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Planning for the Best: Building Foundations with Martin Reid
Branding and Marketing Agency
London, UK
Structure's senior strategist on organising thoughts, the importance of simplicity and the transition from insight to creative

Martin Reid is a senior strategist at Structure, helping companies in tech, finance and professional services create relevant and compelling brand strategies. Martin specialises in brand positioning, verbal identity, copywriting, and creative strategy.

Since joining Structure, Martin has transformed the strategies and redefined the positionings of many start-ups and institutions across niche sectors ranging from managed IT services and smart city solutions to blockchain-based trading technology and synthetic data provision. 

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

Martin> The planner and strategist roles unearth insights and support art directors and copywriters with the right information to express creativity. But there is a slight difference. Where strategists tend to come up with the grand vision and direction to take a brand or campaign, planners tend to be more concerned with the technicalities and tactics. What to do versus how it’s done – it’s all semantics really.

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

Martin> Branding agency strategists differ from ad agency strategists. We’re closer to copywriters, very often what we write works as both the insights and the creative at once. Brand strategists distil ideas and information to their core, define value props, nail taglines – it’s about organising thoughts and words into a foundation that sets up the expression for the rest of a brand. 

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?

Martin> Some reading this may remember a long-running TV ad campaign from BT in the early 2000s for its ever-evolving broadband packages. There were about 40 ads that rolled out over six years. The ads centred on a couple and their journey, from dating, living together to marrying and having kids, and how BT’s steadily upgraded offerings weaved into the couple’s life. 

To me, these ads were a strategic success because where many ad campaigns are short and switch it up after not very long, BT ended up committing to a slow-burning, light-touch story that spanned years. The ads weren’t cinematic masterpieces, but they were wholesome and recognisable, making for a consistent, repetitious and memorable ad campaign (and consistency, repetition and memorability are key aspects for effective branding, too). I’m not aware if the ads won any big awards, but the fact that I can still remember them years later – and which brand they were for – should count as a success.

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

Martin> I like to look for some kind of nugget within the brand assets or brand codes themselves that can inspire the creative. Otherwise, it’s about mining what matters to the relevant audiences and finding some truth to run with as the main inspiration. 

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

Martin> The transition from insight to creative is my favourite part. Taking the learnings and turning them into the beginnings of a creative direction with words that nail what’s going on.

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

Martin> ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ (Leonardo Da Vinci) is a good maxim to approach all your strategy work. If you can’t define it in a few words, then your strategy is too complicated. 

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?

Martin> Creatives who ask questions and who want to understand the full story of the client’s challenges and how we got to the proposed direction. 

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?

Martin> Ideally, the creative doesn’t start till the strategy is signed off. 

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?

Martin> Hire strategists who can write. Clear thinking comes out in clear writing. Covid hasn’t changed the way I think about this. 

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?

Martin> I guess these awards help strategists work more closely with other teams in the agency to understand what performance and measurable outcomes look like to strengthen the strategies they create. As marketing ops and analytics teams who are responsible for measuring effectiveness grow in popularity, strategists are treated less like objectivists and the only authorities over insights and more like creatives. 

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

Martin? Industry speaking, Ad agency strategists are treated as the de facto type of strategist even though there are many other different kinds of strategists out there. 

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

Martin> Do it if you like variety and overthinking everything. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a set methodology, framework or approach will carry each project you do. Every project you do will be tackled differently even if the creative or business problems are familiar. 

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