“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” was a notion that management consultant Peter Drucker came up with in the last century. Broadly, the idea is that an organisation’s culture – how we behave toward one another, how we conduct ourselves in business, how we treat our clients, how we treat our employees – is at the heart of what makes a business flourish, because it sets the blueprint of the firm’s identity.
In Drucker’s world, strategy is merely the script that outlines a set of rules of engagement. Those who see culture at the centre of everything like to casually drop a design of this quote into their Instagram feed.
In the advertising world, creativity is at the centre of our culture. It, in fact, defines our culture.
Advertising’s ‘cool kids versus everyone else’ attitude is probably best left in the last century. The hipster beards and drainpipe jeans are a thing of the last decade. Right now, the most exciting and successful business propositions are ones that cross-pollinate creativity and strategy. One is not somehow mightier than the other. Analytics without context is just an endless set of equations. Concepts and execution without reason are ideas that don’t have any real currency.
The social currency of fashion
This year, Social Media Week briefly overlaps with London Fashion Week – a bi-annual trade show for the fashion industry, which is worth £26 billion to the British economy. What I’ve always loved about fashion is that it intersects creativity with commerce in a very pure sense. London Fashion Week is the industry’s carnival – a three-day parade of the most outlandish concepts. We don’t just look at clothes on the runway, we experience someone’s creative vision.
Traditionally, fashion shows were a closed shop; only a few elites in the industry could attend. Getting seats in the front row is still seen as an opportunity to boast one’s position and power in society – in a fun and glamorous way. Social media was instrumental in giving the fashion world its first access to the trends in London, Paris, Milan and New York In less than the time it took for the designer to take a bow and the models whisked to their next show, anyone with a mobile device could see what transpired on the runway.
This immediacy of social media propelled fashion brands to go into production cycles at breakneck speed. To keep up with the pace of what they believed would do really well in the shops, high street fashion brands began to produce up to double the number of collections in a business year. The idea of two cycles – Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter – is now redundant and online publications like Business of Fashion and WSGN have become industry standards in reporting fast-moving trends.
The modern world is not that different to when Europe’s social elite would commission portraits of themselves in the latest fashions. Key examples hang in the National Gallery today. Gainsborough and Goya both painted subjects who wanted to reinforce their position in society to their friends and others. Imagine it: Your courtiers and your social peers come to pay a visit at your palatial home and are met with a huge oil painting of you in your finest. That is a fashion statement.
Today, the same is true of key influencers: celebrities and prominent people in the fashion industry taking selfies or having pictures taken of them and broadcast with the ubiquitous hashtag #frontrow.
How digital rocked the fashion world
I am a massive fashion fan, with a penchant – no, a passion – for the drama of it all. Music videos, Fashion TV, magazines like iD and Vogue were my touchstones for the glamour of Paris, New York, Tokyo and, of course, London.
Growing up Toronto in the age before Google, in a city that was still considered ‘regional’ – this was how I consumed the fantasy world of fashion. Then, one day, my wildest dreams came true. I found myself taking photographs of followers of fashion, interviewing the iconic fashion photographer Nick Knight and in the front row at a show in Somerset House (home of London Fashion Week), furiously writing down my thoughts on the latest collection.
I didn’t write for Vogue, or the Telegraph – or for anyone else really. I did it for myself and for a little WordPress blog I started in 2010 called Very Nice Threads . It was what my career counsellor in high school might have called a ‘passion pursuit’.
There was no strategy. I took photos of people I thought looked good, I gave my view on why, and I broadcast it to the world on the internet. Press officers didn’t really know what to do with me; I wasn’t a journalist for any of the broadsheets or glossies, but people from around the world were reading my work.
Quickly, I learned that content was an asset and for it to have any power it needed to be consumed globally. By the next season, Twitter took hold and Instagram became ‘a thing’. Long-form content for me had to sit on a larger platform and that came in the guise of a content sharing deal with the Huffington Post. I needed a sponsor and that was Oxfam.
At the time I was writing about sustainable and ethical fashion because I was obsessed with learning more about environmental solutions to one of the most wasteful production and consumption cycles on earth. Huffington Post was keen on the concept, Oxfam knew that drawing attention to their stylish charity shop finds was a basic no-brainer in the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle ethos of things. Other bloggers who I started out with had deals tied up with the fashion houses themselves.
My key observation at this stage was that fashion consumers – or customers – exploited digital reportage at a rate of noughts, because it satisfied their fashion fixes through an instantaneous and shared online experience. The traditional pathways of customer engagement (billboards, TV ads and magazines) was being disrupted. For success to be achieved, fashion brands needed digital and strategy working together. Burberry Kisses and eBay’s fashion blogger campaign. were early adaptors of this modus operandi and really harnessed the potential for creative and digital strategy to work together – trailblazers in their own right.
Creative and strategy meet in the content studio
Today, I run OgilvyOne’s Content Studio. I don’t come from an advertising background, but I do head up a group of creatives. Every day I work with strategists who do the social listening, who look at the data and help us to shape our rationale. I meet daily with account managers who are brand custodians, but help us to really push the boundaries of what we can say on the networks and give us the time and space to conceptualise new ideas in the medium we work in.
Of course everything we do creatively is underpinned by strategy. But, like the fashion industry and the patronage of fine arts that came before it, we are immersed in – and we respond to – social interactions. This culture of communication both informs and drives the data intelligence and the creative output for the brands we editorialise from our content studio.
Equally, because we are an agile unit, we are able to make quick decisions, approach challenges from different angles – even ones that perhaps strategically no one would have considered. We are both tactical and strategic.
The Content Studio breaks down all the preconceived notions of traditional advertising. The suits upstairs, the creative downstairs and production in the shed. It is a meeting place of disparate disciplines. In the 20th century, culture ate strategy for breakfast. In the 21st Century, the culture of content cross pollinates, collaborates and works seamlessly with strategy. In other words, they do lunch.
Creativity and Strategy do lunch
Fri, Sep 18 – 9:30 AM – 10:00 AM
Sainsbury Wing Theatre, The National Gallery
An event for Social Media Week London 2015. [Register for your free ticket]
For the latest from Social Media Week London 2015, follow @OgilvyUK and @ogilvydo on Twitter and #OgilvySMW.