Wed, 21 Dec 2022 07:15:58 GMT
Heather Sheen recently joined R/GA Sydney in October, bringing with her more than 20 years’ experience in the industry in both creative and planning fields. Her expertise in unlocking business growth through a creative lens aligns well with R/GA’s focus on nurturing ideas and collaboration.
Prior to joining R/GA, she was a planning partner at DDB Sydney, where she led the strategic thinking on the Westpac, Domain and Red Cross accounts. On top of her day-to-day work, she nurtures the next generation of advertising talent by lecturing at AdSchool, AWARD School, and leading Miami Ad School’s local strategic programs.
Heather’s work has been awarded by The Australian Effies, APAC Effies, IPA, D&AD, Cannes, AWARD, One Show, and ADMA.
Heather> I’m sure there is a rather intellectual answer to this, one that delves into semantics and etymologies. But, to be honest, I always thought the job title was ‘strategic planner’ and never thought any more of it. Going with strategist or planner was an abbreviation that made as much sense as calling your mate ‘David Roberston’ Davo one day, Robbo the next. Either way, it’s someone who figures out a way to solve a business problem through creativity.
Heather> I see them as interchangeable, so I don’t have a preference either way. However, I’m probably in the habit of referring to myself as a strategist, for the simple reason that anyone outside the industry gets confused when I call myself a planner and asks if I can help organise a fabulous party. I find it tricky enough explaining what it is that we do without adding any further confusion.
Heather> There are so many amazing pieces of strategic thinking out there, it’s impossible to just pick one. So, I’m going with the campaign that randomly recrossed my desk this week and filled me with as much envy as the first time I saw it: ‘Sperm Positive’ from DDB NZ.
The solution comes from a real understanding of human emotion. Firstly, you can’t just march in and tell people to forget everything those terrifying ads of the past burnt into their minds about HIV. You have to prove it (responsibly).
Secondly, the fear of death is a biologically powerful thing. Once implanted in your mind it’s almost impossible to rationally dislodge. It’s not enough to just try and counter it with ‘nah, it won’t kill you’. The team found a way to go one step beyond this emotionally; to prove it has the power to create new life.
Heather> Real people. Whilst I’m always pestering clients to send me all the research, data and reports they can get their hands on, they often only show you where you have a problem, not why you have a problem. That’s when I find talking to real live humans rather helpful.
Heather> I’m going to break the rules here and pick two. The first might sound a little cliched, but it’s that satisfying moment, where the muddle just unmuddles and you uncover a real truth about human behaviour and why something is happening. The second is when a great creative idea really works, and you see the commercial results that prove it.
Heather> There are a couple of things I find myself saying over and over - to the point where I’m sure I sound like a broken record - but I find them incredibly useful principles to plan by:
Heather> I enjoy working with creatives who understand we’re in the business of creating commercial impact through creativity, not just making cool stuff. They understand what drives growth for brands and their solutions actually solve business problems. What I really like about these creative types is that the process isn’t a baton pass where strategy hands over some information on a brief and they come back with some ideas. Instead, it’s a partnership where you push and challenge each other right from the initial client brief all the way through to the results debrief.
Heather> I’ve rarely experienced this. I’ve been lucky enough to work with clients who value the strategic process and see it as an essential part of determining the right way to aim the creative thinking. I think it always helps when you spend time working collaboratively with the client at the start of a project to understand the commercial objectives and really define the problem at hand, before you start trying to solve it with creative.
Heather> When I was a young thing trying to get a job as a creative, and then years later trying to make the switch to strategy, I was always amazed at how much time people took out of their day to help me. As a result, I feel like it’s very important to give that time back to nurture the next generation of talent; it’s as much a responsibility for us to pass on our knowledge and experience as it is for people to be keen to learn.
Heather> Hurrah. What a brilliant thing. I think the greatest impact of this is the ability to prove the real value of the work we do. For a long time, our industry has struggled to demonstrate the tangible impact creativity can have on business growth, especially amongst those in organisations who view marketing as a cost.
Heather> Absolutely. Somewhere along the line, someone started a silly rumour that ‘planners need to be the smartest people in the room’. Besides being incredibly arrogant, it hinders collaboration and honest conversations, the stuff that leads to the best work. It also drives paranoia fuelled planning for the sake of planning: over-thinking, over-intellectualising, and over-a-hundred-boring-slides-powerpointing. Instead, I’d like planners to be known as the most straight-talking people in the room; the ones who can cut through the reams of research, data and business buzzwords.
Heather> The first thing is: if you don’t really love what we do as an industry and don’t get excited by creative ideas - like want to talk about it at the pub in your spare time - don’t bother. So much of the work we do never sees the light of day, and unless you are passionate and optimistic, you’ll find the process incredibly frustrating.
The second: ensure you’re always building both your commercial and creative smarts. It’s one thing to have read all the marketing science books and effectiveness papers. However, you also need to know great creative work, especially the really famous stuff. The job relies on having a good grasp of both.
Finally: the planning department is often the hardest one to find a junior role in. Trust me, it took quite a few years to shimmy my way in. If you can’t find an entry-level position, take one in another department with a view to eventually making the switch. It’ll give you such good grounding in the industry, and who knows, you might end up loving a job you didn’t know existed, until you got a job in an agency.