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Planning for the Best: Naomi Dunne on Following the Process with an Open Mind

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Mr President's connections planning lead on her inner control freak, liberating creatives and just going for it

Naomi Dunne leads connections planning at independent London creative agency, Mr. President. She’s helped clients like Metro Bank, J&J, Vodafone and Nike bring to life their brand ideas across the whole consumer journey: from comms to website experiences. 

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

Naomi> Not in my opinion - it’s just semantics. Whatever the job title, it’s all problem solving and the rich variety of problems that we get to solve is what continues to excite me about the discipline. One day I’m helping a business develop their next product proposition, the next I’m making a master-plan for how to roll out the creative assets across a campaign. Perhaps it’s the control freak in me, but I want it all!

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

Naomi> ‘Strategy’ feels more familiar outside of our advertising bubble so that’s what I use.  

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?

Naomi> One of the most important roles for strategy is to liberate creatives by giving them a singular thing to communicate. I can’t think of a better demonstration of this than the Apple Silhouettes campaign for the iPod in 2003. No detailed proof points, no secondary messages, just some excellent colour blocking that highlights the recognisable white earphones. So successful, it ran for years and is back nearly two decades, reincarnated for AirPods.

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?

Naomi> There’s definitely no single resource. It’s the triangulation of consumer, brand and market insights that create great strategy - so initially you need to go exploring in multiple different places. There’s so much data out there that can help uncover an interesting starting point for a brief but often a 5 min chat with the actual real people you’re trying to connect with can give you some pretty good hypotheses to focus all that desk research. 

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

Naomi> Planners get to wear lots of different hats: questioning whether our output will make a big enough difference for the business, is it right for their DNA, does it stand out in the market and will anyone actually give a damn? The consumer hat is the one that I enjoy wearing the most: getting out of my own head and into someone else’s and planning an experience of the brand that makes them care and want to engage. I created the discipline of Connections Planning at Mr. President to apply a experience mindset to campaign and channel planning. We’ve helped Miele connect with kitchen buyers earlier in their user journeys, created Metro Bank’s first brand campaign using hyperlocal comms and helped Johnson and Johnson connect with new parents before their bundle of joy arrives

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

Naomi> I’m always wary of people who claim that we’re living in a ‘truly unique’ era of time or [this innovation] ‘will change everything’. There is always so much to be learnt from history, what’s worked before or in another category. Frameworks, principles and maxims don’t give you the answer on a plate but they sure as hell speed up the process. I picked up a lot of the tools I use every day from the IPA, The Marketing Week Mini MBA and acting like a magpie for every good framework I saw someone else use. 

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?

Naomi> I’m happiest with a push-pull relationship. My favourite creatives are the ones that want to have a good ‘head bash’. I bring the stimulus to the table and they challenge it. I’m not afraid to re-write a brief - there’s often more than one answer to a problem so you have to experiment a little to see what’s creatively rich as well as strategically right. 

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?

Naomi> My philosophy is to follow a process but keep an open mind. Creative and strategy should have a bit of a push-pull relationship as ideas can come from anywhere. Our job is to inspire the creative process and ensure the work achieves the most effective outcome for the brand. If a leftfield idea is in fact the right thing to do, then I’m very comfortable playing the role of validator (but I certainly don’t start off with that intention).

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?

Naomi> We have a very collaborative Planning team at Mr. President. We’re not little islands all working on separate briefs: we’ve all got our individual super-powers so there’s much to be gained by overlapping a bit on projects. So we try not to hire identikits of ourselves, however comfortable it might make us feel. 

Covid has made collaboration more challenging - there’s fewer opportunities for serendipity or seeing a great approach you can steal for the future. That’s why we come into the office on the same days every week. 

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?

Naomi> I think all good strategists are focussed on effectiveness. I’d take the Marketing Society Award we just won (for our Metro Bank campaign) over a shiny pencil any day! 

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

Naomi> Go for it, you’ll never be bored!

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