Who would have thought a Strategy Planner shared the same compulsive obsessive condition for story, meaning and value as a Copywriter. For those of us who inhabit the right brain of the communication arts, meet your left brain, the strategist. She is highly intelligent. She is remarkably lateral. She is as creative with data and information as copywriters and art directors are with words and pictures. And she is as driven for meaning as a racing car driver is for winning (and not just because she is a racing car driver herself). Meet Kirsty Muddle, Strategy & Media Planner and partner of CumminsRoss, who, only a few days ago, was awarded AdNews 2013 Agency of the Year. Last month we talked with CumminsRoss creative mind, Sean Cummins. So it’s only logical that we now talk with their strategic mind.
NDT: Thanks for joining us at Copywriting in Action Kirsty.
KM: It’s a pleasure to be here.
NDT: You describe yourself as part Strategy Planner, part Racing Car driver. Is there an advantage to being a Formula 3 driver when it comes to strategy planning?
KM: That interconnection between the strategist and your creative partners is very similar to taking a tight turn, if you make an error there’s no going back. If you get into the mind of a creative person, they’ll grab something and be so focused on it that if you’ve made a mistake, it’s really hard to take it back out. When I’m briefing, I’m very careful of how I take that corner and that is the same as when I’m driving a car.
NDT: You’re an Australian from London where you worked at the media agency, MindShare, who developed a storytelling methodology based on the fact that stories are the world’s oldest form of communication, from Bible to Twitter. MindShare came up with 6 story-types. Can you give us a run-down of each?
KM: The Who Am I story talks from a brand point-of-view when you need to proclaim who you are. If you’re a new brand you have a different job to do than someone who has been there for a long time. So what you want the consumer to feel after that is familiarity with your brand.
Why I Am Here is when a brand has lost relevance, and we find that a lot with maturing brands. Even in the post-mortem of a recession, you’ve lost relevance because you’ve forgotten to advertise and people have forgotten what your brand is for and why it’s there. I Have A Dream taps into a psychology about admiration and aspiration. I Do Therefore I Am is showing that you can be trusted and inviting people to be a part of your brand. I’ll Show You How is about a brand that is a leader in their market. I Know What Your Think often serves well for a brand that needs to start a conversation with a consumer. So it’s about collusion. Being that trusted adviser. These story-types were really smart because it involved consumer psychology.
NDT: Can you explain how you boil down all the data and information into a sentence of knowledge and insight that can then translate into a story?
KM: The way I see my role in strategy planning is to be the meaning maker. It has to be a vibrant animation of the analysis that inspires the creative team. This is my ultimate test: if in the time you spend looking at different sources of information you can’t answer the creative’s question, ‘what am I trying to say?, then you haven’t done a good job.
NDT: How do you find the story in the information hay stack?
KM: I was taught a word that not many people I don’t think use, but it’s incredibly meaningful to me and that’s ‘equafinality’. It means finding the equilibrium of all the sources of information given, and ‘finality’ is making a decision off the back of it. And the best way to go about it is to fill your brain with lots of molecules of information in and around the subject area. And let it torture you. But you can’t just leave it there, you’ve got to make a decision. And so that’s what equafinality means.
NDT: When you say ‘find the equilibrium’, what does that look like?
KM: Essentially it’s finding common sense. You’ve got to be confused before you find the common sense. Otherwise it’s just intuition.
NDT: So part of the process is to be confused first?
KM: My job is to find the interrelationship of these different pieces of information and what they truly mean, that unique insight that belongs to that brand or that particular challenge. Our Open Films Series with Jacob’s Creek is an interesting example of this. All of a sudden you get an explosion after a few restless nights and it’s all of these things joining together to create a meaning. And that’s why I think a strategist is a meaning maker.
NDT: Alex Siewert, Director of Strategy at The Leading Edge, compared a Strategy Planner to Sherlock Holmes, describing his process of deduction leading to the best possible conclusion “systematised common sense”. Do you see yourself as a sleuth, looking for the truth?
KM: I feel more like a cop interrogating stuff and then I present it in court to a bunch of jurers who will be the judge of my work. But you don’t want to be a barrister where you have to argue your case, because it needs to be believable and convincing. You’ve got to build trust with your jury …
NDT: The jury being the client?
KM: And creative teams. They’re going to be very curious about what’s come up, out of enthusiasm, not doubt.
NDT: So whatever you come up with is going to be pretty solid.
KM: I work very closely with all the Executive Creative Directors and they get excited about what I’m finding because they want you to hurry up and pass the baton. But I would be careful in the way I present information otherwise someone will go off and its just too hard to bring them back. It would be like a car crash waiting to happen.
NDT: So from a racing car driver point-of-view, a strategy plan for a copywriter is like a GPS for a car driver.
KM: It’s more like race control.
NDT: How’s that?
KM: Race control is … let’s swap positions now. Copywriter, you’re driving the car. I’m in race control shepherding you through and telling you what’s going to happen next so you don’t have a car crash. That’s what a strategist would do. And then you’ve got designers. When you come into the pit, you better make sure you’ve got a really good team that’s going to change your tyres, put the right wets on your vehicle so you can drive off. And you need to trust the people, that’s like the suits, giving you the red, green and amber, if they get one millisecond of that green light wrong, you’re dead. Race control is strategy. And you’re design team is the pit line crew. And so the copywriter is going to win the race.
NDT: No wonder you’re part strategy planner part racing car driver. As a freelance copywriter and a teacher to professional writers who don’t have the benefit of race control, we have to develop our own strategic capabilities.
KM: To that point, all of our strategists should do a copywriting course because the presenting of an argument is part of a strategist’s job, and that is definitely copywriting. If we showed you how to use these mathematical tools and behavioural sciences, you’d be, or probably are, an amazing strategist yourself.
NDT: I have to say I’m a big fan of strategy and thank you for a very insightful interview Kirsty.
KM: You know this is the first interview I’ve had of many now that I’ve enjoyed because we got to speak about both of my passions: motor sport and strategy.