The Big-T Strategist

Planner Parley

Truth Collective Truth CollectiveSeason 2Episode 6Dec 1, 2020

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Introduction: Welcome to Planner Parley, a show where we come together under a flag of truth to talk about small agency planning. Julian Cole, a strategy consultant out of Melbourne, Australia returns to the Planner Parley Podcast for a one-to-one deep dive on BIG-T strategist. He and John Roberts, CSO at Truth Collective in Rochester, New York are fully unpacking what makes great strategists, how their skills are both broad and deep, why it’s important for them to not just do but also teach, and what it means for small agencies. Pull up a chair and listen in.

John Roberts: So, everybody, welcome to another episode of Planner Parley season two. And I’m thrilled to welcome back Julian Cole. And today, Julian and I really want to focus on one of those key aspects that he’s passionate about, the BIG-T strategist. What can we all learn about the broader aspects of strategy within a creative environment? What are we missing? And how can we get better? So, listen, before we get into the BIG-T, tell me why did you start Planning Dirty?

Julian Cole: So Planning Dirty is twofold. Since the very start, I’ve always had a blog to share content. But what I think is, if you really want to learn something, you teach it, because that really forces you to really understand the theory or the discipline that you’re doing. And so, teaching for me has always been a big part of what I do. The other thing is that I feel like there’s a big mistake around strategy. It feels like there’s this big secret club, and I feel like that needs to go away. There’s no reason we should make it that hard. And I think I’ve got this theory that there’s this bad loop that happens in generations of strategists, which is the trust your gut problem. And what that is, is when you’re starting out in strategy, when you have a strategy director above you, you are dying for information. You’re dying to be told how to do strategy and get feedback and learn the theory.

Julian Cole: The problem is, and you’re probably saying this yourself is that a lot of us are told, “Just trust your gut. Go with your instinct. I can’t really tell you the process or the steps that I go through to get to a creative brief. It just happens. I’ll tell you the creative brief when I get there.” And for a young strategist that’s quite demoralizing, and sets you back quite a way in your career. And what I realized was that was something that frustrated me until I got into the role of strategy director. And I realized, when someone was asking for me to explain how comms planning works, I couldn’t explain it. I had the same trust you gut. You just intuitively know when it’s right. And that’s when I realized there was a massive problem here.

Julian Cole: We’re not teaching the theory of strategy and the trust your gut, and the instinct is because every generation grows up the same. We’re grown up to have to learn it on the job and instinctively learn by trial and error. And my thought was if you can actually teach it, you’re going to have people who are going to learn strategy faster, and then be able to give that education down to the next group of strategists as well. So that’s really why I started Planning Dirty. As well, from a selfish reason, I think I get better as a strategist. But from more of a community aspect, I think I really want to stop that trust your gut cycle, vicious cycle that we get into.

John Roberts: Oh, fantastic. We’re going to dig into this because I’ve always believed that we need just enough process not to get in the way. And it’s a funny thing because as strategists we’re constantly looking to be inventive and distinctive. But at the same time, we do need some level of framework of constraints. So we’ll come into that, and I am absolutely sure that we will post all links references to Planning Dirty because I highly recommend it to everyone. So today, why don’t we jump straight in and then see where it takes us? The BIG-T strategist is perspective you have. So tell me a little bit about the BIG-T and why it matters.

Julian Cole: For sure. So, it goes back to my time at BBDO where I was heading up the communications planning there. And it was probably one of my worst days at the office. And on that day, one of the best brand strategy directors I’d ever worked with, and I was learning so much from, he kind of got walked out of the building. He was given an ultimatum. He had had kind of butting heads with the creative team. And he was put it’s either you or them. And the agency was going with the creative team. So he was pushed out of the agency. And that shook me to my core because here was the smartest brand strategist I’ve ever worked with. And he was the best at his craft and he had that kind of… We talked about the T shape which is whatever he says, so I was looking for. Someone who’s brought across all skills and then goes deep on one skill set. And here he was getting pushed out of the agency. And I thought, “He had the best skill set ever.”

Julian Cole: On the same day, we just promoted the youngest strategist in my team. She was an absolute gun. We had just promoted her to strategy director, and bumped up her pay, given her the whole thing because she was just killing it. And she came to me and said, “Julian, really sorry news. I know you’ve gone into bat for me, done everything to help me get that promotion. But unfortunately, I’ve had another offer from another agency. And they’ve almost doubled the promotional, what you’re giving me in my promotion, the bonus there or the increase there.” And it’s great clients as well and a world class agency that I knew of. And I was just gutted. Here was two of the best people I worked with, and people I really appreciated, and were making me better as a strategist. And were helping the whole strategy department. Here they were leaving on the exact same day.

Julian Cole: And when I reflected, I thought about their fortunes, and here was one strategist who was amazing in his job, the smartest guy I’ve worked with, and he was getting kicked out. And then on the other side, there was this young gun who was just on this upward trajectory of exponential growth. And when I sat down and looked at it, they both had that BIG-T shape. I mean, the T shaped of a strategist, they could do everything. But we’re teaching on one aspect. But what I realized was the difference was that young gun, what she had was three extra attributes. And they were she was amazing at diplomacy. So she actually came from account management. And she was so good at navigating the politics of an agency, and being able to get things through the agency and through to the clients. I think that’s a skill set that we can learn from a very young age. And it’s so important when you start going into that upper echelon of strategy director and heads of department, you need to have diplomacy skills and politics.

Julian Cole: The second skill that she had was she was great at management. She had a small team underneath her, and those strategists were just growing. She was really investing in them. And she wasn’t giving the trust your gut. There was no vicious cycle happening there. She was teaching it. And the interesting thing is, it almost relates back to the first point of diplomacy. She was able to teach diplomacy too from the very start. One of her secrets was she would tell this young strategist to go in the meeting, take notes of the meeting, but then she wanted them to take notes on the behavior as well, what was happening, what was the unspoken dialogue that was happening. Who was listening to who? Where was the power dynamics happening? Where were the shifts? Phenomenal, if you can start analyzing that from your very first day, understanding those power dynamics in a meeting, you’re going to be so much further ahead. And she would ask them to review those notes at the end of the meeting. So that was the second skill that she had. She was a great manager. She also understood diplomacy.

Julian Cole: The third one, which was really important as you get to head of strategy is being able to sell strategy into clients, and sell it to the agency and clients. But the role of strategy is it’s not needed. With advertising spend going a long time strategy has only been in the late ’60s to ’70s. So you really need people who are able to sell strategy into the agency, and then also to clients. And so, that is what you’re really looking for when you’re trying to hire people at that higher strategy leadership position. You need someone who you know can help grow scope because a strategy department needs to be in a face of growth. When you’re growing, you’re getting more people with different T shapes. So you’re getting different skill sets, and your whole department is getting stronger and better.

John Roberts: Julian, that’s great. We’re going to come back and go forward across all of those. So when I think about your description about the BIG-T strategist, it’s not just the breadth of strategy, understanding that you talk through, but also those key aspects of diplomacy, management, and then selling. I know because we’ve talked about this before, these are absolute core skills for the leader of a strategy department, but they’re actually I find really important skills that you start learning as soon as you can. Whether you’re a department of one, whether you’re a junior, or whether you’re a leader in an agency, right? So, tell me a little bit more about the diplomacy.

Julian Cole: Yeah. I’m a big believer in politics and the importance of understanding politics. I think there’s a lot of people who say, “I want to work at an agency that doesn’t have politics.” So, it’s understanding that, and making that work from the very start. And that’s the thing that you’ve got to look for early on is that being good at strategy is 50% about the craft. The other 50% is about how you navigate diplomacy and politics. Those skills will help you from the very beginning. The relationships that you form, if you can form a stronger bond with creatives, that’s going to help you a lot with helping sell work and being brought into the process a little bit more. And that’s about trust needs to be built there, and it’s on both sides.

Julian Cole: I often say, the creative brief, if you want to build trust, and you want to be brought in, in the creative process, you need to bring creatives into the strategy process. So, bringing them into the brief, giving them options, letting them really have a voice in that room of what the creative brief looks like is so key. But something that a lot of strategists and I was guilty of this didn’t do at the start of my career. So understanding that is really important.

John Roberts: Sorry, Julian. Just hold on a sec because I’m nodding away here. It’s interesting because I find it’s still a challenge for me of getting the balance between I believe that as a strategist we need to have a point of view, but we still have to be open and inviting like you were saying to everyone else to share and embellish that point of view, right?

Julian Cole: Yes. What’s the saying? I think it’s strong thoughts held lightly. I think it’s Richard Huntington who says that, and I believe that you’ve got to have really… You’ve got to back yourself with your thoughts, but don’t be too precious on them. And I think that when you look at a creative brief, there is a part of it, like the consumer problem, I think you as a strategist definitely need to be rock solid on that. And the goal of where you want to get to and target. Where the creative leap begins is the single minded proposition. And that is a creative leap, you’re bringing insight into that. And I think here is where you really want to have a light hold on.

Julian Cole: And so, I’m often happy for my single minded proposition to get beaten. If I can then look back and see, actually creatives have come up with a way better one. When they challenge the consumer problem and come up with another problem that is sometimes where I see the biggest issue, if they’ve kind of created a fake problem that’s not there. But I think a lot of strategists feel defeated when their single minded proposition gets beaten, or there’s an alternative suggested. I think we need to hold on to those more lightly. But it’s a balance there. And so, if you let them into the briefing process, and show them what you’re doing, then they’re going to let you in on creative, and that’s the thing. Getting letting on a creative brief. I mean, creative work, only seeing that the night before it goes to the client is demoralizing. It’s happened to me a lot in my career. But what I realized was they were the times where I didn’t have a great level of trust with the creative team. So, you need to build that. So, that’s soft skills that you learn on the job.

John Roberts: Now, those are internal skills. I also think when I think about what you and I have talked about in the role of diplomacy that also there’s a client diplomacy as well. Is that where you’re going to get to in terms of the selling strategy, or do you want to talk a little bit more about that now?

Julian Cole: Yeah, I think the understanding of the client and building that relationship is key. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I’ve already always had really close relationship with my clients.” And I can see, when I’ve created the best work, it’s always when I’ve had a close relationship. It’s when the relationship is further away that it’s often hard. And then again, back to trust, they’re not trusting you. So, I think the other part to it with clients is, and this is something that planners often forget, but we can really help out with is the level of involvement of work that will go in on the client side, and really having empathy on their side. Because I think a lot of the ideas, especially when we think about innovative ideas, the cost is not so much the money. The cost is the amount of time that the client is going to have to spend and navigate through their own departments and other departments.

Julian Cole: And so, having empathy, and designing ideas, especially innovative ideas. Whenever we’re doing innovative ideas, I’d be like, “How can we take time off the client?” Because that’s the real cost to you. Because you’re never doing big investments on innovative work, but you’re requiring the client to probably take a little bit more of a risk. Take themselves out of their comfort zone, and then also a bigger investment in time. Maybe they’re dealing with the legal department or the product department or someone else. So, you’ve got to understand what are we asking them to actually do here?

John Roberts: Yeah, great points. And it’s a really good reminder. It’s funny one of the earlier pods I was talking with two strategist on client side, and there’s a sure reality reminder that we are not their every single focus or their waking minute. And so, whenever we come, particularly as you’re talking about coming up with innovation or being inventive, being distinctive. They’ve also taken on a level of personal risk themselves, the clients in terms of making sure that they spend that time as you talked about, but also some of their reputation internally.

Julian Cole: Yeah, totally. So, yeah, you’ve got to really set them up for success and work out what is their internal drivers, as in what’s really driving them? I’m also like a big believer in the Japanese corporate culture theory of Nemawashi, all about hallways over boardrooms. And so, that idea is that you never want to be presenting to more than one senior client at a time or senior person at a time, whether it’s in your agency or a client. Because what happens there, especially if it’s two seniors who are about the same level, often, they don’t know how the other person’s going to decide. And so, naturally, when you’re putting something new on the table, if you don’t know how the other person’s responding the easiest thing to do is shut it down. So they’ll shut that thing down.

Julian Cole: Where what Nemawashi teaches you is get that coalition building into that meeting. So, you’ve got another positive senior voice in the room who can help sway a decision in the right direction. And that’s just such a simple thing, but we forget it and not. And when I started my career, I thought that sounds like the biggest waste of time ever. But having tried to sell a number of hundreds of creative ideas, I now know that is actually an amazing idea, and theory or concept.

John Roberts: It’s fantastic. And also, I’ll be honest, to me that feels completely contradictory to the historical role that agencies play of we bring magic and surprise into a room. There’s a reveal every stage, right?

Julian Cole: Yeah. No, I think you’re totally right. It may be a revelation for one person, but some people don’t want surprises all the time. And you’ve got to be able to read the risk tolerance in the room. And I think it’s all back to diplomacy. This is soft skills that we’re talking about here. But the most important thing to me is they can be taught. This all can be taught. It’s not like you’re just born with it. You get taught this, and that’s my biggest thing is that a lot of strategists don’t have access to teachers of diplomacy. I think account management do this perfectly, and maybe you’ve got someone in your agency you can learn from, but for a lot of strategists, they’re not learning these tips of how to navigate these situations. So, I think it’s really important, and that’s why I’m so focused on teaching it as well.

John Roberts: Excellent. So, tell me more about management, number two.

Julian Cole: Yeah, management is really about how you’re… I think the biggest thing for me is how you setting up your department to set a vision that’s inspiring your team. So, at BBDO when I had the comms planning department there, I set the vision of we wanted to be the world class comms planning agency. We wanted to be the best comms planning agency in the world. And the way we were going to do that is we were going to think of ourselves as the Harvard model of a comms planning department.

Julian Cole: And what that is, is that in Harvard when you’re doing your MBA program, you’re marked on your work, but then you’re marked by all the other students in your group. And the theory was that everyone needs to be contributing, and helping the group out. And that is the vision that we set for the comms planning department. So everyone was very crystal clear on how they were going to get promoted in the department. It was that they were going to help… They were going to have wins on their own account. They were going to grow as a strategist, but then they were going to help grow everyone else in the department and share knowledge. And so, having a clear vision like that is really key.

Julian Cole: I think the other thing about management is, it’s that teaching. If we go back to that very first point is that this is the thing strategists struggle with at the moment is just being able to teach theory and practice to that next generation. So, I go through a number of techniques of how you actually should manage and teach people the skills of planning.

John Roberts: So, when you think about the management aspect internally, managing people and you talked about departments, which are completely getting to understand. I also think that we can parley a lot of those skills and learning to small agency environments where you maybe the planner of a department of one, or one or two, a couple of you. And so, you’re actually trying to understand and build some framework for yourself. But also to enable everyone else within the agency to understand the value you bring, and where. Does that come through for you in terms of as you’re thinking about the role of management and the goals you set, as you’ve talked about?

Julian Cole: Yeah, to me that almost comes through in also selling strategy. So, for me, management happens within your department. When I think about selling strategy, that is about selling it to the rest of the department, and I talk about there’s three different types of diplomacy, or politics. There’s upwards, downwards, and sidewards. Downwards is you’re managing a team, and then you’re managing a group and really upskilling your team there, and helping them grow. Upwards diplomacy is simple. It’s like what are you doing to senior leadership to make sure you’re going into their goals? And then sidewards, I think is really key. And this is what I see a lot of small agencies do is how are you putting the value of strategy out there? How are you packaging it up? And teaching the skills of selling strategy is kind of vital.

Julian Cole: I think, for me, what that looks like is I’ve got a couple of tips that I go through. The beginning is, I think the problem with strategy is that it can feel very nebulous. Great word, everyone’s a strategist. How you actually land strategy is you need to stop talking about outputs. So that’s the great thing about the creative brief. Everyone knows that that’s what the strategist is going to deliver. So if you have a very clear understanding of what the strategy delivers in the process, then you can tell people when they should expect that, and then they’ll know, okay, now is the time. And so for me, when I was growing comms planning at BBDO, I needed to show what was the difference between brand and comms planning? And when did I bring them in? What did I do? And so, I had three documents that you’re always going to see from a comms planner.

John Roberts: So, there’s three then help spread the journey of strategy. It isn’t just focused on a creative brief, right?

Julian Cole: Yes, it was comms framework. So, bringing the media and communication in. When we’re writing the creative brief, we’re showing how media and the different moments are going to come to life and the different messages we’re going to have throughout the campaign. That was one part. The blueprint was the second, which was showing the production dollars being carved up when we’re presenting the creative idea for the very first time, a new concept for lots of creative agencies. And then the final was the tactical brief. And so, what I did is the way I institutionalize this at BBDO, and BBH, was I first… first kind of 90 days, first three months, was really focused on where can I have a win where I can show these tools in use?

Julian Cole: And so for me, you don’t want to look for the big project in the agency. You want to go for the small projects that are on the periphery, but still not naked into the creds deck. So for me, that was Bacardi. There was a project coming up. It had a very tight timeline. So I knew work was going to come out, and I knew I could make a direct impact because the client wanted more strategy. So I got a win up on that account. And that’s not… That was a small account in the BBDO portfolio.

John Roberts: But the point is really relevant, which is you find the opportunity. Let me ask, does it connect back to the diplomacy elements we were talking about earlier? Because I’ve also found that find your partner, your best partner, usually as a creative director that wants, that is open, that is desiring to bring you in?

Julian Cole: Yeah, no, it does. And you’re totally right. These are all interlinked points because you’re talking now about sidewards diplomacy. So what you do is you’ve got your win, you get your win on the board then you show a creative development consumer journey and say… I mean, a creative development journey and say, “Hey, here’s the three times you bring us in. Here are the three outputs you’ll get at those times.” Then you’re going on a road show in what I call sidewards diplomacy. Where you’re going around to account leads and saying, “Hey, what’s the scope on right now for strategy?” So, you’re taking in all that information.

Julian Cole: If it’s not on the scope, show them what you want to do, and the outputs you want to create and the wins you’ve already had within the agency. And start to institutionalize it there. Show what you can do. And that’s how you grow a strategy department. It’s taking that sideward diplomacy. You need your sponsor up ahead, which is in senior leadership, so getting the CEO or whoever it is involved, who knows what the vision is, and getting them speaking to the head account leads, and then you’re pushing it sidewards. If you’re not at least charismatic or got some type of personality that people want to hang out with, you’re going to end up being in a bit of trouble here. But that really is the job when you’re getting to head of strategy, you’re doing that sidewards movement to try to grow your department and your scopes, which then grows your department.

John Roberts: Excellent. So, listen, let me just check. So, we talked about the brief and comms framework, the blueprint. And then, execution in terms of the tactical briefs about what each element or channels doing. Tell a little bit more about the blueprint because that’s new to me.

Julian Cole: Yeah. So, my first two years in New York, I was working at BBH. And I was a digital strategy director, and I was so excited because I was working with one of the best teams that I’ve ever worked with digitally. First two years, I made zero pieces of work. Every client we went to would say, “Yeah, yeah, you’re BBH. You’re the TV agency. We don’t need your digital ideas.” And I’m talking really fantastic ideas, bulletproof. And it got me thinking, how do you sell work? I was depressed, as you can imagine. This is what we’re in the game to do, and two years without any work to your name’s quite depressing. And what I realized was the number one thing was that it was all about money. And when you have a money conversation with the client because what was happening was money was only getting brought up. We all get the client briefs, and that money slide budget blank, coming later, KPIs blank coming later.

Julian Cole: Now, that doesn’t seem like an issue because you know money’s going to come later. And it’ll come when you’ve signed off the idea. But that’s a massive issue because if you want campaigns that look different, then you’ve got to set that intention from really early on. And the only way you set intention is by putting money on the line. Because the saying of if we see a good idea, money will come. It never comes. It never ever comes.

Julian Cole: What this does is it really helps with two things. So what I’m doing is I work with production bring production further up in the process. So you can imagine I’ve just [inaudible 00:27:20] creatives. I’m now going directly before I’ve even had a creative presentation. I’m working hammer and tong to try to work out what’s this campaign going to look like? What are the assets that I know we’re going to create? Because there’s nothing worse than getting to that first meeting, showing a massive list, select the buffet of creative ideas that you can have. Here’s 50,000 ideas, and I still end up with I will just take the banner ads, the TV, and the Facebook edit of the TV cut.

Julian Cole: So what the budget does, if you have a budget conversation up front before you’ve briefed in the tactical pieces is you’re saying you’ve asked us to be mobile first. We’re putting 100 grand into an idea. So, Snapchat, we’ve got media on board. We’re going to do 100 grand in there and come back next week with an idea that’s going to be under 100 grand or 100 grand for that. Do you agree? Is that a good allocation of budget? That conversation up front is not usual, but it should be because what it does is it sets intention. It says we are going to make this work. We’re only briefing the work that we’re going to actually make. And when I started to do this on accounts, I had phenomenal success. The sell through rate of work just went up, it skyrocketed. The creative churn, the amount of creative reviews we went came down, the amount of creative burnout was reduced. And so, this is a pivotal tool within an agency.

Julian Cole: The hard thing about it is those conversations aren’t natural. So when a strategist starts saying to the producer or account people, “Hey, what’s the budget on this? What’s the cut?” Quite a foreign territory. So it really only can occur at the strategy director level. Someone who’s confident, who’s got that relationship, who can ask those questions, but when they do phenomenal results. So that’s what I was really instituting at BBDO.

John Roberts: It’s a really good point, and it reminds me that it’s too easy to no one ever seems to like to talk about money. It’s too easy to have that conversation in the wrong place. And I think that what I hear actually with you in terms of having a seniority or a senior experiences as strategist enables you to have that. But at least we should be thinking about how do we have the conversation as a team and with client as we’re developing the work because it comes into your quote in terms of the best way to actually find that connection? What are the channels? And also it has an impact on the work itself. Are we creating million dollar ideas or $10 ideas. The power of the idea is really important, but we also need to concurrently think about the role of execution. Does it make sense?

Julian Cole: Yeah, totally. And if we go back to the definition of strategy, it’s coming up with a plan with the limited resources you have. And we all forget that as strategists that second part of that sentence, we’re coming up with a plan, but it’s devoid of the limited resources.

John Roberts: That’s a great way of looking at it. Fantastic. When I think about the BIG-T selling strategy, there’s a lot of this discussion we’ve had, which is so relevant for the planners within Planner Parley we’ve been talking to of this age old issue about proving your value. Where strategy is not necessarily a traditional department or role within an agency. What other tips do you have for people like that about how can they sell strategy internally, and then let’s focus on external as well. But internally, anything else?

Julian Cole: So, I think that it comes back to building that case studies. And I think this is the hard thing is that we often feel like we can’t bring our past experience into this new agency, but you need to bring that and start building the case. And then finding those early wins. I think this is the problem, people love to go for the big project that’s the focus of the agency. Start small, start on the outside, start on the periphery, and then drag people towards you. Don’t try to change that big machine with too many shifts in it. Once you get that, it’s quite easy. I think the thing that you need to focus on is also scopes of work. So, you need to get involved in understanding how many scopes, what you’re coming for in terms of the scopes of work that you’re doing.

Julian Cole: And there’s two types of scopes, or ways that projects are scoped out, which is top down bottom up, top down being there is a percentage going to strategists. Bottom up is what are the outputs that the strategist is creating a creative brief? How many hours does it take you to get to a creative brief? So you can work out those hours? And then you’ve got the FTE, which is your full-time employee? How many hours is that then taking of that person? And how can you cover that person? So having that spreadsheet is kind of key. So that’s in the academy. I’ve got all my templates, but I’m sure you can get friends who’ve got templates. But I’ve got my templates of scoping documents, the selling document, and the vision documents.

John Roberts: Great tips, and again, I know people will be able to get it within the academy themselves. But the principle as well is spend the time is what you’re saying to ensure that you and your team appreciate how much time and effort will be spent in order to deliver what we need for a client.

Julian Cole: Yeah, and the funny thing is you really learn to love timesheets when you start looking at scopes of work. I’ve never loved timesheets as much as that. There is so much good value in timesheets that we don’t know about. And when you put your strategy brain to a timesheets and that data, amazing things can happen. One of the interesting things that I did was when I was looking at when ideas sold, I started analyzing timesheet data and also was getting email. I started analyzing email data as well. And what I found was the times when we were getting briefed on ideas, and then the times we sold ideas, and then the times we made them go live.

Julian Cole: And from that data, what I found was there was this golden window of selling ideas, which was 80 to 120 days of going live, most of our projects would sell, the idea would sell. And we would get briefed on completely different timelines. 150 days before going live we’d get briefed, 250, 300 days. And what that showed me was that the number one variable that matters is that deadline. And so, when you think like that, it’s quite interesting because do you change the way the agency works? Do we say we’re not going to get briefed 300 days in advance? We’re only going to get briefed 150 because we know the thing that’s deciding is actually that deadline? Or do you put strategy on front for longer because when a project in a strategy phase, it’s much cheaper than in creative because you’ve got more creatives involved? Or do you put your junior creatives on first, and then you wait till you get your heavyweights when you’re in the golden window of selling ideas. These are all things that a strategist could bring to the table and help an agency in terms of how it could run more efficiently, all from timesheet data. So, learn to love that timesheet data.

John Roberts: I’m not sure if I can learn to love it. But I’m listening to you, I hear you. And it’s funny, right? Because I think like you’re saying all of us benefit from a deadline, us and client, and there’s a focal point of decisions need to be made. And that’s one of the challenges that we all face in the world of strategies that quite often if it doesn’t feel like a decision needs to be made decisions aren’t made both internal and external. So, when we think about the selling of the strategy I want to come back to what you’re talking about that fantastic Japanese phrase about making sure it’s in the hallway rather than the boardroom? Have you found success in bringing the client along in the strategy in stages? Again, versus the reveal of here’s the brief, and then here’s the work. Tell me more about that. What can I learn from that?

Julian Cole: It’s I would say the person that I’m bringing along in the creative brief is always the creative. I think definitely that it shouldn’t be a big reveal for the creative director, that is to see the creative brief. In terms of the client bringing the client along, I always want to make sure that my creatives comfortable first. So, if I had ever shared a creative brief in the workings, it would have always been after I’d shared it with the creative director and got their approval to share it with the client. Because you just want to make sure you’re trusting that bond that you’ve got with the creative director because I know there’s nothing worse that a creative director wants than to feel hamstrung to a strategy they don’t love. So that would be my biggest thing. But I also read a good thing is that the credit brief is for the creative, the creative strategies for the client. So just make that distinction. Just know that there’s a difference between those two documents.

John Roberts: Great way of looking at it. And you’re absolutely right of the worst thing ever is when we’re in the idea as business is to feel as though we’ve constrained the creative director already of there’s a commitment being made without putting them in, involved. So when you think about the BIG-T, strategy in terms of the vertical depth of the skill sets that we need to have, but also that that broader horizontal of the diplomacy, management, and the selling strategy make us better and more valuable strategists. Tell me, Julian, in your experience, is there a certain type of person, personality style or type that performs well that way?

Julian Cole: Usually, it’s the same skills as every planner has, which is being curious, because what you’ve got to work out is that if you’re curious, you’re going to learn all different types of disciplines. So, for instance, for me, hopefully, I was curious about comms planning, and digital strategy and social. That’s where I got my starting point. But then I was curious to learn all other parts of strategy. Advertising effectiveness, data, brand strategy, business strategy. And that curiosity is really important. I think you also have to love the business side of things because that’s where you’re going to elevate. And this is BIG-T strategy is really for people who want to make it into strategy leadership. You can probably have a successful career to a point, if you want to be a T shaped strategist where you can just sit on an account, and the strategy leader can trust that you’ve got this. I think BIG-T requires those skill sets. And so curiosity is obviously the starting point. And you’ve got to have people skills. You’ve got to enjoy the people side of the business as well.

John Roberts: It’s funny, as you were talking through this I was remembering the conversation we had last time back in season one, whenever it was about the notion of, for me of curiosity is so important like you’re saying, but also it struck me the value of generosity, which we’ve talked about before. And you, okay, a lifelong enthuser and sharer. Look what we’re doing now is a very generous act. It did strike me when you think about the role of diplomacy of helping understand across, both up, down, but also across in that the selling of strategy. There’s an element of generosity in this, it seems to me. Tell me if I’m going crazy of being open and able to both have other people inform and help embellish your work, make your work better, but also being open to not necessarily wanting to be the hero. Does that make sense?

Julian Cole: Yes, I totally agree. I think there’s a strain of strategists who are frustrated because they feel like strategy should be the hero, that I think they should be in management consulting because the output in advertising is creative campaign, and the creative. Strategy is just a passenger to get you there. It’s just a stop on the way. And so, for me, I’ve never been the smartest guy in the room. I’ve always felt like I’m not going to be the smartest guy here. But probably, I can try to be the most helpful person. And I think that is what will help you in strategy. If you’ve got that open mind of wanting to help everyone and not feeling like you’ve got all the answers, but the answers might be in other people’s heads, and you’ve just got to connect them all together. Then I think at least for me that mindset’s put me in a way better position.

John Roberts: It’s a great approach, and honestly it sums up the whole of the last 40 odd minutes we’ve been talking, and then everything you’re doing, that openness and generosity. So, this has been great as ever Julian. I love talking with you, listening, and learning no matter how long I’ve been doing this and thinking about everything we need to do. So, appreciate you making the time. Thank you.

Julian Cole: I loved it. That’s my favorite interview I’ve done all year. So thank you. Thank you for having me on again. I think it’s a real… I feel very honored to be asked back, so I appreciate that.

John Roberts: Check out the links everybody for… Please sign up for Planning Academy. Julian does an awesome newsletter as well at the academy. I highly rate it to everyone. So, we’ll make sure we post all the links through. And Julian, enjoy your now summer.

Julian Cole: Thank you.

John Roberts: Stay safe.

Julian Cole: I will.

John Roberts: And I’ll catch up and learn from you again. Thank you, my friend.

Speaker 1: Planner Parley, a Truth Collective production.