Strategy as a Starting Point

The summer between my first and second years of portfolio school, I interned at GSD&M. (I don’t think GSD&M has hosted interns from my school since. Make of that what you will.)

We knew the agency was involved in a high-profile pitch, so we asked if we could help out. We were given the same brief as the other four or five teams, and went to work.

At the initial internal presentation, we went first. (Whether we were over eager or being picked on, I don’t recall.) About halfway through our stack of paper the group creative director asked us to stop. He’d seen enough. We were a little off strategy.

That was more than a little crushing. But the real insult was when he went next and presented an ad that was simply the strategy statement as a headline with a relevant photo. Not everyone oohed and aahed. But a few did.

We brought in a ream of envelope-pushing ideas, and you just art direct the brief?! Geez, I’ll be a GCD if that’s all you have to do.

I learned two things from this experience:

  1. Anything art directed is going to have more impact than something drawn with a Sharpie. In group presentations, quality is going to beat quantity. (That said, don’t waste your time laying out concepts when you should be thinking.)
  2. The strategy as a headline is actually a great place to start. And in retrospect, I think that was what the GCD was trying to do. It keeps you from veering off course. And when you’re able to root the execution in strategic thinking, it becomes substantially more sellable internally, to the client, and to the public. (That said, don’t use the strategy statement as a headline as anything but a jumping off point.)

3 thoughts on “Strategy as a Starting Point

  1. Having spent the past week going through the pitch process as the only junior team at my agency, I can only say you couldn’t be more right.Boy did we learn that.

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  2. Ah… I love seeing our portfolio students present ideas. Before they even start I always ask them to read the creative brief (at least the strategy and UPS) before the present. I often get deer-in-headlines from them.I like using the strategy as a headline for a starting point. Maybe it can them to better ideas faster.thanks…Chad

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  3. A GCD who lets the interns go first and then follows with his own work…that’s awesome. Writing the strategy as a first headline is definitely a good place to start. So is writing the strategy as a working tagline, then coming up with ads that pay if off.

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