by Jason Harrison. “YOU are the strategist,” responded the strategist when I asked him who’d be doing the strategy for the launch of a new financial services brand that was supposed to challenge some of the biggest and most-established players in the market.

“But I’m just an account manager,” I stammered, “and I’ve never written a strategy before, let alone one to launch a new brand.”

“You are not an account manager; you are a creative thinker, so go do some reading on challenger brands for inspiration and get ready to present to the client next week,” he responded and then walked off.

That evening, I hit Exclusive Books and asked one of the staff members if they could point me towards any new marketing books on “challenger brands”. He typed into his computer, looked up and responded quizzically, “You’re in luck — there is one bizarrely called ‘Eating the Big Fish’ by Adam Morgan. Follow me.”

At some obscure aisle, he pulled it off the shelf and passed it to me. I can still remember that cover like it was yesterday: a shark speared on a table fork. “I’m doomed,” I muttered to the chap.

Complete and utter fear

Over the next few nights, what started as a read fueled by a complete and utter fear of losing my job turned into a complete fascination of how brands could actually act in the minds of consumers. When I was finished, the book was covered in highlighted headings and furiously scribbled notes to help commit the main topics and themes to memory.

I’m still ashamed to admit that I regurgitated the key points in that book, pretty much word for word as my own in the client presentation. “You see, Mr. Client, if you are to be a true challenger brand (which you absolutely are, by the way) we need to create a ‘Lighthouse Identity’ for you to be a beacon of attraction to a new kind of consumer.”

The strategist stared at me.

I followed with, “And, of course, in the process of this launch we need to create ‘Symbols of Re-evaluation’ for the category if we are to highjack the core from these established players.”

My boss stared at me.

I concluded with, “Look, given your budget, our strategy absolutely needs to be about ‘Sacrifice and Over-Commitment’, otherwise we might as well not do it, in my view.”

The client stared at me.

Click. Thank you. Silence. More silence. Applause. More applause. Very excited chatter.

They. Lapped. It. Up.

As they all walked out, the strategist walked out last and whispered to me, “Perhaps some more original thought next time?” He knew. He had read the book. #stillashamed

The core skills of a creative strategist

That was over 15 years ago but his advice still rings true. I’ve seen many job descriptions for suits since, and most of them are total rubbish for one simple reason: They don’t demand an absolute intolerance for mediocre thinking. However, recently I came across a skills matrix for the different levels of “creative strategists” and what would be required of them in their careers. I realised that this isn’t the job spec for strategy; it’s the job spec for great suits. It’s the job spec for you.

At its essence, it highlights seven common themes:

  1. Clarify the problem: Distinguish between what we have been asked to do, what we can do and what we should do
  2. Insight creation: Find things out, filter them and rethink them laterally to inspire
  3. Set the path: Give inspiration, clarity and confidence to the team about what needs to be done
  4. Creative ideation: Help creative and other disciplines come up with better ideas, faster
  5. Powerful storytelling: Define the idea, prove, communicate and sell it
  6. Manifesting the work: Craft the experience journey and delivery detail that brings the idea to life
  7. Measurement & effectiveness: Prove if, how and why the work created real value for the business and consumer

Do you do these seven things as a suit?

It’s absolutely the suit’s job to be “creative strategists” in the agency and own the thinking in all its shapes and forms. It will reshape how you, your peers and your client see your role and value.

As the foreword in the revised edition of “Eating the Big Fish” says, “For overexposed, overinformed and overwhelmed audiences, a Lighthouse Identity can truly be more relevant than ever. It can be an aid for navigating the storm of choice, a trusted haven to satisfy all needs within a defined space. Because the new order requires a strong and authentic emotional connection, inspired by a true sense of mission in the world.”

Be that lighthouse.


Jason HarrisonJason Harrison started as a 23-year-old account executive at Ogilvy & Mather before moving to London five years later to run three agency teams in three different European countries. He joined his old mates again in 2011 as one of the founding partners of the M&C Saatchi Group at 33. He believes that creating beautifully simple solutions for an increasingly complex world will, in fact, save the world. His MarkLives column, “The Suit” is about inspiring and helping up-and-coming suits to be better at their craft. He is no longer on Twitter.

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