Media: Double Standards - 'Every day brings new people, new challenges'

Two strategists explain that finding a simple idea or insight is fundamental to harnessing the creative spark that will work for their clients.

JOHN V WILLSHIRE - HEAD OF INNOVATION, PHD

- Explain what you do for your agency in one sentence.

The creation and cultivation of ideas that help give PHD, and all of our clients, a genuine point of difference in a highly competitive market.

- What's the most exciting thing about your role?

The sheer breadth of it. Every time we sit down to sort out a job description for the role, within about a month it's redundant. So, rather than getting stuck on pinning down what it is that I do, and what to call it, I much prefer just getting on with doing things. This means that it's the job description that becomes redundant, rather than me.

- How innovative is your agency, and is it easy to convince people to adopt new ideas?

Our "pioneering" positioning is something that everyone at PHD is motivated to try to live up to every day. That means we all need very little encouragement to create and adopt new ideas. Action-planning, PHD's lateral thinking framework, takes us to ideas that normal media agency processes would never get to.

- How involved do you get with the agency's clients?

It's mostly an indirect relationship. We believe that it's much better for our clients if, rather than having a few "uberplanners" through whom all strategy must flow, all our planners are of the highest possible standard. What I really love is inspiring all of PHD's planners so that our relationships with clients become stronger and more ideas-driven than ever. Why have nine brilliant planners when you can have 90?

- What's the most exciting technological trend that has made an impact on your business at the moment?

Call it word-of-mouth, call it buzz ... whatever you want to call it, people are connecting with each other like never before. It's not one technological trend that's doing this, it's all technological trends. The smart brands are the ones helping people do more of the stuff they like.

- How accountable is your role?

By definition, innovation is "creativity that delivers value". If I'm doing something that's not delivering something of value to PHD and our clients, I shouldn't be doing it.

- How do you go about training people to adopt new techniques/ideas?

Learning has to be fun and involving, no matter what the subject matter. If you can teach someone something new in this way, they'll not just remember it, but also start doing it of their own accord ... it's a principle that works when you're thinking about companies talking to their customers and not just for internal training purposes.

- How would you say media agencies are generally changing for the better?

Good media planners have always sat at the centre of communication, they've always had to understand how people use the media around them. But because the media landscape is now so complex, the people doing it are smarter than their forebears. They have to be. Smart people and great understanding equals brilliant ideas.

- How do you unwind from all this clever thinking?

Like this: www.myspace.com/gamagesmodeltrainclub.

ANTHONY EDWARDS - HEAD OF STRATEGY, MINDSHARE

- Explain what you do for your agency in one sentence.

Find the underlying insight/idea that will unlock the creativity of others.

- What's the most exciting thing about your role?

It sounds trite, but the diversity of it. Every day brings new people, new challenges and new things to come up with.

- How innovative is your agency, and is it easy to convince people to adopt new ideas?

The short answers are very and yes. The reason being is that our clients are demanding innovation and ideas, and we're working in an environment that allows us to move beyond the traditional definition of what a media agency does. A good example of our commitment to innovation is getting new kinds of people to develop our offering.

- How involved do you get with the agency's clients?

As much as possible. But with more than 40 clients, it's not possible to get directly involved on every brief. Therefore, we have packaged our proprietary creativity tools and techniques into an open-source comms planning approach called "Destination Planning". It gives our planners, specialists and agency partners a framework to contribute and collaborate freely, an approach that is flexible enough to cope with both creating "big brand ideas" and the myriad of smaller "comms ideas" they inspire.

- What's the most exciting technological trend that has made an impact on your business at the moment?

The shift from agencies buying or accessing new technologies in existing channels to actually applying technological expertise and creativity to make things is really exciting. A couple of recent examples are the mannequin widget we created for Diesel and a 2.0 MySpace platform we built for Nike Supersonic. With the production cost of technologies such as RFID (radio frequency identification) tagging on the decrease, and uptake of GPS-enabled devices on the increase, expect to see lots of cool location-based ideas in 2008.

- How accountable is your role?

Very. And that's a good thing. As we move into a world of integrated communications, the old habits and hierarchies of accountability are increasingly exposed as not fit for purpose. The culture of showboating personal contribution must give way to working in best-in-class teams who co-develop ideas and share objectives.

- How do you go about training people to adopt new techniques/ideas?

We regularly train people in the core comms planning skills of creativity, insight generation, facilitation and selling. It's a mix of internal and external. Training is only half the story, though. Having shared values and engendering positive behaviours is more important than a meeting room full of bean-bags, hats and rubber chickens.

- How would you say media agencies are generally changing for the better?

Specifically looking at ideas and innovation, it's pleasing to have moved beyond the stickers-on-bananas mentality of a few years ago - tactical innovation for innovation's sake. Now that our clients are challenging us to become the pivotal point of connection for ideas, brands, consumers and agencies, it's all got a bit more interesting.

- How do you unwind from all this clever thinking?

Very carefully.

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