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Welcome to Planner Parlay. A show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency planning. In this week’s episode, our guests unpack the art of the agency hack. They reveal what good hacks can be, what they can bring, and when they can bust. Join our panel, Ed Cotton, experienced strategy consultant from New York City, CJ Gaffney, Director of Strategic Planning at Partners + Napier in Rochester, New York, and of course John Roberts, the CSO of Truth Collective, also of Rochester, as they divulge the secrets of the agency hack. Pull up a chair and listen in.
John Roberts: Welcome everyone to another Planner Parlay podcast. We’re here today to talk about strategy hacks. It seems to crop up in pretty much every conversation I can see, both online and in real life, about the purpose and the law of strategy hacking. Why don’t we start with this? What is strategy hack to you, and why does it matter? Ed.
Ed Cotton: They are fast, quick ways, thinking laterally about a way into a strategy. It’s an approach. It’s a sensibility that works really well when you’ve got no time and you’ve got no money, which is what most of us have right now.
John Roberts: CJ.
CJ Gaffney: Yeah, I would only add that, I think of a hack as, it’s a means of organizing the chaos that we deal with, that gets dumped in our laps often. Organizing structure, organizing, I hate to use the word shortcut, because there’s so much rigor that usually goes into doing them right. But a way of organizing the chaos, and the best ones also help you kind of validate your hypothesis along the way so you don’t get stuck going down a long road to nowhere. But you can kind of quickly test your thinking and flush it out and know how to course correct in real time.
John Roberts: That’s great guys. And we’re going to be talking more over the next half an hour or so about some of those thoughts, whether it’s about the [three and speed 00:02:43] or whether it’s about the invention, or both. And for me, strategy hacks are inherently linked to what we do, because the notion of hacking is about finding different ways. And that involves curiosity, and Ed, as you were talking about, invention. I always think that there’s this fascinating tension between the brevity and the inventiveness that you guys have just talked about, and the depth of rigor of, is this true? Not, is this just mediocre, the best you’ve got? So how do we overcome that? How do we overcome that potential tension between the two facets of hack?
Ed Cotton: Yeah. I always think, to me it’s like what’s interesting for the creative process. In the case of Mini, we needed to find something that Crispin hadn’t talked about. And they’d won a gazillion awards and they were the best agency on the planet at that time. And Mini was the number one case study that they had. It was their calling card. In fact, it was the thing that helped them grow. How do you follow something that’s already been great? You have to find something that they haven’t talked about.
Ed Cotton: We knew [crosstalk 00:00:03:52].
John Roberts: So that gave you a point of invention then, right? In terms of finding something dramatically different.
Ed Cotton: Yeah. So it evolved. It started off as an idea, as a strategic idea, it evolved, and the first thing we did was to do this rally, because we had a hunch that there was something going on. Because I think we’d done some rudimentary social media listening, although it wasn’t even such a thing as social media listening at that time. But we’d done something like it, and we’d heard rumors of rallies and things like that. And so we decided that we needed to experience one for ourselves. So that was the process of getting to something that we thought was going to be interesting. So for [inaudible 00:04:32], a documentary subject perspective, like this is an interesting story here.
Ed Cotton: And then we went and collected the overall story of this, and then we discovered this was a truth. These rallies existed, and there was a sort of a process of almost, people got indoctrinated, and the more they more rallies they went on, the more engaged in the brand they became.
Ed Cotton: So it was already sort of a very powerful piece of the brand story. And they weren’t even formalized. This was the consumer’s just going off on their own and doing these things, over time, we formalized it. There was an interesting truth. What the creatives then did with this was that we actually talked about this idea of moving the brand from cult to culture. We’ve seen a cult in these clubs, and then our goal was to move them into culture.
Ed Cotton: But our method to do that was to use the owners who we’d uncovered from these rallies at their most emotive and their most vocal and passionate, as media. So the first campaign we ever did for Mini was a campaign that was invisible to anyone who wasn’t a Mini owner. We actually sent 250,000 decoding kits to Mini owners so they could decode the web and print ads that we were running.
Ed Cotton: I’m not saying I had the idea, I had a thought that led to the idea.
John Roberts: So what I find interesting Ed, in that story is the notion of strategy hack. There was an inventive way to want to discover more. Let’s have a rally. And actually what you discovered led you to a better place, right? So CJ, talk a little bit more about that. How does that work in your world?
CJ Gaffney: I’d say when I look at a hack, there is a question of whether it’s a formality, like a formal process versus, I get asked a lot for, what do you got in your bag of tricks? And there’s things that have worked in the past, and I think the trick or the difficulty with hacks in the context that I think you’re getting at is really, we have to remove the illusion of ease from it. Just because there might be a shorthand to organized thinking. It doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of critical thinking, and that can take a lot of time and energy. And so I get frustrated sometimes, when people are like, “Oh, can you do that thing? You know, that, that thing that with the boxes or with the graph?” Every planner I know has a couple of go-tos because it’s how they get their brain kickstarted.
CJ Gaffney: But sometimes I’ve seen it sort of used as a surrogate for like, “Oh, we’re just going to do that as a formal process for showcasing our strategy.” And sometimes it could work. But I often notice that just people who don’t do strategy and planning kind of look at it as a novelty. Like it’s a little trick. And I think that’s removing the illusion that it’s just some easy formula is critical to get people… And I think by being transparent and inviting people in to maybe fill out the boxes or to plot something on a matrix, when they get into it themselves with you, they start to realize how much goes into it. So I think letting people in on the process can help sort of debunk that a hack is really something that’s hacky.
John Roberts: Yeah. So true. And I think what’s really interesting for me from the strategy hack perspective is the invention that we put in actually can also be used. And Ed, you touched upon this in your story. And CJ, you were talking to us about bringing people in. So a strategy hack isn’t just a notion of speed and cheap to get to a point, but could also be one inventive, and two is inclusive.
John Roberts: So recently we’re working on a coffee assignment. And when we found out, we had the team disappear to three different coffee bars, all splitting up, account team, creative team, strategy team, all to go do a quick bit of inventive strategy hack of an in market, in coffee exploration. Not because it’s the be all and end all, but what it does for me is it gave us some starting points, but it also emotionally invested the whole team from the get-go.
CJ Gaffney: Yeah, I think starting point is a critical word there. I think a lot of great hacks are just that, the initial match lights the spark or the starter’s pistol to get things going. They’re usually not the end all be all in terms of how you arrive at a well-baked strategy or point of view. But I think it’s always a great starting point. I think that’s why it’s helpful to have a lot of different hacks in your bag of tricks.
Ed Cotton: I would say just kind of building on this a little bit more, is I think generally in agencies motivating people is an issue. Sometimes you don’t have the sexy clients.
John Roberts: So is that how strategy hacks can help?
Ed Cotton: Well, I think they can help. I think it can be the spark to start a process, and that’s what CJ was referencing. I do think there’s also a difference, and I think about it, between new business where you really need the hacks and then you not necessarily need the hacks with your current clients. The other [inaudible 00:09:41] you’re going through a planning process and yeah, maybe some hacks are helpful now and again, but in many cases you’re on a road with a client and you’re on a journey with them, and you know where you are. And maybe yes, you do need to sort of instigate some kind of, I don’t know what it is. Maybe you need a spark back in the relationship, and you need a hack to do that. But I think hacks are most prevalent to me in new business. Just where I really see them having a level of importance above all other things.
John Roberts: Yeah, that’s cool. We found even with the continuity of client, like you’re saying, okay, in the depth of rigor, we always find an opportunity for a hack. Even if it’s just… I love what you were saying earlier about getting everyone’s attention, or getting juiced up or getting excited about something. Team and client by the way. So we pepper them in every now and again. How about you CJ?
CJ Gaffney: I tend to rely on them more or for new business because I think the best techs typically, certainly not all, but the best hacks are helpful in their ability to simplify things. And so when you’re ingesting or trying to get smart on a whole new category, a whole new client, and you start to get overwhelmed, it feels daunting. You put it through the hack filter, and it starts to distill things that are usable, at least in my experience.
CJ Gaffney: So I tend to fall back on hacks more when I’m looking for some help organizing what I’m taking on is new information. So that tends to happen less with existing clients. But to your point about sparking things and keeping things fresh, I actually think that it’s a really smart way. It’s an easy way to make sure that the client feels like you’re thinking about their business in new ways. Especially if it’s a new hack. And it’s all the more reason, if you go to a conference and learn something new, test it out with an existing client, because you’ve already got the foundation, you’re not going to get too far astray. And it could be a to excite and rekindle an opportunity or initiative for them.
John Roberts: So do clients care when we think about the notion of a strategy hack, or do they just care more about the results?
CJ Gaffney: No, they don’t care how we get there, we just got to get there.
John Roberts: And Ed, is that what you’re seeing as well?
Ed Cotton: I don’t know. It’s very hard to generalize. I’ve been working most recently with a client for whom the process is almost as important as the result. And they do want to do 25 focus groups, and they do want to do stakeholder interviews, and they do want to do everything, because they feel that is something that demonstrates sufficient rigor. And they’re probably an exception to a rule. But I think it depends on where you’re at in the process, and what the relationship’s like, and what you really need to do and what you really want to do.
Ed Cotton: I can imagine a number of situations where the work isn’t quite where you want it to be, the relationship isn’t quite where you want it to be, and you kind of want to right size it. And so the team gets together and they usually try in building the planner and to say, “We need to do something to get these guys excited again.”
Ed Cotton: At one point we did an improv session. This is more like a team building exercise. It wasn’t really strategic, what happened was we’d forgotten what the brand was about. We’d gone through the recession, 2009, 10, everything we’d done had been rational, left-brain, and we’d forgotten what the brand was about. And 18 months had gone by, and we looked at all the work we’d done and it wasn’t that great. It was really nothing to be proud of. There’s nothing there that we could enter in an award show, be proud about, look at, stand up as a team together and say, “Oh, we’re really proud of the work we did.”
Ed Cotton: So we went away and we said, “We need to hold hands and we need to kind of reaffirm our belief in the brand, what the brand’s about.” And everyone joked about it because the plan has organized this thing, and people did pretend to be trees and all kinds of things like that. But you know what? 10 days after that, we presented to the client one of the best pieces of work we’d ever done on that business. It wasn’t about the strategy, it was about understanding what the brand was about, and getting the client and ourselves to take some risks, because we hadn’t been taking risks. And so almost the brief became, what’s the most audacious thing we can do now, knowing that we go back to the truths about the brand?
CJ Gaffney: I was just going to add on that. I was only being a little bit cynical with my answer of no, they don’t care as long as it produces results. But I think to Ed’s point, I think there are hacks that if done effectively are going to spark new thinking, open up new doors, and then particularly if they’re a part of that, they do appreciate the end result. So I think, do they care about hacks, how you’re doing it? I would say that I’ve had a couple experiences with clients that, each year we go into an annual planning process.
CJ Gaffney: And in the ones where we have sort of a set structure and we’re sort of picking up where we left off and looking at the same exact ways at which we could attack the year, I get a sense that they’re more bored by that than if we come each year with a new way of thinking, call it a hack or what you will, but we get them outside of the box, and use that planning as an opportunity to kind of reset everyone’s mind. And as long as you’re taking into account their end result, I think they’ll really appreciate it. I think that’s a better way to say it. I think they’ll appreciate a good hack, but I don’t know if they ultimately care how you kickstart the process.
John Roberts: Got it. You know, it’s funny, I do feel one of the principles of strategy in an agency is to be the champion of enthusiasm. The belief that something better can come. Ed, you talked about it when you were acting out as trees, no matter what it was, okay? It gave the team a refreshment and ability to come at it in a better way. And this notion about whether clients care, I know exactly what you mean CJ. I find that clients don’t care about the process if it leads to something that they just know is going to lead them to a better place. And the ones that we’re finding, the ones that are really meticulous about the process, I’m not sure that they care as much about the end result. Do you see what I’m saying Ed? Because I know you’re sitting in that recently.
Ed Cotton: I agree with that, and I think there is some advantage to having someone who’s super excited about what you’re going to see versus what they’re going to do. It does remind me of another story which I think is kind of apocryphal in this case, where it was a presentation, a marketing presentation I did with my Mini client on innovation, and we just were showing a bunch of people in New York from different categories, some of the interesting stuff we were doing. And we got lampooned by a bunch of financial services people who said, “Oh, we couldn’t possibly do that. You’re Mini, you can do whatever you want.”
Ed Cotton: And then our presentation was followed by a guy from IDO who said, “We love doing these learning journeys with our clients. We take them on these wonderful road trips. We just got the surf client, and we bought a VW minibus, and we’ve all gone off together on this journey along the route one in California, stopping off at locations, interviewing surfers, nothing much else.”
Ed Cotton: And all these straight-laced financial people in their suits and ties go, “I’d love to do that.” Having told us that they couldn’t take any risks and do anything. But this idea of the learning journey, i.e. making that research exciting. I think the story about how Nike goes out and does a little bit of the learning journeys, and they try to make them exciting. A project talking about running, they’ll go and talk to runners, they go and talk to opinion leaders, but they’re going to look at the culture that surrounds running, and do interviews with DJs, and have dinners. And so they make the process exciting. And I think that’s something we can think about as well. Yeah, the outcome is really important, but why I think these things matter is it’s about buy-in.
Ed Cotton: If you’ve got a client or a couple of clients that come along on the learning journey or these journeys or these hacks or whatever we want to call them, and they’re experiential and they’re interesting, then they feel part of the team. It’s a bonding exercise. And then you go, “Well, we all went through just together. We learned this and this,” and then you go present to the more senior clients who weren’t part of this, and you’ve got advocates on your side. So yeah, it’s about making stuff interesting, really.
John Roberts: True. CJ, any bonding stories from you?
CJ Gaffney: I would flip it a little bit in terms of, I think hacks become incredibly useful internally. That prep you for good client conversations. I’ve yet to present any strategy ever in my career that I didn’t have to immediately defend to my account teams and my creatives. And so as much as in the moment I often can can hate that, it preps me to put more rigor into the client conversation, so by the time we’re there in front of them, we’re aligned. So the hack and working as a team, using that to make your strategy airtight, and then sort of having to sell it internally, ultimately makes it much easier when you get in front of the client. There’s just so much confidence that the hack and the path that you’ve chosen is going to be well-received.
John Roberts: Yeah. We’re finding less and less in my opinion, the role of strategist is not to have the strategy. The role of the strategist is to ensure there is one. And as great as it can be. So we’re using more and more, we call it [quit 00:20:09]. We can call it hack of how do we include the creative and the account team and the technologist, whoever it would be? So we together are melding what we think is the best strategy together rather than wait for the neatly kerned statement of intent from the planner, to then get shot down. That participation really matters. And Ed, you were talking about that earlier.
John Roberts: So are hacks for everyone? Is there any particular type of client or category that you can think of where a hack would not work or would be best suited? CJ.
CJ Gaffney: Yeah, I think the very nature of a hack is something that can be applied with a ton of versatility. So I’d imagine, some easier than others, but a useful hack, or better yet maybe the hack doesn’t exist if you’re looking at a particularly unique assignment, client campaign objective, hacking how you get at that insight. That’s absolutely applicable to every type of client. I think we had an automotive client in the financial services space that we were really trying to sell in a human truth. And it dawned on us that as employees of this wonderful company, they as a byproduct of that, they never even once had to ever step foot inside of a dealership. So we took them out of the office and we went on a field trip and gave them fake names and fake backstories.
CJ Gaffney: And we had them go deal one on one with salespeople. And it really opened their eyes. And it was the type of client that was very conservative. They had an agenda for how we were going to have these meetings, these set of two days meetings. And we kind of hacked it by saying, “We’re going to use our two hour window that instead of a PowerPoint presentation,” we prearranged to have cars pick everybody up. I gave everybody a little top secret folder, manila folder with their assignment, the questions they had to ask, their backstory, and the locations of the dealerships that they had to go do field research at.
CJ Gaffney: And it was a little risky, because again, they were a well-oiled machine as a client. But ultimately I think they really appreciated us kind of hacking the day, and it gave them something to talk about and really think about for the next few months as we kind of pushed forward our strategy.
John Roberts: That’s great. And there’s something really interesting in this thread that isn’t necessarily true of all, but the inclusion of the client in the strategy hack can be almost enchanting to them. I had a client where we actually had, I compounded an innovation workshop into the focus group, because when the clients realize that actually they had to have genuine product innovation concept statements, because in 90 minutes their audience was walking in the room, and we’re going to be evaluating in front of them. It really helped focus the mind, but it did actually add a little bit of that magic to it as well.
John Roberts: How about you, Ed? Any thoughts where works best or not best?
Ed Cotton: To me it makes sense when no budget, low budget, no clients, not paying, you’re new business, you’ve got to get to something fast. A hack is a good way to it. So that’s one camp. And then the other is, you need a creative spark, you need to energize, you need something to ignite, you need to find some way of igniting and making the relationship interesting with an existing client, seem to be the two ways at it. And I don’t think it matters what category we’re talking about. I think CJ made that point. I think you can lull yourself into a full sense of security and say, “Oh these clients are in this straight-laced business. It’s B to B or X, Y and Z, and they don’t want to do this kind of crazy stuff.” And you’ll probably find it will probably work really well.
CJ Gaffney: Also, I really agree with Ed’s point. He mentioned new business, my 2 cents, new business is a hack, the whole thing. New business is a grind, new business is a hack. And everything’s on the table. All ideas, ways in should be exhausted to get there. And so I think that’s actually probably the best proxy for it. But to my earlier point, I do think that there’s ways to hack pretty much any type of business.
John Roberts: That’s a great point, especially on new business, because the likelihood is there’s three agencies that have all used the same Simmons MRI, and the same Mintel report, and the same desk study or whatever it would be. So the hack can also be distinctive, not just what we found, but how we did it, particularly in new business. So we’re in the sharing mode now, we always ask, so how about three tips for the world? Ed, what would be three tips from you that you think strategists, particularly small agency planners, but anyone listening to this could benefit from?
Ed Cotton: I always personally like starting off inside the company, trying to find a little about what they’re up to. It is super simple. If it’s a publicly quoted company and a bunch of them are, they always have to report quarterly to stock holders. I find I get so much stuff from those, especially when the analysts, the Q and A sessions with the analysts.
Ed Cotton: In a RFP once for financial services, I did a lot of listening to these and looking at these, and the feedback we got from our RFP response was, something along the lines of, “You know exactly what we’re up to and what our strategies are. It’s almost like you are listening to meetings.” But it was simply me looking at a lot of stuff on what the business was up to.
Ed Cotton: So I think you’ve got to get to where the business is out, what the problems are, and what the issues are. And that seems to be the starting point. And then you go into, “Okay, well where do we go from here?” But to literally have a freely accessible thing that tells you about a company’s strategy on a quarterly basis that anyone can get for free, seems like it’s dumb not to use something like that.
John Roberts: Great. CJ, what would be one tip?
CJ Gaffney: One tip for hacking planning, be a student of standup comedy. That is the number one thing that has bailed me out in situations.
John Roberts: Tell me more.
CJ Gaffney: Yeah, I find that part of our job is sort of exposing human truths, audience cultural truths in an interesting way. And there is no group of people better at that than standup comedy. It’s taking something that’s true, it’s funny because it’s true. We all know that, but I find a really well-crafted standup act that is built on a human truth or even the simplest joke often sparks, if you kind of peel back the onion a little bit beyond the humor, there’s always this nugget or an angle, a point of view that I feel like the business conversation that you’re having around a topic is not coming through in those conversations, And so I often will either use YouTube, or I just happen to be a fan of comedy. So just the well of, who do I know who talked about that subject? And I listen to it, and it’s sort of like always, I’m amazed at how much truth are in those conversations.
CJ Gaffney: So it’s an unorthodox approach. But I use it when I’m backed into a corner, or if I’m just bored of the typical research tools, trends reports, there’s only so much you can read before you start to glaze over. So part of it I think is a little giving myself a break. But I’ve routinely found little sparks, little nuggets, germs of ideas that have led to an insight or a strategy from something that started in comedy.
John Roberts: Great. I think I talked about a couple of my tips earlier on, but I just want us to go back over them. The combination of inventive workshop and focus group. We did it on a plotted innovation, but I think what it does is it really, it amps up, everyone knows, but it amps up the attitude in the room for the workshop. And in that particular instance was a really powerful way for clients to really appreciate how hard it is by the way, to write things like positioning statements or concept statements. And then what will people do when they respond to them? It’s not the depth of rigor, it’s 12 people in a room. It’s not 15 focus groups that are nationally representative. But it was a really interesting hack because it got us fast to an inventive place that was pretty thrilling for the time. One more, Ed.
Ed Cotton: I like the comedy one. I think that’s really, really smart. There’s this other thing that you talk about or people talk about, which is, and I’ve done it to a certain extent, but there’s people who interact with people. So there’s the taxi drivers, the hairdressers, and the people in hotels. You want to know about something. Those people have an opinion because people are talking to them all the time. I’ve done a bit of that.
Ed Cotton: And then there’s always the extremes. Find the fringes, go to the fringes, go to the absolute edge, because you’re going to find the most interesting thing. The people who are deeply passionate about ice cream and think nothing other than ice cream would always be not representative of the average ice cream consumer, but absolutely full of insight.
Ed Cotton: I have kind of a related story that links to this about planning not working. A creative director friend of mine is working on a pitch and had nothing. He had a brief, but it wasn’t anything that he could work on. And drank copious amounts of alcoholic substances, and decides the only way they’re going to get any insight is by calling at 11:00 at night, knocking on the door of the owner’s club of this particular car brand, and bringing two bottles of whiskey with them. They left at 5:00 in the morning with three notepads full the notes.
Ed Cotton: So yeah, go to the fringes, go to the extremes, go to the sort of the center of the sources of information. That’s been successful for me on one massive pitch where I’m sure my competitors did 25 focus groups in the technology space, and I just decided to talk to about half a dozen opinion leaders, thought leaders at length. So hacking through the process just by getting to the people who know the most fastest.
John Roberts: CJ, back at you.
CJ Gaffney: This is kind of a two-parter as a hack process that I often employ, which is really sitting with strangers. I work at an amazing agency. We have a beautiful office, tons of great space. I often find myself going next door to a bar or coffee shop or something, and sitting around strangers, not even to intermingle, sometimes in a voyeuristic way just to listen in on conversations. I sort of get inspiration from stuff like that. Change the space, change the scenery.
CJ Gaffney: But when you feel like you’ve found something, and you’re feeling pretty smart, I’d say what’s critical is to explain it to your neighbor, explain it to your spouse, your partner, an aunt, an uncle, somebody that is not impressed with you. I’ve been both humbled and reinforced on many occasions by really being excited by an idea that I had, and sharing it with somebody outside of the business, and having them sort of get excited, and just allowing me to keep going down the path, just be completely underwhelmed. And I’m like, “Okay, thank God I got a real world perspective because I’m living inside this industry and in my own head too much.” So I’d say sit with strangers and then when you crack something, explain it to a neighbor, explain it to a relative, somebody that will give it to you straight.
John Roberts: That’s great. And there’s also simple things. I love what Julian Cole and Pollard are doing online with the quick ready list. CJ, you shared some with me in the past, of tips and tricks that can just accelerate, not necessarily to what is the strategy, but just some additional fresh thoughts. Like you were saying CJ, expanding our bag of tricks of how we can get there.
John Roberts: So what’s a mistake you can share? Where has hacking failed for you? I got thrown out of a couple of supermarkets once, because as a young planner I thought it’d be a great idea to interview customers. And I hadn’t realized that the staff don’t actually like, and nor do many customers like strange people coming up and bugging them for questions on what they’re buying. So it was well-intended, but I actually did get physically escorted off the premises. So maybe a bit more subtlety will help. How about you, Ed?
Ed Cotton: Well actually another reason why hacks are good is because if there are hacks, they’re sort of little experiments. So you don’t really have maybe such a vested interest in one failing. So you can move on to your next one. So that could be quite a good positive thing about a hack, that they are literally these little hypotheses that you kind of test for a bit, and if they don’t work, we move on to another one.
Ed Cotton: I guess the dangerous thing is when it doesn’t become a hack, it becomes sort of an obsessive, you’re convinced that you’re onto something, and it loses its experimentation, and you just go down the wormhole. And I’m sure I’ve done it a bazillion times. I just can’t right now think of one particular case where you know it’s… I’ll tell you what is interesting maybe, is in the pitch process, and I don’t know whether this has to do with hacks or anything.
Ed Cotton: I think there’s always this interesting challenge between the chemistry meeting and the creative meeting. In the chemistry meeting, to me it’s all strategy. You are running the show as the strategist. Yeah, there’s some credentials, but we all know credentials are meaningless. It’s really about the strategy. So the challenge I think is you can really crush it and do a really amazing job if you do all the right hacks and you’ve got a really interesting story to tell.
Ed Cotton: The challenge is then can you get your people who have to follow up in the next meeting with the work as excited as you got the client in the strategy and chemistry meeting? To meant you made it to the next round. You can get very excited yourself and you can have a very impressive meeting. And you can get into the finals on your own. But if you can’t convince other people that this is as interesting inside your agency as the client thinks it is, then you’re sort of in trouble. And you might not win. So I think that might’ve happened to me a few times.
John Roberts: Cool. CJ, failures in your life?
CJ Gaffney: Oh, how much time you got? If you’re talking about specifically with hacks, it’s sort of rushing into it before you outline, are we hacking something for inspiration or are we hacking something for validation? I get excited a lot at the hacking for inspiration, and sometimes without properly outlining sort of what I want to accomplish, I can find myself just swirling and waiting to be inspired, and having something happen, which can can be time-consuming and exhaustive. Whereas, I think if you can kind of outline it first and then figure out, okay, what are different ways to hack to validate what you’re trying to accomplish? I think that’s a little bit more helpful.
CJ Gaffney: I definitely had a failure once similar to your grocery store experience. I was real impressed with myself once. I decided I was going to do man on the street interviews with folks while they were pumping gas. Because I was like, “Wow, they’ve got nothing else to do. This is a captive audience.” And the product that we were working on was something that was sold at a convenience store, so I was like, “This is this genius.” Wow, people were not happy to talk to me. Lesson learned. People do not like to be approached while they’re pumping gas. It’s apparently a very sacred moment of solitude. They don’t want you to walk up to them, particularly with a camera, to ask them questions. It was one of the more difficult field assignments. And I thought it was going to be a cake walk. So know your environment.
John Roberts: And we’ve all got burned that way. We’ve all got burned. Guys, this has been fantastic. Any closing thoughts that you feel matter about why we’re here today? Strategy hacks.
Ed Cotton: Use your team. I think it’s sort of obvious for people in small agencies sometimes that you have a team around you, but are you so involved in your own worlds that you don’t get together? I think the initial getting into the hack, you want to get four or five people that you’re working with into a room, and you want to beat the idea around a bit and see what might be an interesting way of going.
Ed Cotton: And then maybe when you formulated it, even if you’ve done it on your own, well then you bring the four or five people then and say, “Am I barking up the wrong tree? Is there another way at this?” John, you alluded to this, about the planner strategist as a facilitator to a process, that everyone’s an author of the strategy. I think similarly, you can use your team to help guide you and find the best way at hacking this.
John Roberts: Great. CJ?
CJ Gaffney: Make sure that you document things, save some stuff. These hacks are incredible. I’m routinely wowed and impressed by things that I see, conferences or conversations, or just something we may have thought of because we were backed into a corner and we came up with this creative solution. And then the pace of the business, I forget about it a week later. So I actually have a folder on my desktop called planning shit. It’s just like the type of stuff that I know at some point I need to reference it.
CJ Gaffney: And I know John, you’ve been trying to gather tips and tricks from StratFest, which is awesome. And you mentioned the stuff that Julian Cole and Mark Pollard are always sharing. That stuff is awesome. But even those, I sometimes forget to bookmark things, so have your own little toolkit, be sure to save stuff because again, it’s nice to not always start from square one, and roll the boulder up the Hill every time.
John Roberts: Excellent. Great closing. So guys, thanks so much for your time. We’ve shared a lot today. What are hacks? Why they matter. Tips, tricks, lessons learned, failures and thoughts. It’s all been really helpful.