APG Presents: A Conversation With Andrew McCowan

APG Presents: A Conversation With Andrew McCowan
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ANDREW MCCOWAN: GRAND EFFIE WINNER 2010 AND HEAD OF INSIGHT AT JWT

1. What was your first job?

Print production assistant/ despatch guy  in an agency in Brisbane – cutting out newspaper tear-sheets and wrestling with bubble-wrap and brown paper, often without success.

2. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

That a career in advertising is about developing the caricature of  yourself that you want your colleagues to know, and then managing it so it doesn’t become bigger than the real you.

3. If I wasn’t in advertising I would be?

Writing and making historical documentary films

 4. What is your favourite word and why? 

A favourite phrase  is “ludicrous juxtaposition” (sorry – not on brief I know as that’s 2 words!)  because for me it sums up so much about advertising and planning in particular, and the way we find unexpected and at times absurd connections between normally unrelated concepts and find meaning in it.

5.Where do you do your best thinking?

Hate to say it, but under time pressure, often after taking a break and having a tea

 6. How did you get into Planning?

I got very lucky and got a break fresh out of doing a Masters degree in the UK and got into JWT as an assistant to a Global Planning Director- writing new product concepts for research.

 7. What do you love about being a planner?

I love leading the process of solving problems – helping the team to navigate issues and find a solution which none of us could have come up with on  our own. I love being creative about business, and finding ways to connect what matters to real people, with business, by developing and managing brands.

8. What in your opinion makes a good planner?

I think a good planner is someone who can step back from the detail and find connections and relationships between a wide range of influences and considerations. They are articulate and opinionated about business, marketing , communications and all their related issues, while being an interested listener to others points of view. A good planner is a translator between the language of clients and business,  and the language of creativity and artistry , as well as the language of the agency/ inter-agency process. They are  interested in popular culture and understand the shifting sands of social and community trends.  In short a good planner is always an interesting person to talk to,  who can always give you an interesting take on a subject.

9. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing planning?

“Planning” is often characterised as a catch-all term for  the need for forward thinking about brands and their communications needs – from the big picture strategies to  the most “micro” connection plans. This spectrum used to be characterised as a “grand strategy” to “ad tweakers” and increasingly agency growth plans and client pressures are looking for the same planners to play this full spectrum of roles. I  think the biggest challenge for “planning” is to remain a coherent part of the industry with a clear and well understood function inside agencies. The risk of being spread across so many styles of planning is that the function/ department ends up not being very good at any of them, and so becomes just another “opinion at the table”.  Therefore we need to remain grounded in rigour and process discipline to ensure that when a planner speaks it’s not just as another opinion, but its a more grounded, backed up and insightful perspective. Ensuring we main grounded as a “function” while still playing the ever widening role that planning departments are expected to play in today’s agencies will be an ongoing challenge to which there is no easy answer.

10. What’s your favourite example of unexpected thinking?

I’ve always admired the way Coca-Cola reinvented the concept of Santa Claus and popularised the mythical figure, wearing their brand colours. The sheer audacity of showing St Nicholas having a Coke by the fireside of  an American home on Christmas Eve has established a mythology that has given that brand an extraordinary association with Christmas and a rich cultural relevance that goes beyond refreshment or even the simple notion of happiness. When they first decided to put Santa in Coke red and white – it would have been a totally unexpected thought, but through constistent use of this bold image, they have established a remarkable legacy.

11. What’s your best tip for generating unexpected thinking?

You need to be prepared for unexpected consequences or implications. Expected thinking comes from when you have fixed expectations on the outcome , but if you are prepared to embrace any outcome, or genuinely aren’t concerned about the outcome, then your thinking won’t be constrained by concerns for the consequences,.

12. Which industry or group of people do you think are best at unexpected thinking?

Children are the best at unexpected thinking – they are unafraid to connect the absurd with the fantastic and unrestrained.

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