Close-Up: Live issue - Slow and steady does not always win the race

Strategists used to think things to death. But, as Noel Bussey discovers, many now adopt a fast-track approach to planning.

In these hectic days of constantly evolving consumer trends, impatient clients and media proliferation, it's often imperative to nail a strategy quickly.

With this in mind, planners and strategists now often employ the fast strategy theory of cutting time and over-thinking out of the planning process to arrive at speedy, concise and effective solutions.

Guy Murphy, the chairman of the IPA Strategy Group and worldwide planning director at JWT, comments: "The most important skill that strategists need to learn in this era is speed. Slow-baked strategy, no matter how good, can never be great."

Phil Georgiadis, the chairman of Walker Media, adds: "As a concept, fast strategy is counter-intuitive because it is based on a gut instinct. However, gut instincts are generally based on experience and will be correct nine out of ten times."

However, there are pitfalls with fast strategy - such as letting the client use this skill as a reason to cut weeks out of the strategic process.

"It's a way of cutting the fog and the over-thinking out of the planning process to ensure you get the right answer the first time around, not a means for clients to get an answer yesterday," Georgiadis says.

With this in mind, the IPA is staging a conference, called Fast Strategy and sponsored by Times Media, on 28 April at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.

The IPA has also asked a number of industry figures to supply their top tips for creating successful fast strategies, of which Campaign has printed some of the best below.

Will Collin founding partner, Naked Communications: "A precisely defined goal leads to more compelling strategy. Keep questioning until you have something really specific, like 'get people to put Hellmann's on chips as well as on sandwiches' rather than 'increase Hellmann's volume sales'."

John Townshend creative partner, Rapier: "Today's most interesting strategies combine business, brand, data and media thinking. I like working with a group of people from different disciplines: unusual connections makes for unusual ideas."

Alistair Beattie head of digital strategy, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO: "Ask your mum."

Gurdeep Puri head of effectiveness, Leo Burnett London: "Point the gun in the right direction before firing. Base your strategy around the right business objectives."

Guy Murphy worldwide planning director, JWT: "The key to finding great strategic answers quickly is to find yourself a 'fixed point' in the strategy. A fixed point is an unchanging fundamental for a brand, eg. increase frequency of consumption, attract a new generation of users, or justify a price premium. After that, it is all downhill."

Alex Lewis planner, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO: "Swipe something that's been used in another category but not your own."

Trevor Hardy strategy director, Lunar BBDO: "If there are only seven plots in literature, there must be a finite number of strategies. Continuously think of interesting strategies so when a brief comes, you've got a beauty that's ready and waiting."

Damien McKeown head of planning, DDB London: "Spend the time to find one book/paper/commentator/expert that will provide the best and fastest shortcut to the 'fountain of knowledge'."

Paul Gage planning director, Proximity London: "Do the 'extreme scenario' test. Choose something quite but not completely improbable, and come up with ideas for that situation, eg. 'what if credit cards were banned?', 'what if people had to keep their cars for five years minimum?' and 'what if broadcast advertising was not allowed?'"

Rob Forshaw founding partner, Grand Union: "Formulate a challenging hypothesis about the brand and where it needs to be. Get very excited about it. Calm down. Pull it apart. If it survives, you may have a half-decent idea. Prove it. Stick to it. Align everyone in that direction and try to get there as quickly as possible or it may be too late."

David Golding founding partner, Adam & Eve: "Don't try to do it on your own. Get together with several people whose opinion you respect and have a proper debate, phones off. Start with a point of view and then hope it gets torn to shreds and rebuilt as a bigger, better, brilliant one."

Kevin Allen worldwide planning director, Proximity London: "The most important behaviours are ritualised. Find the ritual and you've found the key to a better idea."

Tom Bazeley partner, Lean Mean Fighting Machine: "Look carefully at what competitor brands are doing. What are they saying? How are they saying it? When are they saying it? Then take a good deep breath and do something completely different."

Richard Huntington director of strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi: "In today's communications environment, it is far more important to be interesting than to be right. And the fastest way to potent creative strategies is simply to think about the single most interesting thing you could say about your brand, its sector or the wider market and back that instinct."

Mike Bentley global planning director of Ford, Team Detroit: "Exercise ruthless sacrifice in the establishment of a singular objective. A clear destination makes the journey quicker."

Jim Carroll chairman, Bartle Bogle Hegarty: "Remember that our own lives can often be best understood by mapping the things we didn't do, the words we didn't say. Consider a brand's unspoken truth, quiet regret, path not taken. Because in its silence and inaction may reside its strength and identity."

Stuart Smith head of planning, Wieden & Kennedy London: "Dovetail your strategy and creative. Develop creative ideas from day one, while developing the strategic brief. Don't be proud, turfist or old-school linear. Allow early creative ideas to inspire strategy, which in turn inspire better creativity, which in turn refines and develops better strategy. In short, iterate, dovetail, succeed."

Adrian Hoole planning partner, Proximity: "Project yourself into an end point in the future and work backwards."

Charles Vallance founder, VCCP: "Strategy shouldn't take long. It's like planning a journey. Start with the destination and work backwards."

Rob Alexander global planning director, JWT: "Get the right people in the same room and sweat the problem. Develop hypotheses iteratively, share and improve."

Olivia Johnson planning partner, Hooper Galton: "Extract as much out of the existing data as you possibly can. This is easier if you remember that data is like a Victorian child - it won't speak unless spoken to. If you generate lots of hypotheses before looking at the data, it quickly yields lots of interesting stuff."

- "Your brain gets in the way of fast strategy. Don't think things through, just ask yourself: 'What do I feel is the right thing to do?' Then pick it, plump it up, play it out and trust your gut. Engage your brain afterwards to post-rationalise the brilliant success - or the mess that you and your guts have made." - Ivan Pollard, partner, Naked

- "You don't generate strategy from a standing start. A sense of strategy should be a permanent part of the brain, but always open to challenge and modification by changing circumstance or unforeseen opportunity. It's what you test new thoughts against: and that can be done very quickly." - Sir Martin Sorrell, group chief executive, WPP

- "Write down one word per competitor that defines what they are uniquely great at. Write down one word for your own company. Write down the top ten target consumer motivations. If your word is unique and is in the consumer's top ten, execute the theme in all your activities. Strategy complete." - Simon Thompson, chief marketing officer,