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Planning for the Best: Charting the Strategic North Star with Subin Kim

30/06/2023
Advertising Agency
Los Angeles, USA
149
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THE FIFTH's director of creative strategy on tactical planning, always turning to social media and the 4C's framework

Subin Kim is THE FIFTH's creative strategy director. Here, Subin leads the US strategy team, where he is responsible for delivering thought-provoking client work with strategic insights and social-led creative ideas. Subin has over nine years of experience in social and entertainment overseeing campaign management, brand integrations, and creative strategy across a number of agencies and tech companies in LA. Four years ago, he joined TikTok as one of its first US employees leading the Creative Lab’s entertainment vertical where he worked with major studios and streaming partners to develop their first brand marketing campaigns on the platform. 


LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?

Subin> The answer is…it depends. The full scope of work for 'strategists' and 'planners' varies from agency to agency and company to company. Some may focus more on developing the overall direction of a campaign, while others focus more on the tactical plan of action. In many instances they are responsible for both. 

Ultimately, Strategists AND Planners are responsible for:

1. Leveraging quantitative/qualitative insights to outline a strategic sandbox for the creative team 

2. Ensuring their ideas align with business and brand objectives.

3. Identifying the channels to most effectively reach their target audiences with the creative


LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best?

Subin> If I had to pick one, I’d say I gravitate more towards the development of the overarching brand or campaign strategy, but tactical planning is still very much a part of my remit. 


LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?

Subin> Old Spice's 'Smell Like A Man, Man' is widely regarded as one of the greatest ad campaigns ever created. The idea itself originated from a single brilliant insight: women constituted the main purchasers of body wash in American households. That finding prompted the W+K team to shift the focus of their campaign towards women instead of men, which led to the creation of the iconic 'The Man You Man Could Smell Like' spot.

But it didn’t stop there. W+K’s team continued to pour gasoline on the flame by responding to fan comments in real-time with a flurry of follow up videos featuring the Old Spice actor, Isaiah Mustafa. The result was a complete viral takeover of the internet, and a 200% increase in sales for Old Spice from the previous year. W+K’s response to the viral chatter around the spot was an absolute masterclass in communications strategy. 


LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, do you find the most useful resource to draw on?

Subin> I find that social media (TikTok, Reddit, IG, Twitter) is where I turn to first. It’s insightful to observe how people are engaging with  brands online – whether that’s creating content, posting comments, or participating in discussions. You get a valuable understanding of a brand’s cultural cache and how people perceive the brand in that moment.


LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?

Subin> Assessing a problem from different vantage points to find a unique (and often overlooked) solution, be it finding an interesting way to reach a target audience, identifying a universal human truth that ties back to the brand, or discovering unconventional uses for a product. It feels like investigative journalism in some ways. 


LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?

Subin> The 4C’s: culture, company, category, consumer. It’s probably the most widely known strategic framework in the industry, but for good reason. It prompts you to evaluate a brand through multiple lenses to identify where the most interesting tension lies. 


LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?

Subin> I enjoy working with bold, ambitious creatives who are willing collaborators and communicators. Ones who aren’t afraid to shoot for the moon, but are also open to hearing new ideas and receiving constructive feedback. As a strategist, my job is to chart the strategic north star for a campaign and provide inspiration for creatives to do their best work. If delivered properly, the creative brief should hit on both of those objectives.


LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?

Subin> Lead every creative session with a clear strategy. Don’t work in silos. If the creative is locked in before the strategy, it’s typically due to a lack of communication and/or misalignment of roles and responsibilities between teams. 


LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent?

Subin> Are they curious? Are they observant? Can they find the throughline between two disparate topics or trains of thought? A strategist needs to always be asking questions, consuming content, and exploring rabbit holes. Frameworks and brief writing can be taught, but curiosity is ultimately what fuels great strategic work.


LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?

Subin> Brands and agencies are leaning heavier into strategy (and subsequently strategists) when developing their marketing campaigns. It’s no longer enough to just create an entertaining ad, it needs to move the needle for the client and deliver on their business objectives - all of which are accomplished through effective strategy.


LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?

Subin> Many clients underestimate the time and resources it takes to develop thoughtful strategy, which often leads to half-baked, uninspiring work that caps the effectiveness of the creative. Because strategy is not a consumer-facing output, there’s often a tendency to cut corners in the planning process to funnel budget/time/energy elsewhere.


LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?

Subin> Learn how to ask the right questions, sharpen your communication skills, and immerse yourself in as many diverse topics and experiences as possible. 

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