How are brands and their agencies approach marketing creative today

Many of the best marketing campaigns use deep insights to drive big ideas, but syncing strategy and creative isn’t always easy. Heat’s New York chief creative and lead strategist discuss how they partner across disciplines to drive meaningful change for clients.

It doesn’t matter how clever, funny, novel, or award-winning ad creative is; if it doesn’t help brands achieve their business objectives, it’s likely a waste of time and budget. That’s the common sense credo that

guides Heat New York’s Evan Slater, chief creative, and Maggie Gross, head of strategy, as they develop multichannel campaigns for the agency’s clients.

To ensure the agency’s creative output delivers against clients’ strategic goals, Slater and Gross collaborate as closely as a traditional copywriter-art director team would. The two sit across from one another at a shared desk, discussing, deliberating, and iterating concepts from the earliest stages of the creative process. “If we approach creative and strategy in a more integrated way, it enables us to develop campaigns that have a more meaningful impact on business outcomes— that aren’t just creative for creative’s sake,” Slater says.

In this Q&A, Slater and Gross discuss their approach to client work, how their teams collaborate, and what skills today’s creatives and strategists need.

How are brands and their agencies approaching marketing creative today? Where is there room for improvement?

Slater: Consumers are inundated with content and messaging of all kinds, and it’s increasingly difficult to be heard above the din. In this environment, it’s critical for marketers to understand how to reach consumers in a more powerful way at the exact moment they are most open to hearing from a brand. Yet, as marketers, we continue to approach creative and its delivery in a very myopic way, thinking only in terms of media channels—TV, print, radio, online, and the occasional event or experience. Many of the conventions by which the industry still abides are antiquated; a 15- or 30-second TV spot isn’t the only solution. These forms of communication absolutely are still vital, but they may not be the answer to every marketing question.

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Align Strategy, Creative for Effective Advertising

Evan Slater and Maggie Gross

We strive to think about creative more broadly, understanding what’s important to a company— whether it’s immediate sales, brand equity, or some other objective—and identifying the right channels accordingly. When we think more strategically and creatively about larger business goals, we see much broader opportunities to connect with customers. There are many parts of any business—the call center, product packaging, logistics, front-line employees—that ultimately affect the brand and the way the customer experiences it. By putting strategy at the core of everything we do, we can identify new, more effective, less expected places to reach people. We can then apply creative resources to those areas—in addition to campaigns in other media channels—to reach consumers in a more integrated, meaningful way.

What is your approach to the creative process? How do you make it more strategic?

Gross: We start by discussing business problems, not channel problems. Clients often approach agencies with a channel brief—a request to create a TV commercial or a social campaign, for example. We’d much rather have a conversation about the broader business needs, because that often leads us to suggest a different channel or method that ultimately can be more effective.

From there, we take a very collaborative approach. At many agencies, the strategy team will work on a brief and then hand it off to the creative team, which works on it before presenting it to the client. There are variations on that process, but too often the handoffs between disciplines result in a disconnect between the business need and the creative output.

How do you avoid that disconnect?

Slater: We’re in constant communication throughout the entire process. We work together to discuss data insights that could feed creative strategies. There’s no big reveal, where Maggie and her team present their vision to my team or vice versa. This doesn’t mean we’ve merged the disciplines; our strategists and creatives still have specific responsibilities and are specialists in what they do. But they work together with a unified goal in mind—solving that business problem. Business insights are part of the creative; there’s no divide where one starts and the other one ends.

When hiring, what skills and experience are you seeking?

Gross: For strategists, we look for people who have a solid understanding of quantitative data and can generate ideas based on it. That’s mandatory, because an idea that’s not rooted in data is just a hope. For more experienced hires, we look for candidates who understand how to use analytical techniques such as regression analysis.

As for previous experience, we want candidates who have worked in brand, digital, or communications strategy. The more of those boxes they can check, the better. Those might be high expectations, but we’ve found that strategists are happier when their ideas can have a broader impact because they’re relevant across channels.

Slater: We look for creatives with expertise in more than one channel, and with tonal range— people who can create work that is funny, heartfelt, inspiring, or whatever the brief requires. We want people who are willing to figure out new processes and who understand that every time they get a client brief, the answer may be different.

With your teams working in such close partnership, are there ever disagreements?

Gross: All the time—but that push-pull makes the work stronger and ensures it delivers on the client’s objectives. If a strategy isn’t broad enough to give the creative team the leeway it needs, the team lets us know. And if a creative’s idea isn’t based on the insights we’ve determined will drive the client’s business, we work through it. Collaborating so closely allows us to discover new opportunities as part of the creative process. We validate ideas as we go, rather than using the original brief as a creative guillotine. Effective advertising is equal parts data-driven insights and inspired ideas—having an ongoing partnership between a strategist who’s thinking about the business and a creative who’s in lockstep.

November 15, 2017, 12:01 am

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This publication contains general information only and Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries (“Deloitte”) are not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication. Copyright © 2017 Deloitte Development LLC.

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