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Planning for the Best: Quick Intuitions with Claire Bayet

Advertising Agency
Paris, France
BETC's senior strategist on the 'creative business idea', admitting when you don't get it and the need to be simple and humble

Claire Bayet is a senior strategist at BETC. She started her career in a start-up selling spare parts of home appliances to fight against planned obsolescence. Then a friend told her “You should try to be a strategic planning intern at Ogilvy, you’d like it”. And so she went, liked it and has been a strategist ever since: at Ogilvy, Publicis Conseil, and BETC since 2017.

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

Claire > I don’t think there is any. In French, 'planner' is funnier because it can also mean 'glider' (and as strategists we are not supposed to fly that high) and 'scheduler' (and I really don’t know how to organise a video shoot). So to avoid any mistake, I mostly use 'strategist' to present myself. But two strategists can still be very different from one another.

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?

Claire > Like many of us I’m sure, my old time favourite is 'Double Life' for PlayStation. The casting, execution and copywriting are incredible, yet the real magic comes from the strategic idea. When gaming is still often seen as a waste of time, PlayStation is seeing ordinary life as the real waste.

More recently, I really liked the simpleness of the Sprite campaign 'Heat happens, Stay cool'. It takes the main driver of the category (refreshment) and makes something different out of it for once, by making it relevant to how people see daily life these days: as something that can be super annoying and absurd. Sprite invites us to take the high road and just… stay cool.

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?

Claire > I have to admit my go-to resources are super rational. First, there is a database I love for Europe where you can do cross-analysis on specific target audiences (SIMM-TGI by Kantar). You may think it’s just numbers, and nothing compared to qualitative or trend studies, but sometimes it can reveal the invisible very clearly and be surprisingly inspiring. Second, I often turn myself into a big hunter for the best brand proofs: when tired of empty messages (especially in corporate communications), what are the things we’re really doing differently and that deserve to be known?

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

Claire > At BETC there is a very simple strategy framework called the Creative Business Idea. It means we are looking for an idea at the intersection of category drivers, people’s needs and the brand DNA. I almost never use it as a presentation tool, yet when in doubt, I often find myself going back to it to make sure I’m not lost.

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

Claire > Discovering new sectors, communities, data, facts, testimonials. Deep diving and finding a strategic and creative solution for a business or communication problem I didn’t even know existed. Another joy of mine is helping clients realise they’ve had the solution in front of them the whole time. They’ve already done a lot of work, a lot of research, they just need you to be the one taking a step back and clean up a bit to see everything more clearly. Very satisfying feeling.

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?

Claire > I love working with creatives who are empathetic without overthinking it, who still think they can do anything and who always manage to surprise us, even when I think I have a very specific idea of what the creative work should be. Isn’t that why we do this job? For the magic of being surprised by creative minds with guts.

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?

Claire > I don’t really care if strategy is used to validate great creative ideas. Of course I can feel bad for a few seconds because I often have excellent student syndrome, but it just means that anyone can have a strategic intuition. Most of the time the natural process at BETC is that we brief the creatives, so it doesn’t happen that often. But when a creative comes to you with a proactive idea, or challenges your brief because it works better that way creatively… I think your job is just to make sure these new ideas are relevant for your target audience and have the best chances to become real for your clients. It’s especially true since I’m working with creatives that used to be strategists! It’s not a matter of 'who comes first'. We are just a team trying to make things happen.

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?

Claire > I think business has always been a big part of the strategic work at BETC: the planning framework is called the 'Creative Business Idea' for a reason, and strategists were called 'consultants' for a long time. I think we all believe in the power of communication as a transformative force, for business and society. It’s a big part of our job as strategists to make sure that what we do is useful and effective, and to tell our clients it’s happening! And I find it very satisfying when it happens for real and for good.

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

Claire > As account teams are getting used to working with me, they sometimes ask for my 'quick intuitions' on a creative brief, 10 minutes after the client briefing. But the truth is, sometimes I don’t have any, I just need time to do my job. Being rushed can be refreshing, or it can be very counter-effective. After all, intuition is machine learning and even an AI needs inputs to grow.

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

Claire >

1. Be simple. Complex words are not helping anyone. Not your client, not the world, not even you.

2. Be humble. People are not stupid, you’re not smarter than clients, accounts, creatives or the final customers. You can have strong beliefs without being an *ss. Try to understand other people’s logic and emotions, it’s the only way we can work with them, not for or against them. And go the extra mile, even when you think it’s not 'your job': you might find something interesting along the way.

2. Admit it when you don’t get it. Meetings are useless when everyone is pretending to understand but no one is really talking to each other. Honesty can be a very powerful tool. It makes people rephrase their thinking by avoiding meaningless words. It makes sure everyone is really aligned with what’s being said and the direction we should take from now on. Saying “Sorry but I don’t get it” is never a waste of time, and no one will ever punish you for it.

Work from BETC Paris