23 May 2019

APG Noisy Thinking ‘How do you keep strategy interesting’


Living in times as ‘interesting’ as those that assail the UK right now, it may seem strange to ask the question: How do you keep strategy interesting? After all, a turbulent and rapidly changing cultural and political situation must surely be influencing everything we do. Indeed, the conversation amongst the speakers before the event was all about the on-going impact of Brexit, the extraordinary atmosphere here in the UK, and pointy questions to Rob Campbell about why he chose now to pause his globe trotting and reside in London.

All of which somewhat misses the point, that whatever is going on in the macro culture you still have to attend to the micro problems that clients set us; to define and re-define the problem in better, more precise and more helpful terms and develop ideas and thinking that can help unlock growth in brands and change behaviour.

The question also has several interdependent strands: How do you stay interested and engaged in this most nebulous of ‘professions’? How do you stay interesting to others?  How do you vary and change and your sources of insight and inspiration so that your thinking is fresh?

As always with Noisy Thinking, we aim to be useful and inspirational in equal measure.  And as I’ve had the privilege of having already having read the feedback from the event it’s clear our illustrious speakers did just that.  So what did they say and why?

Sophie Lewis is CSO of VMLY&R. 

And this short summary does not do justice to the subtlety and charm and deep passion of her ideas and convictions.

But luckily we filmed the event so hear this from Sophie when the video is up, not just from me.

She is unambiguous in her love for ideas and the fact that she looks for them everywhere.  She admits to being healthily ambivalent about brands and comms and agencies, but she is completely thrilled by ideas.

She turns out to be an inveterate phone photographer and her random snapping of people, places and things is none of her most powerful sources of inspiration.

Living in Brighton she has a long commute to work and every day she takes a very short piece of video footage of the Balcombe viaduct which represents a divider between her work and home lives and which she finds beautiful and fascinating.  And it’s given her an insight into why painters like Monet painted the same thing over and over again.

She is strongly of the belief that you can’t re-cycle strategies as no two problems are ever the same.  Like the view at Balcombe which changes subtly each day, you have to think about each new problem completely differently and find new ways to stimulate your thinking.

Sophie also likes to walk places. She thinks that ideas are everywhere and to be found in everything that people do from being sick at bus stops and fighting to sitting outside the same café every single day. (Nice area, Camden.)  She takes pics all the time on her phone, and in a sense the more uninspiring and ‘real’ the better.

And she firmly believes, like Nick, that real people are the key to everything and we need to understand them properly and what they really think about the brand, to unlock answers.

So look at images whenever you can.  Read and plunder books, mags and newspapers. Read indiscriminately; use snippets and quotes from magazines, and get good at connecting things together.

Engage in all aspects of real life and use them too; from the hell that is Soft Play for kids, to the moon over the park at Brighton Festival.

Plunder music and lyrics for ideas and watch lots of incredible TV, from Mum to Fleabag and get inspiration from the incredible writing and ideas.

And keep on keeping things until you find a reason to use them.

But most of all….

The quieter you become, the more you can hear’ 


This article first appeared on APG.org.uk.

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