Ben Shaw calls for a more diverse, more questioning, more antagonising and above all – louder department, as he takes over as Head of Strategy at BBH London.


This September will be my 10 year anniversary at BBH and I’ve been made Head of Strategy.


What terrible timing!

Big breath…

Consultancies are eating our lunch, brands are spending less with agencies, with procurement running the show and paying us by the hour, pitches now seem to be not only chemistry, tissue, strategy and creative but hey look we even made the ad too. Instead of a multi-year marriage between client and agency, long term brand building responsibility has seemingly been handed over to the logo, creatives are increasingly being told to tell a thumb stopping, emotionally engaging story in 3-6” vertical mobile film, the programmatic revolution increasingly looks like Brexit with lots of overpromise and plenty of under delivery, ad fraud seems ripe within the digital ecosystem with fewer and fewer pounds going towards actual comms, media agencies have been found out for not being transparent so brands are building teams in-house, influencers are the new media and replacing creative ideas with poorly acted product placement, Social Media ad spend is set to beat the storytelling heartland of TV, unsurprisingly, more and more of our best young talent isn’t even thinking of joining the industry, whilst our best talent is leaving to go client side or join a platform/consultancy, the #MeToo wave is slowly making its way through the industry with the biggest of big dogs being taken down, the gender gap pay difference confirms that we aren’t supporting talent in our industry if they want to nurture life as well, and our entire industry feels like it’s built on a cultural cohort of white middle class Oxbridge thinking that is more out of touch with the rest of the country than ever before. Phew. Oh. And A.I. is going to replace all of us.


Fuck Fuck Fuck.

How fucking depressing.

Fuck that.

How fucking exciting.

What a time to be a strategist. Or planner. Whatever you want to call yourself. How we work and what we make is ripe for disruption, ripe for some leadership and absolutely begging for someone to make all of that complexity simple again. The world isn’t going to get any easier or the landscape less complex. It’s getting more difficult to find simplicity. What a time for strategists who want to think about things, fix things and make things.

Let’s think about how we can find the right way for data and tech to fit into our creative process.

I’ve been part of and fiddled around with the agency process enough to know that saying ’data and tech’ in Soho means a very different thing to ‘data and tech’ in Silicon Valley. We’ve been through the bit where we all think of launching the next instagram, building the next Pokemon Go or running a server farm for a lonely corporate site. Let’s not fanny about trying to beat AlphaGo when we still can’t get past time sheets. We need to use data to fuel our creativity and a better understanding of tech to delight people with experiences of all shapes and sizes.

Let’s fix our diversity problem before we’re irrelevant.

We were operating in an echo chamber filled with only a few voices on loop but now we’re also surrounded by filter bubbles, segmented personalisation and A.I. algorithms. We need different people to get to different answers and different people doesn’t doesn’t just mean age, race or gender or getting a bloke in from up north. Yes the who is important but how they think is even more vital to the creative process. We can acknowledge and work against our existing bias’ but we’ll struggle to make anything interesting if we keep getting white normy conformist bore-cores into the industry. It’s 2018, let’s find different ways to work together and get some different people in the room.

Let’s make our voice louder.

The worst thing is when a planners role is reduced to research, brief scribing and deck fiddling. That keeps us quiet and stops us leading the way. That’s not fun. Strategists need to fight for their place in the room. Question. Fight. Speak up. Antagonise. Play the devil’s advocate, play the fucking devil’s long term lover. Push. Demand the type of work that will work. Say no it doesn’t work. Say yes it is important the client actually sells some product. Don’t write a deck. Put porn in your decks. Clients aren’t looking for a boring walk through and creatives aren’t looking for a wet blanket walkover. Do all that, and keep it simple – that’s your challenge, that’s what job title really means. What’s the question and what does the answer need to do. Simplicity. Loudly.

The industry is at a moment of massive change. Strategists can be the guides through this turbulent times. We’re paid for our opinion so let’s put it on the table and have some fun with it. That’s what makes advertising enjoyable. That’s what keeps creativity in agencies. That’s what eventually shifts another 1% in stopping the industry decline to a progressively pretentious A.I. creative shop operated by a consultancy on the newly created Musk Inc. Mars colony.

My hope is:

We get different heads together x using the best insight tools + loudly focus on simplicity = we will make the work work better, brands less spammy and advertising more fun.

To help me figure out how to do that, I’m catching up with the previous heads of strategy at BBH and harvesting their advice. Watch out for the upcoming sporadic series ‘Managing the Unmanageables’ with Agathe Guerrier up first – READ NOW