Life in the fast lane

The industry can learn a lot - and take much heart - from the latest Nabs Fast Forward programme, Mark Lund writes.

Team Eastwood: the winners of this year’s Nabs Fast Forward
Team Eastwood: the winners of this year’s Nabs Fast Forward

11 September. In front of 80 delegates and 16 mentors stands Jeremy Bullmore, 84 years of quicksilver wit and wisdom. We are in the Bartle Bogle Hegarty boardroom for the launch of the 2013 Nabs Fast Forward.

Now, as this year’s initiative reaches its finale, planning for next year’s event is not far off.

Why is it so valuable? The clue is in the name. Those lucky enough to do the eight-week course find that not only does their understanding of their world accelerate rapidly, but also their ability to find an answer to a problem and package it to maximum effect.

The inspiration comes via interactive talks from industry luminaries, such as the MEC chief strategic officer, Stuart Sullivan-Martin, and the Adam & Eve co-founder James Murphy. But the crucial experience is in solving a brutal brief (set by Wendy Proctor from the Cabinet Office) in teams of ten and pitching to a jury led by John Bartle.

Two weeks on and we are in SapientNitro’s hi-tech space, where the planner Andy Nairn is explaining where he seeks inspiration in the search for the heart of a brand and its appeal to consumers. With sources from CSI to Alastair Campbell and the Koran, it’s a breathless introduction to the biggest questions.

Working on the pitch brief puts the delegates in places they won’t have been before – as the decision-maker for these fundamental questions: What is our strategy? Who is our audience? What is our channel solution? How will we get interaction? What is our mix of paid, owned and earned media? How will we address stakeholders?

The curtains in Karmarama’s auditorium close to complete the space as Dave Henderson, the executive creative director at DLKW Lowe, recounts how the first two people he explained creativity to ended up winning the top D&AD award. Behind the stories is a vital point. If the strategy does not lead to
a powerful, engaging message, clients’ time and money are wasted.

The pitches are honed and polished way beyond what one would expect of these twentysomethings

And this brings in the second crucial benefit of Fast Forward: that to do one area supremely well (be it digital, media or creative), it is vital to understand the whole picture. Bullmore invented Fast Forward 15 years ago as a response to the floating off of media agencies from the creative motherships, seeing presciently how separate the disciplines would become. Today, as channels and disciplines have multiplied, the need to see the whole is greater than ever.

Crunch night. The dizzyingly dramatic theatre at Google’s St Giles office is the backdrop for the eight ten-minute pitches that are honed and polished way beyond what one would expect of these twentysomethings. Behind the glitz are documents of real substance – testimony to the quality of work and effort that have gone into the past eight weeks.

Fast Forward introduces delegates to a world of positive collaboration, founded on the belief that, if the whole is better than the sum of its parts, then everyone benefits. This skill may be the most valuable legacy Fast Forward leaves for its young delegates. It is a far cry from a world of overlapping disciplines and agencies where the default mode of working can be protecting one’s turf and competing with others to survive, almost always at the expense of the overall effect.

The reckoning. We are in the Nabs offices and the judges are at work. Nick Theakstone, the Group M chief executive, dissects the media planning; Sheila Mitchell, the director of marketing at Public Health England, assesses feasibility and tone of voice with Proctor. The ruling is unanimous – and the winning team is so good that Mitchell wants it to present to the Whitehall mandarins.

Then, at M&C Saatchi, the prize-giving and detailed feedback occurred. Chairing this course has been enjoyable, and I am thankful for the hard work done by the Nabs team led by Zoe Osmond and Kylie Spencer.

My final perception, though, is that Fast Forward may also point the way to how the industry should work in the future.
Mark Lund is the co-founder and managing partner of Now and the chairman of Nabs Fast Forward


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