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Classics: The Necessity for Creative Strategy with Steve Leder, Badge Design Studio: Show Notes & Transcript

Post | Aug 15, 2023

Welcome back to Marketing Smarts! From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini (that’s us) comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. We deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from our combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. We tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

In this episode, we’re talking the necessity for creative strategy with Steve Leder. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and your other favorite podcast spots – follow and leave a 5-star review if you’re exercising your Marketing Smarts!

  • Episode Summary & Player
  • Show Notes
  • Marketing Smarts Summary
  • Transcript

Marketing Smarts: Classics: The Necessity for Creative Strategy with Steve Leder, Badge Design Studio

For this episode, we welcome special guest Steve Leder, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Badge Design Studio. He discusses an important – and often controversial – topic in the marketing world: creative strategy. We often talk the importance of a brief because it gets everyone on the same page. It’s imperative the brief translates into a creative strategy the entire team can get on board with from the get-go to produce the desired result. We dive deep into how to combat the challengers like ego, clarity, and relationships that get in the way of this. This episode covers everything from creative strategy to teamwork. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • Why is creative strategy so important?
  • What is creative strategy?
  • Does creative need to be objective or subjective?
  • Is there such a thing as too much strategy?
  • Why is creative strategy the superhero who fights ego?
  • Do you need complete alignment on creative strategy?
  • How can you get your head of creative on board with your creative strategy?
  • What is the best type of team to build an effective creative strategy?

And as always, if you need help in building your Marketing Smarts, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at:

Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below:

Show Notes

  • Classics: The Necessity for Creative Strategy with Steve Leder, Badge Design Studio
    • [0:00] Welcome to Marketing Smarts
    • [0:30] Anne Candido, April Martini
    • [0:34] Why is creative strategy so important?
    • [0:43] Learn more about Steve on LinkedIn and at
    • [2:15] What is creative strategy?
    • [4:28] Creative needs to be objective not subjective
    • [10:03] Creative Brief
    • [12:17] Caution: There is such a thing as too much strategy
    • [15:26] Goldilocks and the Three Bears
    • [16:36] ForthRight People
    • [16:57] Super Bowl Ads
    • [20:01] Creative strategy is the superhero who fights ego
    • [25:03] Tide
    • [29:58] PR (Public Relations)
    • [31:41] Without complete alignment, there is no creative strategy
    • [41:21] Brand Positioning
    • [43:18] Recap: Why is creative strategy so important?
    • [43:58] Do you want to stand out in your industry and get more sales? Show you’re different to attract and retain top talent? Build a brand that drives real business results? Grab your Brand Strategy Workbook at:
    • “In the Trenches”
    • [44:51] How can I get my head of creative on board with our creative strategy?
    • [53:49] What is the best type of team to build an effective creative strategy?
    • [57:22] The Wizard of Oz
    • [57:43] P&G (Procter & Gamble)
    • [1:04:04] How do I involve the client in the creative strategy?
    • [1:10:16] What’s a creative strategy project you’re most proud of?
    • [1:10:57] Curiosity Agency
    • [1:12:44] RFP (Request For Proposal)
    • [1:15:12] CEO (Chief Executive Officer)
    • Marketing Smarts Moments

What is Marketing Smarts?

From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

How do I exercise my Marketing Smarts?

Thanks for listening to Marketing Smarts. Get in touch here to become a savvier marketer. 


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Anne Candido 0:02
This is Marketing Smarts – a podcast committed to helping you become a savvier marketing leader, no matter your level. In each episode, we will dive into a relevant topic or challenge that marketing leaders are currently facing. We will also give you practical tools and applications that will help you put what you learn into practice today. And if you missed anything, don’t worry, we put worksheets on our website that summarize the key points. Now, let’s get to it.

April Martini 0:29
Welcome to Marketing Smarts!

Anne Candido 0:31
I am Anne Candido.

April Martini 0:32
And I am April Martini. And today we’re revisiting another one of our favorite classic episodes. And that is the necessity for creative strategy with Steve Leder, Founder & Chief Creative Officer of Badge Design. And this was one of our most highly downloaded episodes of all time, quite frankly. And it’s also a personal favorite of ours at ForthRight People because it’s so fundamental to our philosophy on how our work should be done. And then it should always be grounded in a strategy that informs the creative so that it has the ability to connect with the right target audiences in the right formats at the right time, which you’ve definitely heard us say before, it’s not always easy to get alignment on creative strategy for a whole host of reasons which we cover in this episode. But when done right, it leads to smart work that achieves business goals and brand success. Let’s get into the episode. And today we’re going to talk about one of my very favorite and one of the most controversial topics in the agency world. And that is creative strategy. And why it is not only important, but absolutely necessary, I have lost count of all the times in my career when a new project would come in. And the creative team would want to be off to the races with no need. I’m doing quotes here for strategy to assist in the process. And on even the very best teams when strategy was respected and desired. Inevitably, you always end up with a team member too, that just can’t get on board. And then you have the squeaky wheel syndrome. And it just goes and goes and goes. Or another example when someone usually with the biggest ego, which we will talk about during this episode has a great idea that they want to see implemented just because these are all reasons that a creative strategy is necessary when it comes to design in order to actually have the design succeed.

Anne Candido 2:15
Yep. So first, what is creative strategy? So creative strategy takes into account the client’s brand, their business goals and objectives, the competitive and category landscape as it exists, and how to find whitespace within that landscape, as well as the customer and consumer needs that need to be addressed by the design. So that’s a whole lot of stuff. That’s a whole lot of stuff coming together, which is why you need the strategy. Right? Exactly. All right. But put more simply creates a brief with foundational learnings and success criteria to get everyone on board and working he gets the same information as design is created and executed. And this can be any kind of creative. So the same rules apply across all of this. So billboards, packaging, social media posts, TV spots, ads, car reps, bus wraps, you name it, it is all included. Anything that you create with intent to market or promote is design.

April Martini 3:07
And one final and very important thing before we dive right in, we do have a special guest today Steve Leder, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Badge Design is here with us as our creative counterpart on this episode. So you’ll see a lot of the tension, although it all in good fun, of course, but you’ll see the tension that happens between creative and strategy in agency life. And Steve and I have worked together over the years at different agencies built many creatively led strategies together. So in other words, perfect guest for today’s topic. Hi, Steve, you want to introduce yourself?

Steve Leder 3:40
Thank you, Anne and April for having me. My name is Steve Leder, I have over 20 years of design and branding experience. 15 of them were spent at large global branding shops. And about five, five years ago, I went off and helped co found badge. We’re a small design studio here in Cincinnati were part of a much larger network called the Avari. Group A primarily a lot of our work is dedicated to emerging commerce direct to consumer work as sort of the the nature of where businesses gone the last 10 years, and really enjoy working on smaller regional upcoming brands and helping them establish themselves in scale their brands appropriately.

April Martini 4:16
Awesome. All right. So as you can hear a perfect partner for today’s discussion. We didn’t want to have a one sided one. So there you go. So with that we will get into the necessity for creative strategy. And the first point creative, unlike art needs to be objective, not subjective. So in the world of design, there are tons and tons of conversations that go on between making art or designing for commercial use. Well, here’s the differentiation we have made and so as you’re listening throughout the episode today and brilliance was brought in, by being able to effectively communicate this in the right way. So what we’re saying is if you’re making art, right, it’s not necessarily for Commercial use when you are designing, and you heard this in the definition that an set up, you are designing in order to go and sell something. So that is the commercial aspect of it. So when we say art versus design, you’ll hear those nuances throughout. So just try to remember that definition in your head. And so when we say design again and and set this up as well, but it’s worth reiterating to keep it in your head. These are things like billboards, TV spots, packaging, there’s lots of digital out there, right now, social media ads in that space. If you’re doing it for personal pleasure, it might be selling art in a gallery, or teaching art in a classroom or something that you keep for yourself or give to others, paintings, sculpture, photography, etc. We’re not saying that those two things are mutually exclusive, there are plenty of designers out there that do fine art in their own time. So we’re not drawing a line and saying you can’t be both that would be probably offensive to all of our creative friends listening with those other outlets. And there is overlap, right. So sometimes you take photos for personal use, and sometimes you take them for photography for those things I just talked about billboards and such. But for this conversation, we need to have that hard line to set it up. And I said the word subjective in the beginning, we’ll talk about this later as well. But there are expressions that exist, like art is in the eye of the beholder. That is the opposite of what happens in design. Because in design, you’re building based on the strategic Foundation, which is everything we’re going to talk about today. And the goal is to deliver on the strategy to a certain audience and communicate a message with a lot of people and help them get on board with it. So it’s not a single eye of a single beholder. It’s trying to communicate the same thing across a whole bunch of people or a whole bunch of audiences even. So you’ve got to make sure that you’re really hitting that message with whatever creative you are doing. clarity of message becomes super, super important. And again, strategy. The last thing I’ll say, and I will let Steve talk is set up to be freeing, not restrictive. And that is a common misconception. So in order to get to that objectivity, to have something to vet the design against so that you’re not just choosing what you like. That is why we set the creative strategy. Alright, Steve, I will shut up and let you talk.

Steve Leder 7:15
Yeah, no, I think that’s a perfect jumping off point. For me. I talk about this extensively with with my team and have over the years that I think there is a misconception that let creatives be creative, and just let them go run off and make things and in my experience, I’ve found that the best creative comes when there are parameters established. And in fact, the creatives push the limits of the projects, when they do have very firm fences around what they’re supposed to be exploring. I talked about this study I read once upon a time, I believe is done by some landscape architects. And what they had done was they did a study on a playground where the first playground they put a bunch of kids, and there was no fences around the playgrounds. And the kids pretty much under observation, as they played stayed very close to all the all the all the stuff in the playground controls the swings and monkey bars. And they were very closely tied to the equipment. They did a second study where they put a fence around the playground. And they found that the kids utilized every ounce of space within that playground. So they really pushed all the way to the fences. And they really enjoyed the full ground they had. And to me, that’s a really interesting metaphor for creativity in the sense that sometimes if there’s too much freedom, it’s it’s paralyzing for for the creatives to create things. So establishing walls or fences for them to work within really allows him to push up and bump across, bump up against all of those those edges to explore everything to the fullest degree.

April Martini 8:44
Yeah, and I love the reference to pushing on those fences once you have them. Because I think that is really true. And I think where the best strategy is built, it’s when that healthy debate happens, which is that push, right? But if we’re all working from the same foundation, the same starting places, we have that to effectively argue or debate against each other, versus having blue sky, like you said, and just being able to make anything and then kind of having just a circular conversation at the end of the day.

Steve Leder 9:13
Yeah, and and in my opinion, there’s almost no situation where there is blue sky for creatives, right? Because we’re talking about design and fine art. And so with design you are you’re you are creating, creating communication pieces with a clear objective, you are trying to sell something, you’re trying to convey a message. And so you’re not creating something for your own selfish pleasures, you’re creating something with the intent to speak to a particular audience. And you have to take your own self ego out of that a lot of times as a designer because it’s not about you and what you want to be doing. It’s about it’s about your client and what they’re trying to communicate to their consumer.

Anne Candido 9:51
He and I think this used to be one of the biggest challenges we had on the client side because there was always that rub of like, oh, we want to give in a space to be creative. So Sometimes our briefs would be very sparse. But then when we got back, we’re like, what are we supposed to do with this? And because sometimes I think it gave like the creative the freedom to say, well, then I can’t, I could create whatever I want. And usually when you give creative freedom, they want to create something that’s going to get the awards that’s gonna get, like noticed and stuff. And that’s not always what sells business. And so that was always a distinguishing factor we had to make was like, okay, yes, we want you to be creative within, you know, and it’s unfortunate to say, like, you know, that I use your metaphor, the fence. But that’s also the challenge is, how creative can you be within that fence so that we can all create work that is going to deliver the business at the end of the day? Because that’s what we’re all about.

Steve Leder 10:42
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, in my opinion that the strategy is so crucial. And there is a fine line between how much strategy or how much goes into a briefing, right, which is an another area that’s been very important for me throughout my career is the briefing and understanding what are the right things to be communicating to the creatives to get the most out of them? Because we’re not always speaking the same language as the client service team, or the marketers on the client side. And so there has to be an understanding of the word choices and how you motivate different people who don’t have the same experiences or education that you might have. But with a common goal, right? What is that unifier to rally everyone around? The common goal about this is what we’re trying to communicate. And this is what’s going to work. And good designers have the ability to take that strategy, and then do exactly what you’re talking about before when the words right. So how do you take the new hear back? Well, I’m a creative. So I need, we need it like there is some selfish motives when it comes to creating things that you know, you do get satisfaction out of coming up with really creative solutions, that solve what the brief is about, and what the strategy is around. And so good designers can take, take the brief and the strategy. And they can overlay some of their own creativity and some of their own passionate ideas or techniques that they’re interested in doing. But sell it in a way that makes sense for everyone. Yeah, and I

April Martini 12:03
think you’re alluding to the fact of not being selfish, right in the way that you’re solving that. So it’s about being a smart designer, looking at the challenge, thinking through it in a way that is really intelligent. And then moving on from there and actually thought you were going to preempt my next point, but you didn’t it, which is number two, which is where I’m going to call myself out here. Caution, there’s such thing as too much strategy. And yes, you heard me, the lover of strategy, just state that. So while the shock wears off, I will explain what I mean by that. And this is something that Steve and I have aligned on over the years, but also seeing really great and not so great executions of strategy, right. And so I think, while you always need a strategy to again, build that fence will continue that reference throughout all of this, that foundation, the point of alignment, the alignment with the client, the setup of the brief, vetting, whatever comes back, all of that is really important. But when you go down a path of trying to have too much strategy, or selfishly on the side of the strategist trying to show off how smart you are, how great your solutions are, how much you can talk, in some instances, all of those are really bad manifestations of strategy. And what happens is one, the work never moves forward, or becomes uninspired and weighed down the creative team disengages the client team can disengage, and it just becomes too hard to understand overall. And I think this is sometimes where strategy gets a really bad rap. And a lot of times what I’ve seen in the past is it being really situational. And it comes from the side of the strategist wanting to just build strategy, but not creative strategy, and not wanting to work hand in hand in that way. And I think in the same way that creatives have to learn to embrace with and work with and be smart about strategy strategists have to learn on the other side how to be effective with creatives, in order to choose the right words, like you said, Steve, and bring forward the right ideas, like you said, and for commercialization and business purposes. And think about how all that works together for the commercialization of things.

Steve Leder 14:08
Yeah, I mean, it’s super important for the strategist in the creative leads to be you like just connected at the hip. It goes without saying and so when the strategy creative strategy is built before, you know, ideally, you kick off a creative project, the strategist in the creative are already synced up and they’re presenting a unified idea to the creative team. And so immediately you’re setting the tone that we both believe in this and this is the right way forward. And that that means a lot when you kick off a project to make sure that everyone’s kind of lined up in a way that’s gonna make sense. And then in terms of where you started with that before was about there is too much strategy. Yeah, there can be too much. There really can thinking of one company in particular. No, no, of course not. No. But no, I think the piece is kind of goes without saying but the the pace the world is moving. There. it, there’s a time and place for maybe the very robust strategy, strategy, documentation and presentations. But the reality is, a lot of clients don’t want it, they don’t want to pay for it, they think it is slowing down the process. And it’s just not effective for them to partake in it. And so there is a Goldilocks kind of feeling I have where it’s like, how much is the right, this is too much. This is not enough. But there has to be something set in place. Or you’re just you’re you don’t have any guideposts to evaluate the creative after it happens, you’re heading down a subjective path, without the strategy where it turns into a beauty contest. I like this better than that. But there’s really no rationale behind it, other than personal preference. And so the key is to, you know, if you don’t know your client, over time, or through relationships, to have conversations with them upfront about what feels like the right amount of strategy and what what’s valuable to them. Ideally, though, this just happens over time, and you get to an understanding of what feels right for who you’re working with. And some clients will really embrace it and really wants a lot of strategy. And other ones will want to just kind of skip that step. But, you know, I think we really try to push back and say there has to at least be a minimum amount of rigor established before we want to do any creative work.

April Martini 16:21
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s so true. And you brought up digital, and I think that’s a huge part of this. And this is a huge part of our philosophy at forthright people. And something that I quite frankly, over time, like you said, as you get better, and you have more experience, and all that you get a feel for what the right amount is based on client based on situation based on type of work, all those types of things. But we talk a ton about testing and learning. And I think the same belief holds there, which is you have to have something and you have to have enough. But you don’t have to have so much I mean, no longer are we solving for in six months, I’m going to do a Super Bowl spot. And that’s going to be you know, more than 50% of my marketing budget for the year, right? That still happens, people still do TV spots. But most of the stuff now is you know, an ad that’s out there for a period of time or a social post or a campaign or whatever. And so it’s a lot shorter live than it has been traditionally. And so you have to be able to keep up with that pace. So yeah, I was having a conversation earlier today with someone about quantitative research. And I was like, that has to die soon, like you don’t have time for three months of studies. And the same holds true for strategy, we don’t have time like we used to, to do strategy for three months, and wait until we get it just right to then start creative to then fill in the blank, put the package on the shelf, whatever. And if you don’t adapt with that, and get smarter about how you do strategy, you’re not going to be able to survive that because it’s just not the reality anymore.

Anne Candido 17:47
Yeah, and I know you made a really good point, Steven, I felt this all the time. Again, I’m gonna bring my client side perspective here, since I’m kind of outnumbered in the room. But that being said, I always felt like we knew we had too much strategy when we started having a conversation of hypotheticals all the time, and got into this, this subjectivity piece, and the part that you said about the fact that it was like a beauty contest like, Yes, I mean, because everybody has their opinion, nobody’s opinion is wrong until proven otherwise. Yeah. And that’s always the hardest part to be. And it’s like, well, we just have to put something out there and see, so that we had the right criteria in which to evaluate whether or not the content or whatever the deliverable was going to be was going to be any good or was going to resonate, just something to give us guidance. Because I would cast cash on me so many times get wrapped up in the fact that like, you know, you have a budget of, you know, say a certain amount of money 75% of my budget would be eaten up by strategy before you even get to execute. And I’m like, I can’t do that. So I used to start setting a strategy budget, or you set an execution budget. But for those people who are also struggling just to even get their clients to even consider strategy, might my little insider secrets, say, put it in the execution budget? Yep. Put it as a development item in the execution budget, they won’t even know that you’re actually doing it. So when sometimes what they don’t know won’t hurt them. But there has to be I totally agree an element of like, just aligning on what are the like important principles for being able to develop this work? And I’m really into a lot more detail on that. Yeah,

Steve Leder 19:18
that’s a great point. And I would I would add that I would argue that I don’t even know if you need to separate them out like exactly like you said, like, to me design a strategy should be so intertwined, that it’s not their strategy over here. And there’s designer creative over here, like to me that, that that’s one that’s one thing. And so to even start carving out budgets for this, or that is already signaling that an ala carte type thing where like, Oh, I’ll take this but not that part. wouldn’t really need all you need all of it. And so figure out how to how to bake that all together is, is kind of where are we headed?

Anne Candido 19:48
That’s really super smart.

April Martini 19:50
All right, number three, and I’m a big bet. This is one of my very favorite ones. creative strategy is the superhero that fights ego which is ever present and then This one and I know you and I agree on, I

Anne Candido 20:02
have something to say about this one. So make sure you take the time to say something.

April Martini 20:05
Okay, fine. Anyway, there’s a lot of ego in agency life. And in corporate life, I think this is something we agree on. But we’ll see. And a strong creative strategy can work in support of the work and all the things we’ve been talking about getting to the right solutions, getting to smart solutions, getting to things that satisfy the business, getting to things that are creative enough to win awards, but also achieve the objectives of whatever the project is. And I can think in my head, and I also will not name names, but there are plenty of folks throughout my career on both sides of the fence that would love to come in and rain down from on high, the loudest speaker in the room, their biggest personalities. And you’d hear things like, I just don’t like that, or that’s not how I would have done it. And those kinds of statements. First of all, they’re ridiculous, right? Because as we said, this isn’t a beauty contest, as we’ve been talking about. But if you have the strategy to start from, you can cut those off at the pass, and insert all the reasons why this is actually the right solution. And even if they still disagree with you, the debates which is quickly to those points, instead of just this is how I feel, or this is what I like, or I always use the example of like, I just don’t like blue, I’m like, well, it’s in your brand. So I guess maybe go find a new job, right? Like, I mean, there’s lots of instances like that, that come up. And I think in any sort of environment, this gets to be a really big distraction. And it’s not healthy for anybody on the team, especially those that are actually responsible for getting the work done. And so I hate to see this happen, one, because I’m not a huge fan of ego for ego sake. And I also believe you should be able to back it up, especially if you’re one of the executive level, a little bit of my soapbox for the day. But if this starts to happen, it really it really erodes the confidence of the team, it distracts the work and it’s just not a good place to be. So therefore another support point for creative strategy is if you start from there, and then you evaluate from there, you can eliminate ego more quickly,

Steve Leder 22:08
don’t ask the creative about ego.

April Martini 22:09
The amount there is a healthy amount. Yeah,

Steve Leder 22:19
I mean, I mean, in all, in all seriousness, you know, half of half of being a creative is selling your work. And when you can sell your work and rooted in objective, aligned to ideas, that makes it much easier for someone to disagree, right. And so, using your your comment around the color, like I don’t like blue, and we hear things like that all the time. And you know, our response is usually something around it, well, blue might not be your favorite color. But here’s why we use blue, blue represents this or this, and your consumer does this, this sort of this. And that’s why blue is a good fit. Your competitors are using red and green and blues or whitespace area or opportunity space for for color. So again, there’s there’s a, there’s an emotional connection to creative work, but there also needs to be a rational side to it. And the creative strategy helps sync you up to that rational explanation behind why something visually has turned into to what it looks like from the creative.

April Martini 23:21
I know, too, that this is a good way to make sure that you don’t back to the point of budget, waste a bunch of money in in, like in serving somebody else’s agenda, right, which is a lot of what we’re talking about here. And so I think, yes, it serves for good justification. But then also, when you’re thinking about, you know, ours, which is a big thing on our side of the fence, right? If someone comes down and really wants to see something, or the client that’s not really part of the process typically comes in and wants to see something, you can quickly pull it back without wasting a whole bunch of time and effort, which I think is the other piece of this and to your point where you’re like, I only have so much money, right? And then we’re responsible on the team doing the work for managing it both against our internal teams and other folks but also against the client. So

Steve Leder 24:11
yeah, I mean, I think strategy, it helps eliminate a lot of unnecessary decisions, right? It is about cutting away things that you can just align to the beginning aren’t going to work aren’t a good use of time. And so you’re being very choice forward, the decisions you’re gonna make moving forward. This relates very closely to something I always tell my kids in his old saying or cliche about it, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do. Right. And I think I might have said that exact quote to high level clients at certain points in time where like, just because you can do that doesn’t mean you should be doing that right. And so, that is what creative strategy helps you helps you do. And while it might slow down the process, initially in the long run is going to end up making it more cost efficient and time efficient.

Anne Candido 25:00
Yeah, okay, so go ahead for a second I pull up my soapbox, my Tide box because I worked on Tide so that so many funny jokes is so funny. Okay, so here is my soapbox. The thing that I’ve always struggled with, and I think this plays into the ego piece is when a single person is called a creative, it’s the creative leader, right. And we’ve had this company we have before about structure, where I feel this is an POV, ego, tons of self centered self, when somebody feels like they’re the king or queen, supreme leader of whatever this like piece is. And I feel like creative is kind of become that. And the way that it always manifested itself in our meetings was that if it didn’t come from this one person who was designated D creative, then it therefore was like, not any good, right? And I was leading our communications team, and our communications team had really good creative folks. And it’s because we saw things from through a different lens, we were developing creative in order for it to be a pool, right? We wanted to engage people, whether it’s digital content, or, or video or whatever, in order to get people to want to talk about it so much that they wanted to, you know, put coverage against it. And that was our job. So we had like a really, I think, diverse in this a totally different perspective, versus our designated creative, who was like, I could do whatever I want, because I’m just putting it out there. And I don’t really care, you know, one way or the other. Okay, that’s my soapbox, be Steve, you can totally like. And I know, that’s probably not the way you do work. But I think for me, if we’re going to eliminate ego, we have to designate the difference between a creative who has the role of making sure you’re manifesting or cultivating creativity, yes, among your whole entire team, where creative can really come from anywhere, like the ideas can come from anywhere, we always said that at P&G was never the case, right? Creative can only come from one specific person who designated the creative, and really like embrace the fact that that is how you actually then create and then you come up with these magnificent ideas that are truly breakthroughs, when you can embrace what everybody’s perspective is, again, using that as your parameters in your fence and then actually, like, be able to create something that’s amazing. Yeah,

Steve Leder 27:13
I totally agree with you. I do I can’t speak on behalf of the creative director in your past that dogged all the all your other ideas, but

Anne Candido 27:21
they were just like, not even bring them to the table. And I’m like, I knew that idea was there, or they came to him and make them their idea which I was always so I

Steve Leder 27:29
mean, I think that goes back into again, like selling selling the work, right. So that creative director might have been in a position where they didn’t have to work as hard to sell the work because they were just treated with an on such a pedestal as everyone else. But the majority of time, that’s not that’s not the reality. And so being able to get other people on board, not only your own creative team, but the clients and all the different departments of clients that you deal with, whether it’s marketing, or PR, or any of the groups, they all have to be on board. And I completely support the idea that there’s a creative is it can be anyone it really is, is as is just cliche as that sounds, that’s true. When you were talking it reminded me of a class in design school at UC April pride, the same class where I remember a pretty early on class where you were given an assignment to a problem solve something, but you weren’t allowed to use traditional tools. You couldn’t use a computer you can use like crayons. And, and I remember the time like, this is stupid, like, why are we doing this? And it was to separate the craft and the execution from the idea, right. And so the thinking there was like, concentrate on what what the idea is. And don’t even be concerned with how that manifests itself from a craft standpoint, because it’s about the idea first. And so that’s a good thing to understand, too, is that there’s ideas, and then there’s also how those ideas are executed. And they both have to be at a high level for them to work the craft and and the idea.

April Martini 28:56
Yeah, and I think too, I mean, touching also on your point, and which I will be grudgingly agree with. But is that yes, ideas can come from anywhere, but the best ideas come from everyone. And so I think some of the best experiences I’ve ever had is when I was in lockstep with you, Steve or another creative, you know, as the two leads from a strategy and creative standpoint. And even better if you had an account person who really was in lockstep as well. And so you served cross functionally, the best efforts and pulled the right people and got all the ideas together. But it was the ability to then build on those ideas. And so it went all the way through from initial phase of really great like a whole bunch of really great rich ideas because you were all working together and building and then that process coming all the way through to execution. And and I think your point well taken is that it does take everybody right because the person decides designing the package. Isn’t the person that setting the PR isn’t the person on top I that’s doing the Olympics, right. So all the pieces have to work together. And I think this point about ego, which is, you know where we started, it’s about when it’s not about the whole team effort. And it just becomes about one single person or an organization, which I’ve also been a part of which, where it’s every man for himself. And this is a danger with strategy teams, it’s a danger with creative teams, it’s a danger with client teams, where the culture of the organization is, I have to be the one to come up with the best fill in the blank. And then none of that collaboration ever takes place. And none of the ideas get to where they need to get to.

Steve Leder 30:34
Yeah, I mean, I will say, the idea of collecting information or good ideas from anyone at any place is absolutely 100% The right way to go. But there does come a point where that is why you hire a creative specialist to ultimately make that decision.

Anne Candido 30:51
For me to filter and be an expert. That

Steve Leder 30:54
is exactly right. Like I think creative when it’s treated as a democracy is just always a bad idea, right? It’s just not going to work out. So at a certain point, there does need to be creative director. So as a cool timeout, where we’ve we’ve taken we’re listening to you, we I hear you and I hear your ideas. And your ideas, April and then, but but you’re paying me money to do this job. And I have a lot of experience doing this. So I’ve heard you, and but this is what I’d recommend. And this is why we’d recommend it.

April Martini 31:22
Yeah, no. And that’s the right ego. Right. I mean, that’s, that’s the one you’re playing your actual role versus you’re serving whatever is within yourself to make the decision. It is your job at the end of the day to make Yeah, I mean,

Steve Leder 31:33
let us do what you’re paying us to do at the end of the day. Yeah.

April Martini 31:37
All right, point number four, this is a big one. Without complete alignment, there is no creative strategy. And this is, I think, is almost a good summary point to the conversation we’ve just had. And it’s really around the idea that you might build the best creative strategy in the world. But if you don’t socialize it appropriately, if you don’t bring people along, if you don’t get people shaking their heads and saying, Yes, I agree with that. And I understand how that works. And I can go and work against that. This is where it really where the rubber meets the road. And if that does not happen, then you may as well not have done the strategy work in the first place. Because you have to have that foundation like we’ve talked about, but right behind it, everyone has to buy it and buy into it. And that starts with those people that are the leads of the functions and the teams making sure that everyone understands it’s important. But then every single team member knowing how to interpret it and go and do against it, because they believe in what has been set forth.

Steve Leder 32:34
This is one of my favorite ones. You know why? Well, because I agree with what you just said in the sense that it’s a waste of time, if you’re not connecting it at the end. So I’ve had, I’ve had a lot of experiences. In my career, I might have even said this to you April, where I looked at strategy or something. And I said, so what, at the end, right. And so half of the work is is collecting and auditing and understanding and creating and starting to lay a foundation. But if you’re not laying a careful trail of breadcrumbs, that connects it to where you want to go, it doesn’t it doesn’t get there and it is inefficient. And so for me, you know, like, if you’re not being very careful with how you’re telling that story of the strategy, it misses the mark, it’s very much the same way with how we present creative that you have to be speaking the same language as, as your clients and your consumer, and making sure they are following what you’re trying to lay lay down in terms of of the roadmap. And then the other part on this one that I that I have seen a lot and the good strategist don’t do this. But it’s just they don’t come out of, of a documentation or strategy session with with a distinct point of view. Right? And it’s kind of it turns into more of here’s what we’re seeing, here’s some observations. And again, that leads me to say, so what, because we need to come out of that with a sharp point for where the creative is going to go. And if you don’t get all the way to that point at the end again, it’s just it turns into a waste of time.

April Martini 34:05
Yeah, I mean, we’ve had the conversation and a lot. And this has been my soapbox for a lot of years. But there’s a big difference between observations and insights. And I think that’s when that happens, right? It’s like this could go here, look at this over here. I’m super interested in this. And then yes, you it leads to the so what when really that point of view comes from an insight that you have gotten because of the in depth work that you as the strategists have done to say, this is the consumer angst point, this is the problem that we are uniquely going to solve for. If you remember nothing else, you need to work from this place. And I had one creative director that was not Steve, that we would go toe to toe and like fight about this, right? Because I would start talking and you’d be like, one thing. I’d be like I need and I’m gonna set this name. I need to explain one thing. APR one thing I want one thing and And it infuriated me at the time. But it made me a much better strategist overall because it taught me to be super concise. And even if I needed to contextualize I needed to come out of the gate with the one thing because he was like, my attention span is minutes. So if you don’t tell me what I’m working against right now, I’m gone.

Steve Leder 35:19
I love this. I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna do this. No, I You’re totally right. Like,

April Martini 35:24
I don’t work with you anymore. Well, I love

Steve Leder 35:27
everyone’s attention span is like, the same length as a gnat right now, right? Yeah. And so you can’t assume people have the time or diligence or even desire to absorb a lot of information. And so being able to distill it down to one, I imagine that was probably pretty hard. But like, if you’re only gonna take one thing away from this, that like, this is the one thing of course, you can layer in some of the depth in case, you know, someone wants all that information, or it sets the guardrails Charterhouse to but I think it’s also good to have what is that headline on the strategy? Because you can’t assume all the creatives at every level are going to be fully acknowledging all the hard work that’s gone into it.

April Martini 36:07

Anne Candido 36:08
Yeah. And I think normally, where this breaks down, is when, and it’s usually on the client side. So I will say it was like, when you guys get super specific on something, we’re like, oh, wait a minute, that’s not talking to enough people. Right. So then it’s like, oh, we needed to broaden it out. So it’s more general. And then you kind of lose some of the element of the the POV because I totally agree with you that that it’s so important. If you’re creating those relationships with your consumers and make sure the consumer knows you are talking to them. Otherwise, you know, what’s the point in this day and age, because if I have to think too hard as a consumer to decide, is this brand speaking to me, and I just, I just disregard and I like I move on. So I think that’s like a really, really fantastic point. And my caution on the client side is to make sure that you’re honoring your target and making sure that you’re very, super specific about the target, the inks, the targets, feeling, as well as the emotion associated with that, so that the creative can come together and really deliver about on what you want it to deliver. And I would say that on the other side of that, too, and this is all slightly different points. So just like a little bit of a corner point here is I think, when we also break down this discussion here about alignment is, a lot of times the client either doesn’t feel they can or don’t do it well, is to give feedback. And that was a long set up to say, because I’m also having trouble articulating it without being insulting, because I feel like I still have PTSD from trying to give feedback and shit sandwich. So that it seemed nice enough, but like my like, you know, my agencies knew what to go do it that which 90% of the time they didn’t, right, so then I always got things off the rails, so then you couldn’t reach alignment, and then you get off the brief. And then you’re just like, Well, where am I? And then you’re like, Oh, well, it’s probably the briefs fault, right. And so that’s how like the all kinds of like, just circulates, and in general, you get nowhere. So I think what I’m suggesting is that everybody just needs to be very open to feedback, because I know a lot of times, clients, if they feel real, it’s really hard to give feedback. So you don’t bruise ego. So you still have a team that feels very inspired to go do work. But you want to be very direct, especially if you don’t like it, you’re like, I don’t like it. But we always try to find something nice to say about it, and kind of keep it alive. We don’t kill anything, right? So it becomes like that alignment piece. Just, I feel like it gets kind of like pushed like down the road. Like you feel like you’re aligned in a moment. But then, you know, the cat gets kicked down the road. So

Steve Leder 38:28
you know, I wonder if it has to do with our Midwest politeness as a culture? I don’t know, because I would much rather have a meeting where we know walking out the door, we tanked it. Right? I would much I would might as angry as I might make me in the moment, they would say that.

Anne Candido 38:42
But then like you hear from your boss’s boss that you said, like, they didn’t like my work,

Steve Leder 38:48
I can only speak my own personal experience. But you know, I’ve left many meetings where we had heads nodding, we’re like, sweet, we crushed it, it was a great meeting. And then you get the feedback a couple days later. And it’s like you missed the mark, you know, for XYZ reasons. And it’s like, well, we just wasted three days. And oh, by the way, having those conversations as hard as conflict can be, but having them in person is much more effective, and productive. And problem solving the best clients I’ve had, were the ones that we did just kind of hash it out together. And sometimes that might have gotten uncomfortable or ugly. But in the long run, you know, much like a marriage or a relationship. You learn how you learn how to work together, and you learn how to problem solve as a joint team, which is just going to be more successful in the long term. There was something else I was gonna say before when you’re talking about the distill down strategy point of view. You mentioned this earlier, April. We didn’t really talk too much about it. But things are so different now in terms of strategy and how it relates to a digital world. Yeah, in the sense that in the past, I think it was very monolithic. The way strategy work, you had this brand positioning and it was very concrete and you don’t move that and whilst I still believe a lot of that is true, there is much more flexibility that needs to be built into the strategy now depending on the chain As in who you’re talking to, and the ability to target consumers, you’re not going to talk to all your different segments in the exact same way. And so there is nuances within the strategy to make sure it is connecting, whether you’re talking to the older side of your demographic or the lower side, the same way as the differences we talk to between talking to someone on Facebook or Instagram versus how you’d be talking to them on Reddit. And even now, as we get into tick tock world, right. And so I believe at the core, the positioning and the strategy is still the same. But you have to be able to tease out different kind of ways in that, that connect more closely to who you’re talking to him where you’re talking to them.

April Martini 40:37
Yeah, I totally agree with that as well, I think you always kind of go back to that one thing, right. And then from there, tonally, you take different approaches a lot of times, and so we always say, the right message to the right person in the right place at the right time. And that that is the new way to look at it. And I think that time piece is huge, because we don’t have a lot of it anymore. And we’re getting bombarded all the time. But that time piece to me is always like, make sure that it is like hitting the way that it needs to hit. And so I think the strategy, you’re right, it can it can be whatever it initially was. But it also has to be a lot more flexible than ever before, because we used to say, a brand positioning last 10 to 15 years. I don’t know that that’s always true, not that the essence of it isn’t there, but it might change month over month, because you’re trying new things out and you’ve hit a new consumer. I mean, there’s so many things that can happen to force that change. And so we’ve talked about it a lot more lately as brands being living breathing things, which is not a new term, but like very truly that that’s what is happening and that there’s lots of different lenses and shades of personality.

Steve Leder 41:45
Yeah, I mean, there’s a tension that exists with brand building and between consistency and flexibility. It’s just its inherent, it’s just always going to be there. Because on one hand, one hand, you have to be altra consistent with the way you look and the way you sound at certain times and places. And that also depends on the where the brands at and its maturity level. Yeah, right. So earlier brands and younger brands, they really need to be just hammer in like one thing just over and over and over, over and over and over again. Because as much as we as we want to think our consumers really paying attention to those things they’re not. And so you have to say that was like a little bit of attitude there. Because as a creative, I want to keep doing different things. But the reality is, it takes a very long time for that one initial message to just start clicking. And so on one hand, you have to be uber consistent just all the time. But then you have to be relevant. And you have to know when the right time is to flex in when when those nuances come in, and to show the versatility of that brand and be able to connect at the level you need to connect at. And so that tension always exist. And it’s really hard to talk through because it sounds like you’re talking on both sides, your mouth, you’re supposed to be consistent, but you need to be flexible. Well, which one is it? Well, there’s a lot of money who will tell you no, I know it. Yeah, it depends. There’s a lot of variables that go into that, that consideration.

April Martini 43:05
All right. So that is a good stopping point for our first four foundational strategic principles. But I will recap them quickly because we just talked about a whole bunch of stuff. And we’ve gotten the feedback that this is super helpful to bring us back. So the necessity for creative strategy. Number one, creative unlike art needs to be objective versus subjective. There is a big difference between art for art’s sake and design, and this is where it lives. Number two caution, there is such a thing as too much strategy. This isn’t about getting every single data point and insight available, it’s about getting enough to move forward. Number three creative strategy is a superhero that fights ego which is ever present. Unfortunately, this is always a risk. But this is a solid way to combat it. And finally, without complete alignment, there is no creative strategy. This is Steve’s favorite. He said it you heard it, the best strategy in the world falls to the wayside if the team doesn’t believe in it and use it. And with that, we will move on to our in the trenches segment, which is where we give real world examples specific to industries and situations but with broad application for anyone to digest, and put into action. Number one, my head of creative says that strategy is hindering the team’s creativity. How can I get her on board? All right, this can be a big one. We’ve talked around this I feel like a lot. So let’s just hit it head on. First and foremost, the organization from the very top, must must must respect the marriage of strategy and creative and the importance of both and the equal importance of both. If you don’t have that it’s going to be really hard because again, you’re going to come from a really nebulous place of who speaks the loudest who fights the hardest who digs their heels in the most. It’s just going to become a big argument, right? But if you have that, and then really it becomes about relationship and I I begrudgingly learned to do this. Again, I had, like I said, that one creative director that was just gonna, you know, fight with me all the way through if I didn’t give him his one thing. So all of the things that deal with relationship apply here because Steve’s here today to talk about the importance of strategy, right. So unless you have someone who’s just being ridiculous, and wants to be the most creative person and is afraid to have this type of confrontation, you can get to a rational place with it. And so what I will recommend from experience, and I’ll be interested to see what Steve says. But number one, we’ve talked about being in lockstep with your creative, and that is really, really important. And the way to do that is to have the open debate and discussion we were just referencing in the same room with each other. And this is important without anyone else around. And I say that when I was not on that side. And we gotten a screaming match in front of both of our teams. And as you can imagine, that did not lead to a good place and really shocked the teams and scared everybody and made them not want to talk to us for a couple of days. So little anecdotal example there. And then also lean into each other, right. So one of the things that I’ve loved most about where I’ve landed in my career is that I started with a design degree. So Steve referenced us both going to DAP, but quickly realized that I’m not very good actually, at the execution part of it. I like the ideas, and then I kind of fall off from there. But even with that design background, it took me a long time to be able to lean into what the creatives really needed in order to make my intent of the strategy work for them. And so there’s work to be done just from that front, even if you have the single thing and you wholeheartedly believe it’s the right thing, again, to that last point we just made, if you can’t translate that in a way that your creative partner understands, or believes in, it’s not going to go anywhere from there. And then the other thing I will say as well, besides don’t fight in front of other people especially debate, that’s fine, Midwestern nice is definitely here to stay, unfortunately, in this part of the country, I think, but get to a place of compromise. So you just like you don’t have to have 100%, the best strategy baked, you know, to the point where it’s just indestructible, you also can give and take in that relationship. And so it’s not something you can build overnight. It’s not something you can change somebody’s mind on like that. But if you continue to work together, you can chip away at what issues you each have related to whatever you’re working on, and get to a place where you both can live. And that really is ultimately what you’re looking for, especially if you’re like me on the side of strategy, and you have someone on the creative side that just doesn’t buy it.

Steve Leder 47:46
Yeah, I think I’ll bring ego back into this because we’re talking about creative side too. Right? I think a lot of creatives feel threatened by strategists, right? There’s this power thing and control and they want to take credit for the ideas and sharing that process can be difficult for some creatives. And so you know, what I like to talk about with whoever I partner with in strategy is that it’s almost like a lever or balance of of who who has the ultimate say with sort of where work is going so meaning the beginning. When you’re partnering with a strategist, the strategy is absolutely a good strategist should be leading the work. They should have inputs from the creative, absolutely get the creatives on board. But ultimately, the strategist is the one driving that work. When you get to the creative aspect, the creative is the decision maker, they should be driving the work with heavy inputs from the strategist, right. And so I’ve never, hopefully, I’ve never been threatened by strategists. Never Say Never might hear from substratum. But I want the work to be good and smart. And so why would I turn away smart people trying to give me smart ideas to make my work better? It doesn’t it to me that’s counterintuitive of what you’re trying to accomplish. And so it’s not a threatening situation where someone’s taking ownership of something. It’s a shared ownership and a shared responsibility that as a cumulative effect, ends up in better, smarter work.

Anne Candido 49:12
And I think on the on the client side, I have seen this happen multiple times. And usually it happened. Well, I would say like 50-50, the brief or whatever the strategy is, is a little overly confining. And I think that sometimes becomes sometimes like the Achilles heel of the strategists where they feel like they need to know so much about what is going on within the business and within you know, all these like, you know, kind of going into the rabbit hole of details and stuff like that, then it all gets put into the strategy. And then a creative is like I don’t even know where my spaces like what is my space. So I have seen that happen a lot. Where, you know, it’s a lot of times as the exercise of the strategist because they’re trying to really uncover those things, but they’re not sometimes as good filtered as translating that into a strategy that the creators could go work on. I’ve also seen this happen where we’d have like, we would develop a, like a strategy on the client side or a brief on the, on the on the client side, and then the agency develops their own creative strategy brief. And then I’m like, wiser too, you know? And so it’s like, Well, yours is too confining? Well, mine’s like, what I’m setting up to tell you what your parameters are in order to develop deliver good work that’s going to help build the business. So what’s your say, well, we can’t share ours with you. And it’s like, mess it up. I’m like, Well, we have a problem now. So I’ve seen that happen to where then like, it just kind of gets like, you know, left and right, kind of get crossed, and you just don’t know what you’re gonna get up getting. But then I also say, Well, why why do you feel like you don’t have enough space. And sometimes it’s just a fact that, you know, there’s not the medicine, there’s, there’s not enough information, there’s not enough like, different, like you said, smart people kind of like attacking the practice could be a really challenging problem. But sometimes what we hear, again, I see what the ego thing kind of comes into play is, it’s not my fault. It’s all your guys’s fault. Why you know why this is not working out, right. So, you know, it’s a kind of a hard, like, so hard like, line to walk, I can tell, even on the agency side, sitting on the client side, kind of watching you guys kind of navigate that work internally. But I always find it kind of goes like, you know, all different directions, if not united on the common brief, or the common creative strategy. But I’m always open, if they feel like they’ve been too confined to like, well then do what we asked you to go do. And then bring us some other ideas. Like, if you want to do it, like that’s on your time, that’s, we’re not paying for that. So you’re going to invest in that, and you’re gonna do that. But if you feel like that way, show it to us. I mean, well, we’re always would listen, yeah, you

Steve Leder 51:53
just said exactly what I was gonna say and how I’ve tried to manage that situation. And my experience has been doing exactly what you said, meaning, we saw your brief, we read it, here’s what you asked for. Right? And it’s good, it’s great, you’re gonna love it. But

Anne Candido 52:07
just like that video for a second, because that was

Steve Leder 52:11
hilarious. I would present it. But again, this goes back to let the people that you’re paying to do a job do their job. And so if if the agency, you know, does what you’re asking them to, sometimes a danger for the agency is that is too limiting when they come back with a client’s like, Okay, this is what what I asked you to do. But when I see it, this isn’t really what I want. Yeah, right. And so a good creative will, will take that and do what’s requested as a cya. And they’ll also push it further. And they’ll say, and in usually, in my experience, the way I like to present it is show the client what they want first, and then go further and say, Well, based on the strategy or the insights or things that we’ve experienced, we feel like you should push further in this direction. But here’s why. Right? And again, trying to sync it back up to objective thinking and objective rationale versus just like, this one looks cooler.

Anne Candido 53:07
Yeah, no,

April Martini 53:08
I think that’s totally right on. All right, number two, in the trenches, what is the best type of team to build a creative strategy that is effective. So I’ll put a fine point on a couple of things we’ve said throughout the course of this conversation. Number one, your lead strategist and lead creative need to be arm & arm and in agreement. Number two, and right behind it is if you have a team that all understands, regardless of role and believes in strategy, that’s really where you’ve hit the jackpot. So I’ve mentioned before that you know, if you have a creative that believes in strategy, and a strategist that believes in creative, but then also an account manager for an example, that really understands and wants to participate, and even a project manager or production crew, whatever it is, if all of the people understand and believe that that’s the place you start from, that is the best team you can possibly have. And that is not always something that I think people come in the door with. So I also made the comment before about it has to come as a directive and belief from the top. And that is hugely important. And so as a result of that, sometimes what you do have to do is young team members, ones that have worked at agencies where it isn’t valued, you have to train them and teach them what this actually means. Because strategy is a very big word. And it can be a buzzword, and it can be one that means a whole lot of different things. Whether you’re talking client or type of agency or type of agency work or type of creative strategy can be all different things. And so you have to be able to define it in a way that your team understands. And then from a personality standpoint, the best team members are the ones that are curious and open minded. So you’ve mentioned I really just want the work to be good. At the end of the day. If you have people that believe that the best work will come out by following the strategy all the way through the creative execute You shouldn’t. And that’s really what they want. That’s the perfect team.

Steve Leder 55:03
Yeah, I wouldn’t stress the point you made early on on that was it comes from the top down, right? Like you establish a culture where you respect the thinking and doing the due diligence. And that almost always has to come from leadership, it’s hard to, it’s hard to build that from the ground up. And so either, you know, establishing that at the top or joining an organization where they inherently already understand the value of strategy goes a long way. That being said, That’s not always the reality. And so there it is a process. And for me, in particular, being patient with that process is hard at times. But I do have to kind of just level set myself and my team at times that we’re, we need to understand that we’re bringing people along on the on the journey, and they’re at various points of the journey. Yeah, some are further along, and some aren’t. And that’s, that’s okay. Because ultimately, we need all these people on board with us. And so whatever it takes to get them there, and as long as that takes as much energy as that takes, that’s fine. We just have to be okay with the fact that people are at different points of their, their journey, understanding that.

Anne Candido 56:08
And I think this kind of rubs up a little bit against another pet peeve of mine, when I know you know, I’m gonna say us here we go about when you bring 20 agency people to a meeting, right?

Steve Leder 56:20
Watch yourself and whatever getting ready to say.

Anne Candido 56:25
I think a really great skill for anybody to have, especially on the creative strategy side is like, I feel like sometimes a strategy person is the is the mouthpiece and a creative person is like the one that’s locked in the backroom, and they kind of talk to them. Yeah, it’s kind of like, you know, the, the wizard, you know, and you know, as it evolves, and who’s behind the curtain and that kind of stuff. I feel like in this day and age that your your creative, have to be as communicative and as relatable, and be able to engage with the client as much as everybody else. And sometimes I think that’s really hard for agencies to wrap their mind around. I know, it was when I was working with some of the P&G agencies that we have, because then the county is like, well, what’s my job? Because they can only it’s like, my job is to translate all this for you guys. And we’re like, are we speaking a different language? Because last time I checked, we were all speaking English, right? So like, why can’t that the creative come to our meeting, and be able to express what was in their head when they kind of came up with this creative versus having to have two people translate it for me, so that I’m like, it’s, you know, your interpretation of what was in their head. And like, that doesn’t make any sense to me. So I think that is becoming a really, really important point, when we were able to have that and you know, the creative combust, you know, and like, you know, totally, like, have a like a major, like meltdown or anything like that they were able to, like endure, and they learned how to do it, you know, more and more. It definitely helped to facilitate more collaborative sessions, it definitely helped to facilitate faster productivity, more efficiency, all of that great stuff. And everybody still found a role to play in that. And I thought that that was incredibly important. And it does start to like streamline how many people show up at a meeting? Because you have to have other people doing your business and like, it’s not cost efficient for agency to have 20 people to show up because you have more than one client. Right. So that was my point was I

Steve Leder 58:14
have a big sell Avon? No, I’m chomping at the bit like I’m very big advocate of like, you should only be in meetings, if you’re adding value. And you’re right, I think it is completely fair to say in the past agencies have, there’s a perception of a bloated nature, right with how many people are very diplomatic. And I get that I totally understand it. And I think that does go back to what you said to just about feeling threatened and like, well, this is my job. So if someone takes that away from me, by having the creative present the work, then what am I here for? And the second point I wanted to make to you is like a lot of creatives don’t want to be in front of you. And I know and they do they need to be right. So be they need to be but the reality is a lot of them want to just make cool, cool stuff, right? And they don’t they don’t want to sell the work. It’s mandatory for me that every designer that I have, can sell the work. I forced them to give presentations where they don’t want to because they need to get the experience. Yeah. And they need to be able to put in words what they’re doing on a visual level. And again, it goes back to selling the work, you have to be able to sell your work, you have to be able to, to communicate it in a way that gets people’s heads nodding, and they say yes, this is the right solution. And the reality is some people were really good at that. And some creatives may never get to that. But I find a lot of them can get at least better at it or adequate. They just need to do it a lot. Right? It’s like public speaking or anything else. Like just the more you do it, the more comfortable you get doing it. And so a lot of times unfortunately for some clients who have to endure bad presentations, maybe in the beginning my younger years you gotta you gotta like just like test the waters and get get your experience somehow but ultimately, they can get there. You just have to do it a lot to present a lot.

Anne Candido 59:59
Yeah, nothing That’s why you have your supporting cast there too, right. But I also felt it was a benefit for the creative to hear directly from the client. Yes, versus going through multiple stages. And then obviously be part of that onboarding, where they were understanding where all of this was coming from, because I thought it gave them a different appreciation when they went to go do the work. 100. Right. So I that Yeah, so I totally agree with you. I was, I was totally fine. Watching, you know, a creative for the first time tried to go through their presentation, it was totally fine. I much rather have that than for them to, like, hide away and like, not know what came like what was going through their head. Yeah, that was always my first question, what’s going through your head when you are developing, that’s where to come from, you know, and so so that gets

Steve Leder 1:00:39
lost in translation when someone else is presenting your work. That’s another reason besides forcing my designers to do uncomfortable presentations is that they can, they might be articulating things that I might miss as the creative director, but it wasn’t necessarily the one all week doing all the little details. But then when I present the work, I can be glossing over very important points, right? Because I just wasn’t as close to it. That, you know, that needs to be said and needs to be heard. And so you’re totally right. And I also, I love being copy on every email communication to clients, right? Like a lot of creatives will be like, no, no, I don’t need to see that.

April Martini 1:01:16
I thought you were kidding. No, I

Steve Leder 1:01:17
was waiting. No, no. Like, they’re like, I just tell them I need to do at the end of day. I’m like, no, no, I want to see in your words, you the client, I want to see exactly what you’re reading, I want to see the word choices. I want to see how your phrase, I want to see the tone. I don’t want someone else to translate that for me. Because I’m not this as Be careful with how I phrase this. I don’t always trust other people to interpret messages for me, I need to be able to hear that with my own years, and filter through and process that, and not the version that someone has already kind of edited. Yeah, me.

Anne Candido 1:01:49
I totally agree.

April Martini 1:01:50
Yes, and I think there are two is one, just presentation skills are so important, regardless of what job you do, and whether you stay a designer and all of that. But I feel like creative. The creative position in a company is always tricky, because unless you want to be on a management track, like you, Steve, right, you rise to the ranks, you get a team, you excel at that that’s what you’re meant to be doing. There are others that have no interest in that. But then they stagnate. And I think it’s because they’re never pushed to move beyond doing the doing on the board. And so regardless of what you want your ultimate path to be, because I think there are things broken with saying you only get promoted if you’re going to be a manager, right. But if you could get promoted, because you’re able to be that presence in the room, you can stand up and give the explanation. You’re just wicked creative with the ability to talk about that in front of other people. I’ve always thought that could be another potential way, right for creatives to get the credibility they deserve. But I also think if you don’t ever learn to even just talk about your work, let alone sell it, you’re never going to be really good. Because you have to be able to articulate beyond just like the thoughts in your head in a very succinct way. Or your design eventually will just become all over the place. All right, number three in the trenches, how do I involve the client in the strategy?

Anne Candido 1:03:17
All right, and I’m back, I’m at the server.

April Martini 1:03:21
Okay, so when it comes to the client, best client, right, similar to what we just said about best team, they believe in it from the beginning, right. But Steve has made the point several times today about people being at different points in the journey, different levels of sophistication, different roles in the work itself, all of those types of things. And so this is where I think we say, you don’t have to necessarily call it strategy, right? You don’t have to give them the 50-page deck and beat him over the head and try to tell them that this is the way they must start. We’ve talked about even like hiding it in the budget and making it one budget, all of those types of things. The important thing here is that the agency does not feel like they can’t do their best job because the strategy is being minimized so much. And so to me, that has always been the point of like, no thank you with clients. And especially since we’ve started our own thing and can kind of control that on a daily basis is if you just want us to make pretty pictures, if that’s really what you’re saying that you want us to just start doing. The answer is no. But outside of that, in my mind, the client can be as involved or not in the strategy. They just have to be able to evaluate the work by what you put in front of them. And there are so many different tools out there to be able to do this, whether it’s just success criteria, or hey, we have a one sentence setup, but they’re very strategic and that they compare the differences between each of the concepts and you might not even know that that’s what we’re doing. But I actually actually think some of the smartest strategy happens when there isn’t the overt presentation of it, because you have to think harder and you have to make it better. And you have to Give it the right presents and the right time. So you have to be super choice full.

Steve Leder 1:05:03
Yeah, I mean, I think I think the only thing I’d add on that is going back to understanding your client in that relationship again, and and understanding that level of involvement that they want to take, because you’re right, some of them don’t want to be involved, they trust you go do it. And then other ones do, do you want some level of visibility’s and I’ve had the spectrum of everything. So I’ve had clients who are in the trenches with us building the strategy together and want alignment on that, before it goes up the chain, or before any creative work is done. I’ve had other ones just say, go ahead and just bake it in but you know, presented along with the credo, and then I’ve had other ones would be like, Nah, thanks. We don’t want strategy. But, again, going back to what I said before, we’re we’re always going to force some level of strategy into any presentation, because it helps us sell it. And so I think it boils down to that communication, and level of relationship that you have, depending on the client to scale up or down the level of involvement and the level of effort that goes into the strategy portion of a project.

Anne Candido 1:06:00
Yeah, and I think we, even just in my experience at P&G, we’ve been in every one of those positions without a doubt. And I think the one takeaway I have and I because ironically, we mentor and coach strategist. So here’s me, you know, mentoring and coaching strategist, but is that a lot of times, again, I think, a strategist, in an effort to complete the picture, expect too much from the client. And this goes back to what I was saying before about having to know every single thing and how every single thing like buttons up and all the cross, like, you know, just relationships and just like it becomes like I said, like a rabbit hole initially. And a lot of times they ask very smart questions that clients just don’t have an answer to. And that guess I’m really stuck then in what to do next. And I’ve seen it happen a lot of times on the client side where they come back like, well, they don’t know what to go do with, you know, we don’t either either have enough of what you gave us or they get too much. And then they just kind of like, you know, just sit there with it went back to the point you were making before. And I think here is what I like to tell when I coach is good enough that you feel like you have like at least enough knowledge to start putting something together. And then we’ll always lead with what your assumptions were. So based on like, if there’s something it was incomplete make an assumption, that’s totally fine. State what that is. And then this is a little this is what I created the work behind this as my strategy based on the assumptions I made. You can have your client challenge the assumptions and say, well, that’s something wasn’t quite right. Well, great. Let’s have a conversation about that, then. So if your assumption is different than this is how it impacts the way that I thought about this. And this is where you’re gonna go, is that good? Or is that not good? So make it a better conversation. Because I feel like sometimes, like I remember, like getting asked like, it was like just bombardment of like questions all the time. And I’m like, I don’t know, I really plan you go, go pick out like, I honestly don’t know. And so that’s just my one caution on that, although I always loved being part of the strategy. But I liked it when the agency told me when they wanted me to engage. I also liked it that it wasn’t fully baked when I got it. So I had an ability to input I did not like it. And I could always tell when it was happening when it was just a check the box thing where the Fantasy was kind of putting in front of me just to say that they shared it with me, but they really weren’t open to having a conversation about it. So I think it’s really important for the agency to be very clear what their work style is to and make sure that marries up with way the client wants to go do the work, like you said across that spectrum. It may not be the way that you actually want to do the work. But you got to remember on the agency side like the client is paying you for the work. So like if I was going to say like which way had to like flex on that one. You know, it has to be on the agency side.

Steve Leder 1:08:44
Yeah, I think that level of connection is super important, right? And that’s why I’ve really enjoyed being back in front of people right after the last year because I think he just you miss some things when you’re on screen having meetings that you pick up on when you’re sitting next to people in a meeting, right? Yeah. So you can sense uneasiness or nervousness or confusion, or you just pick up on body body movement and I kind of motions and things. And so being able to pick up on that and adjust on the fly is super important. And I just I love being around people again, I can’t say that enough. Because I just it’s so valuable. It really is very valuable in the business world having having those conversations in person.

April Martini 1:09:25
I echo that man way less depressed this year.

Anne Candido 1:09:29
Actually, so you’re really depressing. It was just me, you April.

April Martini 1:09:32
I wasn’t even seeing you for a period of time. So our last in the trenches question is a creative strategy project you’re most proud of and I think this will help put a bow on our experiences and also I think the different perspectives that come when you’re either strategy or creative or on the client side as Ann’s participated today, but the one I will say and I when Steve first put the reference in the episode about the fence. I really hit me and I I’m a sucker for a good metaphor. But I do think that’s a really nice way to explain it in a way that can make strategy a lot more approachable. And so my example comes from the last agency that I was at, which was curiosity, I can go ahead and say it because anyone that listening is going to know this, this example. But I was in a unique position when I went to join there, because I have the desire to help the advertising space embrace strategy up front more readily, because I had a frustration from years of building the front end strategy. And then seeing from an advertising and communication perspective did not come out the way that I had anticipated. And so in joining this organization, it was definitely a very good fit from like a personality temperament, the way I looked at the work perspective. So it felt like a very, a somewhat friendly and approachable environment to try and go and do this, which I did build them a department and ultimately ended up going on my own as a result of that. But I will say it was not an easy journey. And I remember and this is where a lot of my advice comes from is from the mistakes that I made quite honestly, I remember going in there. And almost having heart palpitations, watching the reviews before we went in front of clients, because there wasn’t a lot of strategic upfront. And I would ask questions like, well, where’s this coming from? Or where did this idea come from, and the room would get so mad at me, and defensive, and the egos would come out. And then I wasn’t getting invited to meetings. And I was like, Alright, we gotta take a different approach with this, right. And so I started having more conversations outside of the situation to try to circulate what I was talking about. And then also try to put some examples in front of people and make little moves versus just trying to come in and be like, we need strategy, you don’t have it, this is how it’s gonna go, right. And so I was probably a little over a year into being there. And we got a really big opportunity to work with a local hospital. And it was a really big pitch. It was one of those RFPs for you agency, people listening where you had to do a big spec campaign, several concepts, they were very specific, there were four or five agencies in the running, we started with a list of 20 and got down to that list. And you had to really put your best foot forward. And ultimately, they were likely going to just be buying one of the campaigns that was presented. And so I was listed as the the lead overall for this pitch. And then I was matched with a creative lead. And this was another example where it didn’t do the right thing. So because I was the lead, I felt like I had the right to enforce strategy on that team. And everything went okay. In the beginning, we did our initial digging, I’m always a fan of talking in terms less in terms of like, here’s the 50, page DAC, but here are the inputs, right? So we talked through, what is the business looking for what brand exists for them today? Where do they live in the competitive space? Where do they live in the health care category in total? And how do they hold up, and then ultimately, who is their consumer unique from anyone else, and we did a pretty hefty immersion and upfront and doing that, that all went great. And then we got to the creative strategy portion. And so I wrote up my typical concepts like I do, and I hung them on a wall. And I did not share them with my creatively before we had this meeting. And I brought everybody in for our third or fourth meeting, and I thought I was on a roll. And everything just went to shit. And we took a big pause at that point in the project. And I had to do all the things we’ve talked about today, get alignment with my creative director, explain why I did it that day, I was not trying to, you know, put a heavy hand or exert my ego or say I knew everything, I really was just trying to do what I had done in other places, which is to write up the concepts. And that’s the handover phase. And so we worked through a lot of that. And it was a messy process, to be totally honest. But I will say that there are a few times in my career that I’ve ever been as proud as I was of that team, the day we went to present number one, we were hands down the winner. I mean, there was no question we were in the room with other creatives. We had the boards that were extremely thought through, they all followed a strategic structure. We started with the insight, we explained how we brought this concept to life against it, the executions were out of this world, they weren’t just like, Oh, here’s a billboard, here’s a printout. It was like installation in Kenwood mall showing the new rooms and you know, big ideas like that. And there were four very distinct concepts. And we left that room. And actually, funnily enough, we got the wrong phone call. And we’re told that we had lost the business when that was not the truth. And 20 minutes later, as the CEO was telling all of us, this was great work, but we didn’t when the phone call came through, oops, we’re sorry, that was not supposed to be calling you guys you actually won. So therefore this one really stands out in my mind. But that was really the jumping off point for developing the strategy team and the belief behind it in the organization. And I think the reason I’m proud of the output, I mean, it’s one of the strongest, like I said, sales presentations we’ve ever done I’ve ever done in my career, but I’m more proud of working through a really difficult process, and all the things that I learned about how to best sell it in, when it was an organization that didn’t have it from the get go. So that’s my,

Steve Leder 1:15:10
yeah, I think for me personally, it’s, it’s a lot easier to sell in creative and strategy. When you have someone on the quote, inside, quote, unquote, inside we’re going to do and so you know, my example here of one of my best client experiences was working with Mars Wrigley, and really partnering closely with their internal design management team who to this day are still my favorite clients I’ve ever had. And the reason I loved him so much was, you know, referencing some of the hard conversations we talked about earlier, we had those. They were a champion of strategy and creative in general. And so they were on the inside, helping us sell from from that angle. And then the third reason I really enjoyed partnering with them is they they very clearly understood what they knew, and what they didn’t know. And so they were very good at saying we don’t know this part, this is we’re going to lean on you for your guidance over here. And so that’s that’s really powerful. So not I know, we’ve been talking to me, at least I’ve been talking a lot about the creative and strategists on the on the agency side. But when you you team that up with the client, who is a believer in a champion also that just that just ripples out across who you’re presenting the work to. And so for me, the reason that was so, you know, fulfilling was that we were we were doing that work across all their brands, right? And there’s, there’s a lot of brands when dealing with Wrigley. And when you get down to it, it’s all gone. It’s all the same. And so how do you have like eight 910 different brands, it’s basically the same product. And it’s I think it’s very similar to the soda or Coca-Cola Pepsi world is that it’s basically the same stuff when you get down to it. And so when you have clear strategy set in place to help define the role of each of those brands, and allow them to speak to different people, you can carve out niches of an audience with basically the same product across the board. So to me, that’s super powerful, right? That’s, that’s understanding your consumer that’s understanding the strategy, and how a house of brands relate to each other. I’m sure this is in home for you and P&G alumni that, yeah, I mean, it’s a delicate nature. But if you understand all those, and you understand how they connect, and how they, where the overlap is and where they where they need to stay away. That just is a really powerful experience.

April Martini 1:17:30
So that wraps up our in the trenches section. And our third and final segment is often a real world example of a brand who’s doing things well or not. So Well, we did just give you a couple of our examples. And Steve definitely did, did his. So with that when we have a guest as all of you know, we like to turn this part of the conversation over to them to promote their business. Talk about some other advice for listeners, and at the very least tell people where they can find you, Steve. Okay, well, thank

Steve Leder 1:17:57
you. Yeah, I love talking about this. I love talking about design. I love talking about strategy. I just geek out over this stuff, I will bore anyone who wants to talk to me about this stuff. So I love networking too. So if anybody you know wants to have coffee or lunch and talk about any of this stuff, please hit me up, you can find me at Steve dot leader at badge design And that’s just design. is our website. And then as I also mentioned, we’re part of a larger network called Avari group. And you can check us out too. We’re doing a lot of cool stuff, working with a lot of different brands, large and small across our network. And just a lot of really exciting things that we’re doing so happy to share any and all of that with anyone who cares.

April Martini 1:18:40
Well, thank you, Steve, for joining us today. I think this has been really good to have you and not just have a one-sided or I guess two-sided with the corporate and then strategist’s perspective anyway on things. So just to recap the necessity for creative strategy number one, creative unlike art needs to be objective versus subjective. There’s a big difference between art and design and it lives here. Number two, there is such a thing as too much strategy. This is not about getting every single insight available. It’s about getting enough and moving forward. Number three creative strategy is a superhero that fights ego which is always present. This can be a very solid way to combat it and shut it down. And number four without complete alignment, there’s no creative strategy. So the best strategy in the world falls to the wayside if the team doesn’t believe in it and use it and with that, we will say go and exercise your Marketing Smarts! Still need help in growing your Marketing Smarts? Contact us through our website: We can help you become a savvier marketer through coaching or training you and your team or doing the work on your behalf. Please also help us grow the podcast by rating and reviewing on your player of choice and sharing with at least one person. Now, go show off your Marketing Smarts!