Dustin Rideout is the newly minted partner and CSO at independent agency The Hive, joining the agency in May from previous leadership roles at TBWA, McCann and Sid Lee.
An internationally awarded strategist, Dustin has helped brands realis e their next stage of growth through deep cultural understanding and analytical rigour. His work has contributed to culturally defining work for brands like IKEA, Samsung, The North Face, NBA, and Toronto Raptors (We The North), along with recognition at every major effectiveness competition in North America.
It is his belief that through radical collaboration and empathy, creativity has the power to move a market, and change the world. Find out more of his beliefs - specifically to do with his role as a planner - below.
LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?
Dustin> Absolutely, however not because of any romantic longing for a return to the mystique that once surrounded the planner label. The work of a strategist has never been more diverse, as one needs to flex their thinking for both upstream and downstream opportunity. From that perspective, a strategist for me is about identifying opportunity and legitimising brand response. Planning on the other hand is about how to orchestrate an idea to market in the sharpest, most culturally relevant way. Both are important, but flex different muscles.
LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best?
Dustin> I find most strategists/planners are either house cats or alley cats. The former toiles in literature to unearth a gem, the later gets out into culture to experience why people behave the way they do. I’ve always valued venturing outside to understand what’s happening in real life.
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?
Dustin> In addition to being one of the greatest lines of all time, I love everything that’s behind Adidas ‘Impossible Is Nothing’. It’s a strategy firmly rooted in the future, both culturally and tangibly in the products they make. It’s got the fight that all great athletic brands should have, yet allows for moments of grace when the situation demands a different note.
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?
Dustin> Constraints, and more specifically framing them as gifts that can unlock innovative ideas. If I can get my creative partners as excited about the things they can’t do, as much as what’s possible, now we're talking! A Beautiful Constraint is a great book, especially the story of how Audi embraced constraints to win more than their fair share at Le Mans – ‘How can we win Le Mans, if we can’t make a faster race car.’
LBB> What part of the strategic process do you enjoy the most?
Dustin> The collaborative parts. I don’t prescribe to lone wolves.
LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?
Dustin> There are many tools and exercises I continue to pull from. I almost always start with understanding constraints, but I also love things like glass vault workshops, mind and empathy maps, and the power of a simple customer journey to get you in the right consumer mind. All that to be said, observing and decoding culture is always at the top of the list. Great culture will kill good strategy any day of the week.
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?
Dustin> I’ve always bonded with creative partners who get excited when their perspectives are challenged. We all bring our own biases, it’s human. When you work with people who are not only open, but elated over new thinking, it makes for great work and even greater relationships. Thank you to my past co-conspirators who have reflected this behaviour – Kristian Manchester and Brad Getty, Kelsey Horn and Alexis Bronstorph, Josh Stein and Kim Tarlo to name a few.
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?
Dustin> I’m not sure there is a right way round to be honest. Some of the best creative ideas are often already strategically on point, and just benefit from a bit of details to legitimise. Other times it’s paramount to start from the beginning. The way I try to approach my role is to simply ask if I am being valuable to the work – whether that’s ensuring an idea is helping to solve a business challenge/opportunity, is culturally attune, or something the brand can legitimately get behind. Oh, and do we have the measures in place to prove it worked.
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?
Dustin> You might laugh, but I use the Muppet Show as the measuring stick to creating a high-functioning strategy team. The Muppet Show was a cast of characters, all different and a bit wacky. Yet at the end of each show they came together and did one thing really, really well – sing harmony. If I can help create and nurture the Muppet Show inside The Hive, I will have done right by the agency, it’s people and our client partners.
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?
Dustin> I think effectiveness awards have gotten more creative, rewarding not just great results but ideas that drive impact in new, creative and innovative ways. I’ve yet to meet a modern creative that doesn’t like winning an Effie as much as a Lion.
LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?
Dustin> Lone wolves. There is no such thing as the smartest person in the room, and there still tends to be a worshiping of star players. This has, and always will be, a team sport.
LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?
Dustin> Learn the rules of the game, and then take every opportunity to break them.