SPEED. QUALITY. CHEAP. THE ETERNAL TRIANGLE OF CREATIVE PRODUCTION. YOU CAN ONLY EVER HAVE 2 APPARENTLY. AND IN THE LAST FEW YEARS IT’S FELT LIKE SPEED HAS BEEN A MANDATORY – THE PACE AT WHICH WE WORK HAS ESCALATED TO MATCH THE SPEED OF TRENDING TOPICS. CAN STRATEGISTS GET TO THE BEST WORK AT SPEED? BBH LONDON STRATEGY DIRECTOR DEAN MATTHEWSON ARGUES IT’S ACTUALLY A BENEFIT…

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” 

Mark Twain wrote that apparently. 

I say apparently because I’ve never read anything Mark Twain wrote apart from that quote. 

But I like that quote. It’s a good quote. Instinctively it feels right. 

Our first draft of anything is never the best. Often over-written and under-thought through. 

As clients set timelines that demand faster and faster strategy, does speed always have to be bad? 

Is it unavoidable that client demands for faster strategy equals shitter strategy? 

Over-written and under-thought.

Craft takes time they say. 

If you want to see a strategist at their very best give them the time to write something powerful. Give them the time to make it succinct.

Our first draft is never our best. We need to test out our thinking and re-test. Write and re-write. Step back before we revisit. It all helps.

There’s an element of truth in this, but we should never ever use fast as an excuse for poor work. 

Why?

Firstly, because this presupposes that the strategy we write is perfect first time up. That a strategist presents their final, authoritative strategic brief to the creative team. And everyone nods their heads, says ‘perfect’, and cracks on. 

This has never happened. Ever. 

It is not the nature of strategy to be delivered perfect and gift-wrapped first time out.  Strategy is an iterative process. It gets better by being picked over by fellow strats. It gets refined by creatives looking under the hood. It evolves when you realise that your first attempt was good to get the creative process rolling, but it wasn’t definitive.

Save strat perfection for the pitch or the client meeting. 

Our job is like the construction of an Olympic Stadium. We provide a bloody great blueprint to get the building process underway. But the blueprint changes along the way. It gets markedly better when it comes up against the realities of delivery. A few corners might need to be cut. Someone will have an idea off-blueprint that we’ll adapt the blueprint to accommodate. But if you continue to iterate you might just end up with a shining monument of sporting brilliance that the Queen parachutes into. 

So we don’t need to box ourselves into a corner, pressurising ourselves to spend copious amounts of time getting it 100% bang-on first time. 

Secondly, our desire for first-time perfection comes from one of the biggest hurdles a strategist fancies: their own self-doubt. We want more time so we can convince ourselves our thinking is correct. 

But if we’re faced with fast, trust yourself. Have faith that there are very few people that know what they’re doing better than you do. Hopefully, it’s why you got the job. And not because Daddy knew someone in the company that had the same school tie as him. 

So trust your gut.

Trust your gut enough to work up some hypotheses. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re not a subject matter expert at this point. 

Because for most categories no one that buys a product either cares that much about it or can differentiate it from any other similar product. So you’re likely in the same boat as the audience. 

Then using data you can easily get your hands on, test those hypotheses out. Quickly. Brilliant if they’re right. Even better if they’re wrong because then you get to go again and make your thinking even sharper. 

This doesn’t need to take long. 

You’ve now got your hypotheses either proven or disproven, so you’re in a place to trust your gut enough to write a first draft. 

So get your strategy down on paper. 

But don’t trust your gut enough that you’ll do whatever it says. So test it yourself:

Does it feel right? 

Does it feel simple?

Does it feel surprising?

Does it feel like something that a creative would love to get their teeth into?

If you don’t believe it, if you don’t love it, no one will.

So if you don’t, go again. 

When you’re ready, talk to someone else about it, trust the opinions of those around you.

Because you’ll definitely have someone around you who can help.

If you’re in a big agency you’ll likely have a collection of brilliant strats around you to quickly test your thinking with.

If you’re a one-person band you’ll likely have some actual real people around you. The bloke that runs the café. Your Mum, your Dad. My wife is an endless source of wisdom in helping me cut the crap. 

I guarantee you will get something out of talking through your strategy at an early stage. You’ll spot the flaws as you try to sell it. The other person will help you to get to a better place simply by listening. And even better when they pick out the things they like or don’t like. 

Use your self-doubt to your advantage. 

Don’t use it to shy away until it’s too late; use it to test your thinking out early with data and people. And quickly. 

Use speed to make you braver. 

Shake things up. It may not have been rigorously tested, but is it exciting, is it going to challenge? 

Time gives you even more opportunity to remove everything that was originally bold about your strategy by over-analysing it and testing it too much. 

Force yourself out of your comfort zone. Use that speed to make you hungrier. 

Create a momentum that bulldozes the strategy forward, excites creatives, scares clients (in a good way) and makes bold intuitive leaps. 

Stick two fingers up to the world and show ‘em that even though you’ve been given a ridiculously stupid deadline you’re still a shit hot strategist.