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?strategy planning
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?

THE STRATEGY: To communicate more than monetary value, but also values of being honest, genuine and true to your beliefs. THE HEADLINE: True Character.

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.

34 Responses

  1. Interesting blog, I’m enjoying reading about all of the processes involved. My take, a strategist is the meaning maker. The person who gathers information, makes sense of the information and presents it to the creative team. They’re the facilitator in the creative process , managing the creative team to the desired outcome.

  2. Really interesting to hear about this from another position. The analogies make this really enjoyable to read and understand.

  3. I love the way Kirsty uses her real world experience as a racing driver to explain strategy in relation to copywriting. In itself thats a great device to help someone understand what you are communicating.

  4. I love the way Kristy’s mind works – to be comfortable in the confusion, get clear and then guide the other teams to turn her strategy into a campaign.

  5. I think Kirsty makes a good point with respect to interactions with the creative team (and I like her analogy to racing) – in the same way you have to be mindful of how best to repackage, reposition, and deliver a message to your audience, the same applies to briefing your creative team. Having a strategy for how best to deliver and position your brief with your creative team is equally important it would seem!

  6. Some parts of this I understand and other parts I am lost on, but I think it’s just the lingo.

    Also I would like to know what behavioural sciences and mathematical tools she is talking about. 🙂

  7. I love Kirsty’s line “You’ve got to be confused before you find the common sense. Otherwise it’s just intuition.” It reminds me of the process I have to copywriting: madman, architect, carpenter, judge.

  8. Love the idea of strategists learning about copy writing and copywriters learning about strategy! I think I have spent some serious time in equifinality paralysis in terms of getting to the ‘make the decision’ point. Take away learning is to get better at ‘a vibrant animation of the analysis’ and at understanding which type of story I am dealing with.

  9. It’s so nice to hear that confusion is a good and necessary part of the process. There is definite satisfaction is sorting order from confusion. i also really liked the six story types, they give a framework for story.

  10. Let it torture you – too right! I can appreciate just how hard it is to synthesise a wealth of information into something coherent and meaningful. I’ll be working equafinality into my lexicon.

  11. 1. Saturate yourself with data and information, 2. Get confused and feel restless, 3. find the meaning, the common sense, the insight by joining the dots. ‘Ah ha!’ As someone who tends to rush the process to find the ‘right’ idea, I find it highly valuable to learn than being confused and restless is a very necessary part of the creative process for a copywriter. It reminds me of what someone once told me…..”Lean into the discomfort”.

  12. The introduction of the word equafinality and its meaning into my vocabulary is welcomed. I love the idea of being confused, finding equilibrium in all the information, but then most importantly, making a decision. Argh, the pain of indecisiveness.

    1. It’s a good idea to get used to being confused, because it carries over from the strategic to the creative process. And there in lies the challenge — turning confusion into clarity and concision of thought. Very satisfying when that happens.

  13. Writing a story rather than a marketing spiel? Now that’s something I think I can do! I like both your comments about utilising the story arc as a way of structuring the brief, and the 6 story types as a way of realising who you are and your intentions. They both illustrate the creativity and depth of understanding required to connect and talk to our audience AFTER first having experienced the arduous process of strategy which gives us insight at the end of the tunnel.

  14. I’m very drawn to the word equafinality. It’s a good description of finding out all the information and then pulling out the essence. This idea combined with the storytelling aspect feels like a good fit for me.

  15. When I see the six story points I can begin placing my own company brand and its competitors within each story. Great way of assessing the market and developing relevant messages.

  16. I’ve been thinking about copywriting from purely creative angles, but this piece emphasises the logic and strategy ‘driving’ the creativity. As a law student, it was interesting to read about the problem-solving skills and ‘the left brain’ that anchor the creative process.

  17. The fact that a strategy has to inspire creatives is very true. I also liked the 6 different types of storytelling. When you think about copywriting as storytelling rather than “marketing” it helps with writing in a more creative way.

  18. I really enjoyed reading Kirsty’s points around Equafinality. As a copywriter you often need to get lost in information before you’re able to find your direction and build up a strategy that will delive.

  19. Having just read your article, I wanted to thank you for it. It’s fascinating and inspirational — everyone should read it (but sadly that may be too much to hope for!)

  20. I like how she said that you have to ‘fill your brain with lots of molecules of information in and around the subject area’ and be ‘confused’ before you can make common sense. That’s actually often how I feel when I’m working on something and I enjoy that process of turning something from confusion into meaning.

  21. Being a graphic designer and finishing artist it’s very interesting to step into the realm of strategy and planning. I know from experience how creativity can sometimes run out of control when we don’t have a solid strategy.

  22. Kirsty’s description of herself as a ‘meaning maker’ is quite telling I think. The idea that strategy is not just about gathering data, but about making sense of that data and thus ensuring you make the right decision, therefore strategy is about making meaning as well as making decisions.
    The six story styles was also interesting, knowing who you are and what you’re trying to do fits into the idea of a well rounded communication brief.

  23. Interesting to know, looking at it from an overall point of view, whether the art of strategizing itself could be classified as a from of creative art, i.e. the left and right brain overlapping each other.

  24. I really liked the Mind Share 6 story types concepts – a useful way of thinking about story telling

  25. I too see myself as a meaning maker but to describe it better a ‘facilitator’ in the marketing communications feild -allocating the right speakers for the event and navigating through resources to reached a desired outcome. I feel like the middle man between planning and executing and I like the analogy used by Kirsty as it being a racing track.

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