How does it feel to be an agency strategy chief?

Lucy Jameson: Incoming chief strategy officer, Grey London
Lucy Jameson: Incoming chief strategy officer, Grey London

Two adlanders discuss their new jobs, how strategy has evolved over the years and what the future holds for this discipline.

LUCY JAMESON, INCOMING CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER, GREY LONDON; FORMER EXECUTIVE STRATEGY DIRECTOR, DDB UK

- What attracted you to your new job?

I talked to lots of people and it was Grey London that stood out by a mile. First, and most importantly, I was looking for a great team with clarity, talent and chemistry. Second, I was looking for potential. And Grey has just that. It has nearly doubled in size over the past two years, following a huge winning streak. There's a great social business. It has done a joint venture with a digital agency (Possible Worldwide) and wants to broaden its output and add new skills. Grey's getting creative plaudits too, with work such as "hard and fast" for the British Heart Foundation winning gold at Cannes. There's a huge desire to turn what was a sleeping giant into an agency to challenge the big guns such as Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

- What frustrated you about your old job?

After 18 years at one company, without more than three weeks off in a row, maternity leave gave me a new perspective. I realised two things. One: all was not well at DDB. Two: I fancied a change.

- What excites you about your new partners?

I'm looking forward to working with a young, dynamic and super-smart management team - Chris Hirst and Nils Leonard, who run London, and David Patton, who's ex-client-side and runs EMEA. We share similar views on work and working. They've created an open, collaborative culture at Grey, while I started talking about "open planning" five years ago. Plus, there's a similar ambition. None of us are content with business as usual. And Nils can give me fashion advice, which I severely need.

- What is the role of strategy in a big agency with big network clients?

Strategy is critical. It's what makes work that works. That's vital for every client, big or small, local or multinational. Unlike most networks, Grey has now got a good balance of local and global clients led from London. And that means it has far more control of its own destiny.

- How do you see this role developing over the next five years?

Strategy is only going to get more important. In a world going through changes as profound as the Industrial Revolution, where the complexity and uncertainty clients face multiply year on year, the ability to spot the opportunities and take imaginative leaps is ever-more important.

- Do you think the industry values and celebrates the input of the strategist as well as it might?

Great strategists and planners can win or lose pitches today, in a way I don't think they could a decade ago. I think that shift has also started to be recognised in the way the best planners are paid. I'm pretty sure that's not true elsewhere in the world, though. I used to run our global planning group at DDB and it's clear many of them felt they were treated like second-class citizens compared with creatives or account men.

- Strategy and planning is one area where females seem to rise to the top more easily. Why is this?

Ever since I can remember, there have been more women heads of planning than chief executives or creative directors, and that has a huge knock-on effect. When you are thinking about joining the business as a planner, you have no worries about sexism. And, as a chief executive, it's easier to appoint a woman as head of planning when you've seen it work well elsewhere. But I don't think it's because there's anything that genetically makes women better planners. Now, we are starting to see more female chief executives too - AMV has been run by women forever, as have Dare, WCRS/Engine, Fallon and Publicis now. It feels as if it's just creative departments that are still male-dominated. It's a waste. There are lots of amazing creative women in other creative industries, so why not in creative departments in advertising?

TRACEY FOLLOWS, INCOMING CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER AND EXECUTIVE PARTNER, JWT LONDON; FORMER EXECUTIVE PLANNING DIRECTOR, VCCP

- What attracted you to your new job?

Agency futures are becoming polarised between those that do macro and those that do micro. That's a much more accurate way to think about things these days than global and local, as it describes the size of the audience, not the size of the idea. At JWT, I'll have the opportunity, as well as the resources, to do both.

- What frustrated you about your old job?

Sometimes, non-hierarchical structures can result in a lack of clarity (organisationally) and a lack of autonomy (personally). It was just time to try something different.

- What excites you about your new partners?

Their creativity, energy and hospitality. And their collective commitment to making JWT as innovative in the 21st century as it has been throughout the 20th century.

- What is the role of strategy in a big agency with big network clients?

It is to provide clarity - primarily clarity of objective (what we are trying to achieve and why). There has been a trend towards briefs that say something like "build advocacy" (er, how?) or "demonstrate to people that this brand has personality" (er, why?). I mean, where do you start? Ironically, one of the biggest opportunities to help large clients is to think through objectives and plan their "things-not-to-do list", which may well include not doing random stuff that gets a few thousand extra "likes" one day, only to be forgotten the next. Big agency planners get to focus on the very big-picture objectives - those that drive sustainable sales, not just promotional sales: the purity of idea, the profundity of communication and the purpose of the brand.

- How do you see this role developing over the next five years?

The role of the strategist used to be to extract simplicity from what appeared as complexity. But we're all getting used to the complexities of the new world, and we know things can't ever really be that simple again, particularly now as basic "goods" are becoming digitised into "services". What the strategist can provide is better navigation through the complexities of the post-digital world. Establishing a brand's purpose and using it as the compass for the brand's activities will become the strategist's main role. Why? Well, as the global economic situation forces more and more brands to consolidate, they can also be perceived to "dominate". It's important that we help them remain liked and, in some cases, even loved. For that to happen, they must work harder to connect with consumers through an obvious and compelling purpose.

- Do you think the industry values and celebrates the input of the strategist as well as it might?

Clients increasingly do, I think. Often, the strategist is the only person in the room actually listening to what the client is saying, so there's an expectation they'll be at every client meeting. Adding to that pressure is the fact that they are expected to be brand planner, digital guru, audience expert, user-experience designer and data analyst ... the list is endless. I want to see planners working as pairs, partly to relieve some of the meeting pressure, but also because I think a brand planner plus user-experience designer would be an unbeatable combination: the narrator and the navigator working as one.

- Strategy and planning is one area where females seem to rise to the top more easily. Why is this?

I just don't think that's true. Take the top 20 creative agencies of 2012 - just five are run by women. And, similarly, only five had a female chief strategy officer/executive planning director - an equally low proportion. This year's Power 100, Marketing's client-side marketers list, named only six women in the top 20. The fact is that women continue to be under-represented at the very top - and strategy is no exception.

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