up above it is a small mountain called Lion's Head. And when I lived in Cape Town, a bunch of us used to climb Lion's Head every Friday morning, where we would often look down on Camps Bay beach. I came up with the idea of using the crescent-shaped beach for a don't-drink-and-drive campaign for my client Smirnoff, in this way.

The actual idea was to use the beach as a 200-metre-long billboard. With 120,000 oranges, we wrote "Smirnoff & Orange" in the sand and you could see it from the roads and hills above; and on each of the oranges was a don't-drink-and-drive sticker. We used this as the basis for a day of activation, and handed out all the oranges to passing motorists.

Great ideas are often so risky that frequently they are hacked to pieces. What's your advice for nurturing a gem and selling it to a client?

Sell it naked. Sell it on a simple white board, as a written statement, without pictures. Prepare a speech about it. Bring it to life in the client's mind. Explain its depth, its potential, and how you might bring it to life over a few years.

- What are your creative trade secrets?

Never just give away documents to people who ask for them. Have a series of partners, with whom you have acknowledged trading relationships, a network of trading partners. Trade gems with each other. This gives you hard drive firepower, without it all becoming ubiquitous. And it stops people taking your work and passing it off as theirs.

- Tell us about a turning point in your career

When I worked out that an agency had three real functions: to unearth the complex; to make the complex simple; and to make the simple magical. As planners, our role is the middle one - to make the complex simple. What planners do, most of the time, is just organise complexity.

- Name the most inspiring person in your working life

Pete Vogel has inspired and taught me the most. We started a communications planning agency in 1998 in South Africa, called Nota Bene. It's still thriving, the second-biggest planning entity in South Africa, although both of us have moved on. Clients love Pete, they trust his integrity, and love his warmth.

- You have 24 hours away from professional responsibilities and a brief to re-energise yourself. What will you do?

I'd go for a day's walk, up in some high mountains, with my wife.

- What motivates you?

Self-expression. I like photography, I've written a couple of business books, and I'm writing up the biography of my wife's grandfather who is 101 and remembers every little detail about his childhood.

I'm also motivated by a belief in the future of planning. Over the past 50 or so years, the effectiveness of communication has been driven primarily by creativity. But this effectiveness is on the wane, and as we go forwards, planning is going to play a much bigger role.

- What idea should we be taking more seriously?

As agencies, we will need to understand how to integrate backwards-facing data in future-facing planning. But we need the skill-set of bringing meaning to data. We should take the idea of data visualisation more seriously and seek out data artists - people who can turn data into meaning through visualisation of facts.


The Ideas People is drawn from major research conducted by The Economist in 2007. It's built on essential truths about the world we live in and The Economist's readership. One is that ideas, not products, are the currency of the modern economy. Another is that Ideas People are the stars of the 21st century. They produce and implement new thinking, they influence others, they have stamina. They are turned on by new ideas and opportunities. Are you an Ideas Person? Go to the quiz at www.theideaspeople.economist.com and find out for yourself.

Jim Taylor is a ... Pioneer, Catalyst, Builder.