Tuesday 08 November 2022

IPA Strategic Planning residential: key takeaways from a stellar speaker lineup

303MullenLowe Strategy Director Smiljka Dimitrijevic spent three intensive and inspirational days at the IPA Strategic Planning residential course in Melbourne last month. In this brief recap, she highlights key takeaways from a stellar lineup of speakers.


“The best thing you can do in your career is to surround yourself with people who are better, because you’ll rise with them.” 

Wise words from Fabio Buresti and a great introduction to three days of intense learning and discussion with some of the best minds our industry has to offer. Ali Tilling and Fabio did a phenomenal job of curating the recent IPA Strategic Planning residential course, which is designed to open our minds to new possibilities. 

The theme was crafting enduring brand strategy – how to create it, plan for it, nurture it and defend it. A lot of the discussion centred around the fact that the average CMO tenure is three years. CEOs are a little better at eight years. But even so, new chiefs like to leave a mark and create change even when the best thing to do is leave things as they are. So, brands suffer at the expense of egos. 

Ironically, it’s often down to the outsiders – us as agency partners – to defend the strategic foundations of strong brands. Sometimes this means tweaking along the edges to give the impression of change, but often it’s about holding the fort, educating and saying ‘no’ to ensure the brand endures beyond momentary internal turbulence. 

“Enduring brand strategy isn’t something you get briefed on, it’s something you fight for.” – Hugh Munro, Head of Planning, The Monkeys.

As brand planners and brand custodians, it’s our responsibility to ensure that the clients we work with appreciate and invest in the long term. Often that takes time. And proactive briefs. And strategic work that may never have an estimate against it because we know that good creative and effective advertising are borne out of strong strategic foundations. Collectively the work we produce will be better if there is a thread tying everything together, so good planners take the time to do the thinking upfront knowing it may take months (or years) to recoup that investment in financial terms.

“20% of businesses that started this year have failed, and another 40% will fold in the next two years.” – Chrissy Blackburn, Managing Partner, West 82nd

Chrissy Blackburn and Katrina Kelly gave us their take on what makes enduring brands. From their experience it boils down to three things:

  1. Clarity of purpose – what are we here to do? What’s the value we’re giving consumers? In other words, what is our brand strategy? 
  2. Alignment on how each business unit and employee contributes to delivering on the brand promise. 
  3. Momentum – by turning strategy into actions and behaviours to drive business growth. 

“Give everything six months. That’s how long it takes to adapt to change.” – Christina Aventi, CSO, BMF Australia.

Thomasine Burnap and Christina Aventi talked about us, the planners, as enduring brands. How do we keep ourselves intrigued, inspired and avoid burn out? For some of us, inspiration comes from ‘riffing’ with other planners. For others, it come from looking at the world differently with the creatives in our lives. And sometimes, staying inspired in advertising means exploring interests outside of advertising – like Thomasine who retrained as a psychotherapist and counsels homeless men one day a week. Tapping into our different passions keeps the planner flame alive and gives us a rich tapestry of experience to draw from.

“Biases don’t apply just to consumers. Planners are equally affected.” – Ken Chan, Head of Strategy, Hardhat.

There is a lot of talk about how marketers are short-sighted and focus on the bottom of the funnel – the work that converts, not the work that builds. So, Ken Chan helpfully turned the mirror on us and posed the question: ‘What role are we playing in the current status quo? And what role can we play?” His talk focused on using biases and heuristics to improve relationships with our clients and the outcomes of the work we do.

“Strategy needs to wear pants.” – Ant Keogh, CCO, The Monkeys.

Ant Keogh and Mike Derepas made a clear business case for enduring brands – they are much more efficient in terms of memory structures. Every marketer wants one, but it takes five years of doing the same thing to make a mnemonic an actual mnemonic. And how many marketers have you worked with that subscribe to that timeframe? But if you can get your client to believe in the strategy and own it before you get too creative, they will fight for the work with you.

“People buy brands not for what they do, but for what they represent.” – Mike Derepas, CSO, The Monkeys Melbourne.

Mike Derepas performed nothing short of magic when, in under 30 minutes, he convinced a highly sceptical room that there’s more to brand archetypes than meets the eye. His key argument was that if you take the time to read the research and understand the psychology behind archetypes, you will find them a useful tool in more ways than one. Importantly though, he reminded us archetypes are about meaning – they should be used as a ‘why’, not the ‘how’. The archetype is the outtake of the ad, not the execution of the ad. 

“A product is made in a factory. A brand is what the consumer buys.” – Simon McCrudden, Partner, Brand Strategy, Akcelo.

I think I counted close to 50 tools and frameworks in Simon McCrudden’s frameworks masterclass. All useful in their own way, but depending on how your brain works, you may only ever use 10% of them. They are there to structure thinking and organise thoughts, but in and of themselves they don’t have the answers. The latter lies in research, research, research. Not just the desktop kind. Never underestimate the power of speaking with your audience, preferably in the jungle, not the zoo.

And the learning went on with the likes of Ali Tilling, Brigitte Bayard, Vipul Hiray, Jake Barrow, Nomfundo Msomi and Eloise Liley. What a phenomenal feeling to be in the room with these humble giants of the planning world for three whole days! 

Thanks 303 MullenLowe and ACA for the opportunity.

Advertising Council Australia runs a number of professional development courses throughout the year to help advertising professionals further their career. To find out which AWARD, IPA or AdSchool course is right for you, go to the education page on our website, linked here.


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