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Planning for the Best: Fran Docx on Finding the Problem Behind the Problem

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Strategy director at 20something on letting your mind wander, the 'cult of the strategist' and enjoying a post-pitch pint

Fran Docx is a multi-award winning strategist with almost eight years of experience helping clients and creatives answer business problems. Named one of Campaign’s youngest ever faces to watch back in 2015, she has since worked across multiple sectors from Insurance, FMCG, Utilities, Sports and Charities. She has previously held positions at 18 Feet and Rising, Saatchi & Saatchi, M&C Saatchi and Crispin Porter before joining 20something as lead strategist across all projects.

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

Fran> Tomato, Tom-ah-to. 

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?

Fran> I’m drawn to campaigns which demonstrate great insight rather than strategy per se. Campaigns where it’s clear that the work has been made with empathy and sensitivity to real people’s experiences. #Wombstories is an exceptional example of this. I’m over all this “you do you” superficial puffery. It’s a lazy shortcut we need to move on from. 

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?

Fran> Probably the caveat: “this isn’t fully formed yet.” I like to turn over ideas with creative, account management and sometimes even clients just to hear how they build on or reframe them. Our recent spot for Swyft came about this way, we had a strong strategic start point then a series of iterations as each of us built on and articulated the positioning until we landed on; Beautiful Living.  

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

Fran> The moment of clarity when 'The Idea' finally forms and everyone round the table nods; “it’s this”.

Also. Post-pitch pints. It’s like you’ve all been in some traumatic trench for weeks and you emerge, bleary-eyed into the light with just enough energy to prop up a bar. 

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

Fran> “What is the problem behind the problem.” I find this helps me to stay focused throughout a project, and reminds me to keep listening throughout. Versus Arthritis is a good example of a campaign where this maxim was crucial to keeping us focused; there were so many potential start points we could have chosen, so many issues to tackle, but we kept coming back to the problem behind the problem: no one took arthritis seriously, not even those who had it. A debilitating and life-changing condition was universally dismissed it as “just a bit of arthritis”. 

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?

Fran> We have a saying at 20something, “we encourage interdisciplinary thinking but respect each others’ specialism.” It’s not that catchy. I like Creatives who think strategically and who expect Strategists to think creatively. 

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

Fran> I think we have a very unhealthy “cult of the strategist”. I think it’s been helpful in the past for agencies to “brand” strategists as stratospherically intelligent puritans and strats have liked the look of themselves in that mirror – but there’s a damaging self-importance in this vision; a tendency towards strategy in the service of strategy (not the client, not the work, not the agency). More than this, it stops us from valuing and recognising new and different kinds of strategist – the next generation perhaps. 

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

Fran> Listen a lot, find good people, find mentors, study your stuff, let your mind wander occasionally. Enjoy it.