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Do creatives and strategists need to work closer together?
Saatchi & Saatchi London has done away with the departments.

Clockwise from top left: Trevor Robinson, Laura Jordan Bambach, Vicki Maguire, Emily Harlock, Toby Allen, Lori Meakin, Josh Bullmore, Lucy Jameson and Benedict Buckland (centre)
Clockwise from top left: Trevor Robinson, Laura Jordan Bambach, Vicki Maguire, Emily Harlock, Toby Allen, Lori Meakin, Josh Bullmore, Lucy Jameson and Benedict Buckland (centre)
When a brief enters an agency, it makes its way through the different departments. The strategy team will look into the details of who the brand wants to target and delve into research, then this will be passed on to the creative department, which will crack the execution.

It could make sense, then, that the different disciplines have their own parts of the office – they work on separate elements. Some agencies still have creative floors, whereby all the creatives will be based on one floor – though, clearly, this is possible only at the big companies, which can afford to have an office spanning several floors, and is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

There are many executives in adland who believe this needs to change. Chris Kay, chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi London, for one, has been making changes to this format or "rebooting the way the company works" as he puts it.

He says that when the brief reaches each department, it just depends on who is free to work on it. Kay believes that there is a lot of knowledge lost in this method because different people in the agency need to get to know each other over again.

So Saatchis has done away with the departments altogether and created a series of “squads” made up of creative, strategy, production and account management – the core elements that make great work, according to Kay.

"I've done it to make the work better,” he told Campaign last month. “When you think of ways of working, a lot of agencies have not changed in 20-odd years. We've always got to find ways to get better work out of each other and our people."

So do creatives and strategists need to work closer together?

Josh Bullmore
Chief strategy officer, Leo Burnett
The answer is yes, obvs. Strategy and creativity are yin and yang, salt and pepper, Ant and Dec. Neither is an end in itself, because we are an industry of commercial creativity, or in other words strategic creativity. We need strategy that inspires creativity that sells. The more that the lines between disciplines blur, the better.

And in fact, not working closely enough together is merely a symptom of a deeper issue – over-specialisation. Capitalism encourages specialisation, because the more specific your skills, the more productive you are. And just as agencies have become increasingly specialised, so have the disciplines within agencies. Strategists and creatives both now have specialist training schemes, specialist industry bodies and specialist awards. The lines aren’t blurred so much as sharply drawn.

At Leo’s, we’re tackling this head on with our "Leo’s Learns" programme, where each discipline trains the other. So that as well as working more closely together, our strategists become more creative and our creatives more strategic.

Laura Jordan Bambach
President and chief creative officer, Grey London
Teamwork is everything in our industry. And if there’s an essential team beyond the creative one (art director/copywriter), it’s a strong collaboration between strategy and creative – without which there are no great campaigns.

The best senior creatives are strategic and vice versa, and that partnership means the ability to question everything in the process together to find the elusive magic nugget that unlocks famously effective work.

It’s not a question of getting those departments to work more closely together, they have to get as close as possible – in each other’s pockets and understanding the reasoning behind each other’s thinking. It’s clearer, faster, works better and it’s a lot more fun.

The best work comes from the collision of difference, and that means getting different ways of thinking about or approaching a business problem. The collision between strategic and creative mindsets is key to that mix.

Lori Meakin
Founder, Joint
None of us has all the answers. Different perspectives, ideas and experiences are hugely valuable. So why wouldn't great creatives and strategists who respect each other's expertise want to work together? We just need to know how to collaborate well.

That requires a genuine confidence in the value you bring as an individual, plus the humility and ambition to want others to help make your own work better.

It must be rooted in a recognition that strategic thinking is inherently creative, and creatives are inherently strategic.

And it demands a culture of respect – for each other, for our clients and, crucially, for our audiences too.

If it's not better together, you're just not doing it right.

Benedict Buckland
Chief creative officer, Alan Agency
Absolutely. In fact, I would argue for a degree of hybridisation. The (slightly hackneyed) analogy I use is writing a book. An author is responsible for the whole story, from narrative to articulation.

Yet, in our world we dislocate this process. The strategist is on the hook for defining what story to tell. The creative works out how best to tell that story.

This separation risks missing out on that constructive interplay between the story and the expression.

Clearly, there are some practical realities that prohibit a pure hybrid. However, I believe that it is essential for a strategist to be able to mix it creatively and a creative to boss strategy. This creates an important (small c) creative tension between strategists and creatives, empowering them to ideate, challenge and collaborate on both the story to tell and how it should be told.

Lucy Jameson
Co-founder, Uncommon Creative Studio
Today, I'm amazed if anyone still works with any remnants of an old-school departmental structure. MT Rainey [co-founder of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, now known as VMLY&R] was talking about "rugby not relay" way back in the 1990s, and back then we lived in a far simpler world. Frankly, I'm astonished we're still having this conversation.

To create work of real diversity, a fluid and collaborative approach is essential from the get-go. We've always had a more fluid Hollywood model. That's why we call ourselves a studio. We build a bespoke creative studio around every client and project. Bringing the right talent together for the right project alongside our consistent in-house crew.

Of course, creatives and strategists need to be in lockstep, talking throughout every part of the process. But today those strategists and creatives need to cover a far wider range of subjects, such as social, Web3, CX and comms strategy. That's before we even get into tech, data or account management.

We believe in building brands that people in the real world are glad exist. This means delivering on your promises and purpose. Doing, rather than just saying. Acts, rather than advertising.

That means that today we could be making anything from products to games, experiences, feature films or art installations, rather than just traditional TV, print and OOH.

Given that context, we think production strategy is also something that should be discussed far earlier. Understanding time frames and feasibility from the start is critical, rather than expecting to hand an advertising idea over to a production company that will make it for you.

Trevor Robinson
Founder and executive creative director, Quiet Storm
I’ve never bought the idea that the planner is like Moses going off to the mountain and coming back with tablets covered with strategy to be passed down to creatives and clients.

When I set up Quiet Storm, my main aim was to make sure that creatives work more closely with planners every step of the way and that clients get involved as much as possible. This is the key to creating really great advertising. Planners need to get up close with creatives early on to design the strategy and to check the work is on brief. Shoe-horning strategy in at the beginning or end of the process is not a recipe for success. Campaigns where strategists, creatives and clients are all part of the same team have a much greater chance of success.

Vicki Maguire
Chief creative officer, Havas London
For effective work to happen, you need a symbiotic relationship between creatives and strategists, that’s a strat way of saying that.

Honestly, I’ve done my best work when I’m sitting in a room with my strat at my side. I consider myself very lucky to be in a room with Mark Sinnock or having a coffee with Britt Iversen, our strategy director, and her crew. I’d pick teaming up with a strategist any day over a preening creative who only wants to talk about the work or the awards they’ve won in the past. The best strategists bring deep insights and a fascinating viewpoint to the creative process.

Strategy is key, because it enables the creative output to resonate with actual consumers, as opposed to work that appeals solely to the inhabitants of adland.

Toby Allen and Emily Harlock
Executive creative director and chief strategy officer (respectively), The & Partnership
The biggest and boldest work happens at the interface of strategy and creative. Working not in isolation, but together. Not as a relay race, but as a dance. One step forward, step to the side, sometimes a few steps back, then forward in a new direction. And the best at that dance are those who understand the other’s ways of thinking: creative strategists and strategic creatives. In our experience, that’s how business-changing shifts and culture-shaping ideas are born.


Spoiler alert, they all say yes.


Ha, yeah this article has no new news. Most of the agencies mentioned in this article operate as traditional, siloed creative dept but what are these CCO and ECDs supposed to say, strategy isn’t important? They’re not going to knock another agency dept under the same roof! The only agency I know of that really does this is 72&Sunny in LA where creative teams include a strat/planner and the success of that model is decidedly mixed.


Lori Meakin is utterly lovely a person and utterly shit a strategist

A horrible thing to say

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