Chris Tyas as is first chief strategy officer at Impero, “the creative agency for impatient brands”. He joined in 2020 from We Are Alexander where he was European director of strategy, a role he held since 2017 and which saw him lead successful pitches for Corona, Bud Light, Leffe and Ellesse. He has over 20 years experience in the industry at agencies including The Marketing Store, Unlimited Group and Tullo Marshall Warren. At Impero, he oversees the agency’s strategic output across its whole account portfolio, fostering the craft of problem solving.
What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?
Honestly clients don’t care what we call ourselves so I think it's best we stop asking what the difference is and ask instead what clients want. The vast majority of agency vocabulary is obsolete and the legacy of military people moving into marketing roles at the end of World War 2. Objective, campaign, target consumer - all the terminology is from a bygone era. The industry is best evolved through the work not naming conventions.
And which description do you think suits the way you work best?
I would describe myself as self-loathing with a touch of determination. The reality is we need a healthy amount of self-doubt to drive us forward as it forces us to relentlessly look in places others don't. But we’re also in the business of rejection, so we need to fight for strategies and ideas to live in the world. It means you also need a healthy amount of determination to drive you forward and belief in your ideas.
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?
In Brazil Dove wanted to launch a new shampoo aimed at men. They found the insight that men will use their partners' shampoo if they run out. I use this example to explain what a powerful insight is. It's true, but something not commonly said out loud, but when you do hear it, it strikes a chord. Once you’ve got that powerful insight everything else starts to fall into place. Some may find the stark masculinity of the advert a bit offensive, it's not aged that well, but at the time (in 2013) it was culturally on point and was the precursor to Real Beauty sketches which became critically acclaimed. It seems every few years an agency just churns out industry defining work. These examples both came out of Ogilvy Brazil.
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?
The best way to inspire a creative team is to know what they get excited about. Every team is different. That is why a strong strategy and creative partnership is the foundation of great work. Agencies seem to have two modes they operate: Pitch mode which is more collaborative and day to day client mode which is more linear. At Impero we treat every project like a pitch which helps get to the best work.
What part of the strategic process do you enjoy the most?
Personally I really enjoy learning about something new and applying my skill-set accordingly. The pleasure comes from being interested in new clients, sectors and consumers we are thinking about. Right now I am all consumed with getting people back on buses and trains post Covid, tapping into new cultural trends in beauty and working out how to build awareness of a major retailer's back to school range. Without this interest I find people become tired of the industry and don't last the course.
What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?
I think frameworks are overrated, they turn you into a lazy thinker just completing the boxes. The simple question I ask myself is: am I excited to present this? If we're just going through the motions we probably don't have a winning strategy.
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?
I can’t say I’ve ever had a bad experience working with creatives over the years. The key to this is before you get in the room to brief you have already spent a considerable amount of time deep in the brief together. The best creatives know their job doesn't start after the brief is written.
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?
It's true. Sometimes strategy needs to help sell the idea and if that’s the best chance the work has got at being bought then sometimes that's what you need to do. My measure of a good strategist though is the trust a client puts in that person. We are often mistakenly measured by the number of slides or insights we can churn out. But we forget we have the potential to influence the direction of a brand and to do that we often need to influence how a client thinks. The best thinkers know their job is to influence clients, not write slides.
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?
I invest in talent based on potential and attitude. These two things can’t be taught and are the long term difference between good and great. I personally think Covid and remote working has made it easier to nurture talent. For some reason businesses used to think of time in forced allotments for 30 min increments. Hanging up on a zoom chat if the conversation is done in 10 min now seems socially acceptable, so personally I find it easy to find the time to nurture talent.
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?
I come from a CRM and data background so effectiveness is hard wired into me. It's great the discipline is growing in importance, but while measurable outcomes are important, you need a partnership with your client and for them to trust you to share the data. Often clients don’t share business performance with the agency which is an indicator of the level of partnership and trust you have. I would suggest it's better to be interested in the data for the benefits of the brand, the work and the client relationship - if you can win an award along the way then that's a bonus.
Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?
I am more of an optimist so frustrations are just challenges which should be interesting problems to solve.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?
I think the best advice I would give someone is to be who you are. Bring your style, personality and external influence to the table. I think often agencies ask the question would they fit our culture, I prefer to ask what would then add to our culture?