Last week Craig Mawdsley and Bridget Angear, AMV BBDO’s joint chief strategy officers, announced they were stepping down from their roles as the London agency restructures its strategy leadership.
The pair have set up as an independent strategy consultancy - craig+bridget - that will also work with key AMV clients and on special projects. It’s a bold step away for both of them. Bridget has been at the agency for 20 years and Craig almost 17 years and they’ve been joint chief strategy officers since 2012. But in a time of pandemic-fuelled upheaval, new ventures ventures are breaking off and springing up all over the industry at the moment.
LBB’s Alex Reeves chatted with Craig and Bridget to understand the ethos behind their new venture.
LBB> Clearly the whole world has had something of a shake up in 2020/21, including the world of marketing and advertising. What changes were the biggest factors in deciding to break off from AMV and set up craig+bridget?
Craig> We’ve been talking about doing something like this for more than four years now. But the lure of AMV has always held us in. It’s hard to leave when you already have the best clients and the best department to make you look good. But we finally realised this was the time to get out of the way and let the right people take the credit. Plus, never waste a good crisis, right?
Bridget> We all find it easier to stay in our comfort zone - it’s not called a comfort zone for nothing. But neither of us wanted the last chapter of our careers to find us sitting with our feet up on the desk eating custard creams. Actually, hang on a minute…..
LBB Where do you feel the perception of strategy is at the moment? And how do you want to change or respond to that perception?
Bridget> It’s never been more important to get right but often not given enough time to get right. In the agency world, brand strategy sometimes gets conflated with communications strategy and we wanted to put the emphasis on getting the brand fundamentals right first as to us, that’s the most important bit.
Craig> I think for many years, we thought we were doing ‘strategy’, but a lot of it was really just creative inspiration. I think lots of clients have started to realise that. We want to reclaim the potential of proper brand strategy.
LBB> Your mission statement says "it's not like working with an agency". What sorts of problems call for a team like you two and not an agency?
Craig> Let’s get on the record right now that we think advertising agencies are GREAT. Otherwise we would have wasted the past quarter century. But if you’re not trying to drive a nail into a wall, then a hammer might not be your best tool. In the past, I think we were in the mentality of “advertising’s the answer, now what’s the question”. Operating without a creative department to feed, we can address those questions of “how can I grow my brand?”, “how can I find an idea that changes my business, not just my comms?” and “how do I make it all live outside the strategy deck?”.
Bridget> We have done some of our best work when we act more as an extension of a client’s marketing team, working alongside them to answer some of those fundamental questions Craig has outlined above.
The machinery of big agencies is geared more towards developing communications solutions than to answering these sorts of questions.
LBB> Having both been at AMV for a large portion of your careers, what are your hopes for how your departure will affect the agency?
Bridget> Consistency and change! AMV will continue to do what it does brilliantly - stand-out creative ideas that punch above their weight and build brand fame. But also change because the last 12 months have shown us all that we can be more agile, and more entrepreneurial. As Craig said at the beginning, we expect the people who are following in our footsteps to take the agency to new and better places we could ever have taken them. The agency is packed full of great people ready to step up and move the agency forwards.
Craig> AMV is a strategy and creative powerhouse with so many amazing people. The change in our relationship with them will barely be noticed in a few months.
LBB> You obviously don't have any case studies with clients to show off what you can do as a consultancy yet. What classic strategic problem-solving examples from the history of marketing would you like to hold up as the sort of work you'd like to do with future clients/partners?
Craig> I will always bang on about the work Bridget and I did together for Sainsbury’s all those years ago. We identified the need to earn an extra £1.14 in every transaction and then delivered that through simple food ideas. That thinking had nothing to do with advertising execution. We’re here to help clients get to really compelling ideas (like Try Something New Today) for their brands and then help make sure those ideas are delivered well (often not through advertising execution).
Bridget> We have also done some interesting things recently. When AMV pitched (and won) Macmillan Cancer Relief, the real problem was to give them a new spirit that could make everyone connected to the brand feel really good about what they did. We described them as ‘compassionate warriors’ with an attitude of doing ‘whatever it takes’ which has become an internal mantra and galvanised all their people.
LBB> You've said you want to make "things" as well as "make strategy" - can you expand on what you mean by that?
Bridget> We do love making strategy. Strategic thinking that makes a difference in the real world and doesn’t just live on powerpoint slides. We think this is a creative act in its own right. But we would also like to put things in the world that hopefully help others by sharing what we have learnt along the way. We have started with a couple of books, but are keen to produce all sorts of useful ‘tools for creative minds’, to coin a phrase. I’ve also made a patchwork quilt during lockdown, but that is probably a one-off!
Craig> We’re also interested in the potential of film and video - it’s all about creating more resources for everyone to do strategy brilliantly and help move the industry forward.
LBB> Can you tell us anything about your forthcoming books?
Craig> We have written “An insiders' guide to advertising”, that draws on our many years of experience to help explain how the industry works. It should be interesting for people starting out, but people with even more experience than we have kindly told us that they found some useful new perspectives in it too. Then we have a very different book called “Creative problem solving” that tries to give anyone doing strategy an insight into how Bridget and I do it (for good or for ill). That one is a combination of words and pictures with wonderful illustrations from our close friend Wayne Pick in New Zealand.
Bridget> We want to pass on to others what we have learnt, in the hope it helps them be the best they can be. This industry has been amazingly kind to us and we want to do our bit to ensure it continues to attract the best people with ambitions to do great things.
LBB> Anything else you'd like to add?
Bridget> Just thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of us in this venture.
Craig> Please come and give us a try - we’re open to any offers of anything interesting - for now at least. We want your problems. Go on, what’s the worst that could happen?