Time is running out to enter the APG Planning Idol competition and what better way to understand the process than to talk to someone who has experienced it. We get a debrief and some key advice from our 2015 winner– Sam Geer.

He’s the national head of strategy for Universal Media and since winning Idol Sam (by his own admission) has watched his career fast track, although he says it’s due to a lot of hard work too. He also freely admits a key motivator to enter was to get ‘one up’ on his fierce competitive rivalry with his best mate, Alex Ryan (former Idol winner) as well as having the opportunity to be benchmarked against his peers.

Sam’s brief came via Reach Out an organisation who work with teenagers experiencing hardship and often specifically who have mental health issues. He was tasked with finding a solution to helping parents connect with children experiencing depression.

Sam established “When I was your age” a concept that utlised the digital platform that Reach Out have, married empathy for and vulnerability being demonstrated by parents who might otherwise be viewed as infallible by their children. The outcome of his strategy was to have the older parent upload images of their younger selves alongside an admission to something they might have  struggled with/ a problem that they might have had that their child would recognise and identify with.

TCC: What helped your application stand apart?

SG: I flipped the traditionally negative sentiment associated with “When I was your age” on its head and in having a parent reveal something that shows your child you’re not this infallible character of authority in their lives, that you’re actually someone who has been through the same sort of experiences helps to breakdown the walls, removes the veneer of invincibility and, so,  that was my gateway into the brief.

TCC: What advice would you impart to entrants in this year’s competition?


1. Go out and talk to people. Draw on personal experience and if you don’t have any, the best thing you can do is go out and talk to people.

This years brief is all around physical isolation and solitude, and there is something called method planning which some people get into. I don’t get into it too much too often, but it could actually be good for this, which is actually to put yourself in the person’s shoes who you are trying to solve a problem for, if not isolate yourself. Really try to get under the skin of it. Find out their experience of it, because ultimately what you can’t do in these sort of competitions is come in with a good or soft response.

2. You are here to win.

You don’t want to come third, or come second, or in the middle– the only way to do this is by making deliberate choices that are provocative, that do change the way people think or talk about a problem and a solution and you’re only going to get those by uncovering something new, interesting different. You can either interpret the same data that everyone else is looking at, but see it in an interesting way which is bloody difficult or you can go out and find new insights and different ways that lead to another solution.

3. It’s never too late to enter.

You don’t have to be someone who spends weeks and weeks on this thing, you can do it last minute, I think people feel when they enter these sorts of things, that they put pressure on themselves when really you have to have a clear, single-minded thought that you can actually write quickly.
Don’t give up – if you haven’t started with a week to go, it’s never too late to write a cracking entry.

TCC: What are the key stages of the process for applications?


1. Receive the brief, and work on that for two to three weeks and submit a written response. That’s the first round.
2. Then you are told you’ve been selected as a finalist – I think they choose about 15 finalists possibly.
3. Write a presentation and present that.
4. Finalist round.  Present to an industry panel of judges – five or ten minute presentations, they will ask you a string of questions, to take them through your strategic thinking and prove your hypothesis.
5. The awards night– where you are either crowned the winner or you go away and come back next time.

TCC: How has winning the award affected your career path/trajectory?

SG: There is no doubt winning an award as prestigious as APG IDOL has an effect on your standing, within an agency and even the industry. A lot of young planners don’t get an opportunity to shine too often, particularly in the creative side of the business, it’s often the creatives who get a lot of the accolades, so the great thing about Idol is that it allows you to go up head to head against your industry and really benchmark yourself,  in a competitive environment. And to be able to do that and have success, obviously that’s going to translate. Where I think for me personally, I’ve had a pretty good trajectory here at UM, but certainly that proved to the people inside my business, I was recognised by my peers and industry leaders, and as a result, you know your career gets fast tracked.

When I won, that was two years ago,  I was a strategy director working on the Coca Cola business and two years later,  I’m not saying that it’s only because of that, but it certainly helped significantly, I’m the national head of strategy in the biggest strategic team in the country and it has done wonders for me, certainly plus a lot of hard work. It gives you a leg up, I guess, that gives you an introduction into that room that you may not have had previously,

People have gone and worked in one or two agencies, they might not know a lot of people within the industry, something like this, you get to meet people , you get to be judged by some of the most strategic minds in the industry and you whether you win or not, just by getting up in front of them, and showing them what you can do and articulating your ideas, obviously a lot of job opportunities can come from that, and that’s wonderful.