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Planning for the Best: Keys to Observation with Florian Bolte and Jakob Miller


Florian Bolte, head of strategy and Jakob Miller, strategy director at M&C Saatchi Berlin share insight into their love of Three Box Thinking and joys of interdisciplinary process

Planning for the Best: Keys to Observation with Florian Bolte and Jakob Miller

Florian Bolte is head of strategy & partner at M&C Saatchi Berlin. Florian began as a junior strategic planner at Springer & Jacoby before moving his way through the ranks. Before M&C Saatchi, Florian was planning director at Select world. 

Jakob Miller is strategy director at M&C Saatchi Berlin. Jakob began with brand consulting at MetaDesign before moving his way through the ranks. Before M&C Saatchi, Jakob was at Sturm & Drang and SelectNY and co-founded Favorite Picture GmbH and labs/Uberall

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

Florian and Jakob> In real life both terms are often used synonymously. A planner is probably rather the ad man in the beginning of the career, strategists tend to be the more experienced persons with a broader perspective on the business. However, strategist probably sounds cooler?

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

Florian and Jakob> At the end of the day it is a very academic discussion about a very artificial difference. Hence we don’t care which label we’re wearing. 

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?

Florian and Jakob> Patek Philippe is great. A very expensive, superfluous product. But it gets a deeper meaning through a ‘reason why’ and an RTB combined in the same message which perfectly fits the design and heritage of the brand. You can always argue why you bought a Patek. Not so sure you can do it in the way with a Hublot.

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? 

Florian and Jakob> Today many people will say data. Others might say experience or intuition.

We believe strongly in observation. Observation is key to understanding how and why people interact with a product or service in a certain way. No data will show you that. Even in focus groups you can't really mimic reality. Observing brings us very close to the human nature of consumers. 

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

Florian and Jakob> Observing, and listening to, real people interacting with a product is the key to insights. Since insights are often driven by latent or obvious psychological conflicts, it is an intriguing phase of the planning process. Not to forget – an insight (an 'actionable aha') is the prerequisite for brand success. The strategic importance makes this milestone even more interesting. 

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

Florian and Jakob> We love our Three Box Thinking. Insight, Brand Truth, Proposition. Each in one box. One sentence max. Being restricted and forced to condense your thoughts as much as possible gives you a pretty good feeling if you’re on to something. If you’re pm the right track, you can fill the boxes easily. 

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? 

Florian and Jakob> We love an interdisciplinary process. And for this to be fruitful, you need people that are not too vain. While we want creatives that can think strategically and will challenge our thoughts, we also want them not to be too stubborn and insist on their own ideas when there might be already a good one in the room. 

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?

Florian and Jakob> Simply put, you know when there is a great idea in the room. 

Same as I want creatives to acknowledge a great idea coming out of the planning department, we are not too vain not to happily post-rationalise a great idea from the creative department. Because: if it’s a great idea, there’s no easier task.

Obviously, we as strategists should pave the way for it, but sometimes the spark comes laterally and we should embrace it.

LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?

Florian and Jakob> Talent doesn’t come with education or experience. Experience helps avoiding mistakes, but the ability to cut through clutter and see the essence of something is a gift some people have and others don’t.

In terms of recruiting, more flexible working environments are needed. Covid reinforced this trend but is was already there before. And they are good for our department. You’ll find more insights and inspiration outside than in the office.

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?

Florian and Jakob> Numbers are getting more and more important. But they are not necessarily always the core of a good strategy, but they might help support your intuition that leads you in the right direction.

And obviously: Numbers help sell ideas. 

When it comes to short tactical measures, effectiveness nowadays can be measured pretty accurately. And you must deliver the numbers. But the big long term brand idea is usually not born in an Excel doc.

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

Florian and Jakob> Clients’ internal politics, misleading market research, dead end projects… they often kill great ideas. 

We also believe that we should stick to what we are good at: advertising. This whole 'agencies become consultancies' can lead to mediocrity on all levels and nothing else.

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

Florian and Jakob> If you can live with not always knowing what you are doing and constantly struggling to explain your work to your friends and relatives, it’s one of the most diverse and interesting jobs out there.

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M&C Saatchi Berlin, Wed, 14 Jul 2021 14:41:43 GMT