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Planning for the Best: Ryan Smith

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VP group strategy director, NA at Momentum Worldwide on why teasing your approach to a brief yields a stronger work dynamic

Planning for the Best: Ryan Smith

Whether launching new-to-world brands or bolstering an established portfolio, as an integrated strategist, Ryan Smith wields 15+ years of consumer understanding to launch traditional campaigns, build experiential legacy programs, and accomplish business results for lifestyle, luxury and spirits brands.


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

Ryan> A lot of people use it interchangeably. There are people who care about the difference and those who don’t. The only time there’s any real confusion is when they associate the term planning with media planning functions.


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

Ryan> Typically, I refer to myself as an integrated strategist and hope it covers all of the bases. If we’re going deep on brand world development or mapping a journey through the liquor store, I’d probably call myself a planner, but strategist is a quicker get for my grandma.


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?

Ryan> I love the 'Dear Sophie' spot for Google. It was amazing - pulled heartstrings, told a great story and inserted tons of humanity into a fast demo of Google tools. Until then, most tech campaigns were largely focused on functional product benefits, then Google came along and made you cry. I was all in on the brand after that work. They opened our eyes to the emotional benefits of tech. 

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?

Ryan> People. People who don’t work in our world. Artists who have something to express in art exhibitions. People in the news who are making an impact on the world. People on TikTok trying to give life to new trends. New music lyrics and music videos. It’s always people, their experiences and the way they express themselves.


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

Ryan> Building the argument. For most, the process starts with a hunch, a little real-world experience and some creative Googling to ensure an argument can be substantiated. When strategy is written well it presents a single-minded narrative that takes the audience on a ride, but building the ride is the fun part.


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

Ryan> Get out and meet the person you’re trying to reach through your assignments. Talk to people who don’t work in the industry and try to understand the barriers you need to overcome from their perspective. You will typically walk away inspired, more informed and able to write a better brief once you’ve taken some time to meet the person you want to reach from their vantage point rather than your desk.


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?

Ryan> Fortunately, I’ve had some really great creative partners over my career. I find that collaborating, or at least teasing your approach to the brief, yields a stronger work dynamic. It’s the early discussions before the briefing that help you understand what kind of work will be inspiring and more interesting to the team. Ultimately, I want them to feel the brief is pointed and generates a lot of great ideas.


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?

Ryan> This is all about building trust and a rapport with your team. Of course you have to do good work, but inspiring work sets a standard and provides a jumping-off point for your team. If you can deliver it consistently, your team will come to rely on you. Oh, and cocktail hour doesn’t hurt. Rapport is invaluable and there are many ways to build it.   


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?

Ryan> More and more, young strategists need to be able to write and have a point of view on the world. In fact, when Covid hit we had to constantly adapt our perspective on how to react to a world in crisis. Constant agility forces you to create and clarify your perspective.     

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?

Ryan> Awards are a great way of recognising work that works. If the work isn’t effective, it doesn’t matter. We should always be asking ourselves how our work cuts through and helps our clients achieve their goals.  When they’re successful, we’re successful. And creating effective work feels awesome.


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

Ryan> I guess it’s the same for everyone, but I wish timelines for developing strategy were more realistic. Time is never on our side. However, time also forces us to be quick in our response to culture. 


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

Ryan> Right now, good strategists are in high demand and hard to recruit. It’s easy to get mired in the latest trends. If you’re considering a career in strategy, you have to be able to form an argument. Some advice? Move quickly, have a point of view and be ready to debate it.

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Momentum, Thu, 29 Jul 2021 17:09:00 GMT