The Art Of Being A Good Strategist: By A Strategist

The Art Of Being A Good Strategist: By A Strategist
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In B&T’s latest industry profile we talk to Ikon Communications’ head of strategy John Halpin. Here he talks his top clients, the clients he’d like to get his hands on and why watching cartoons as a kid is a top grounding for a job in Adland…

What would you rather bee or a wasp? 
My head says the wasp. It has a lot of freedom to do its own thing and has greater attack/defence mechanisms you can use again and again.  But my heart votes for the bee that works collectively with their hive, are vital for the spread of pollen and who if needed defends their Queen by paying the ultimate sacrifice. There’s nobility in being the bee.

In your LinkedIn profile you say you love to get hands-on with a client’s brief. Are there any clients’ briefs that have been particularly memorable?!
Launching Coke Zero was fun. The brief from Atlanta was to do exactly what they had done in the States – even though it had been a complete flop. Convincing them to do the total opposite, even to the point of changing the can from white to black wasn’t easy. So it’s pretty cool when you get off a plane somewhere and see that black can and think you had something to do with it.

Which company or brand would you like to get your mitts on to transform and why?
I think Australian retail brands are in an interesting place, especially if you’re a number two or three in your category. We’re only going to see more international players enter the market, so they need to lift their game now. We have too many duopolies. I’d like to see stronger local brands creating a more competitive local marketplace.

How would you go about it?
Brands need to stop being beige. Stop copying the other guy. Find out what your people actually care about and get involved. Yeah, you’re going to have to be competitive on price, but that’s relatively easy for a competitor to match or beat. Show me that you care about what I care about, so I give the big guys the finger. The likes of Harris Farms have done this brilliantly.

What’s been the most interesting brief you’ve ever worked on and who was it for?
The Australian of the Day project we’ve done for CBA is pretty interesting. The idea itself was to highlight the contribution that everyday Australian’s make. The interesting bit is working through the vast number of people our photographer’s have captured and trying to guess which stories will resonate the most. It’s fair to say we’ve had a few surprises along the journey.

What has been the most difficult?
Working on the Ikon brand. Having an honest look in the mirror isn’t easy. You’ve got to pop a few zits if you want to get through your teenage years. But once you’re through that difficult time, you can see that the best years are ahead of you.

What’s the best piece of new business you’ve landed or had a hand in bringing in?
The one where it took us two hours to crack the solution and yet it was held up as being a global best in class launch by the client. Life is rarely that easy.

What was it that drew you to the industry?
I spent a lot of time watching cartoons as a kid so I suppose it was just being exposed to lots and lots of ads. That and it seemed like the only office job where I didn’t have to wear a suit.

What do you think are the most exciting things happening in the marketing/ad industry at the moment?
All the things that aren’t advertising and all the things that are making advertising harder to deliver. The harder it gets, the more you have to think. I hate lazy and obvious.

What are the most challenging?
Same, same.

In a parallel universe what would your dream job be?
A lighting engineer designing city nightscapes. I’m fascinated by how lighting can change an environment. People often debate how cities look, but it’s usual in a daytime context. As urbanisation increases we need to consider how our work, leisure and entertainment areas work at night too – while implementing systems that are good for our environment.

What are the biggest issues facing strategists today?
A good strategist makes the complex appear simple. The challenge is that the more complex the world gets, the more stuff you need to be able to explain with child-like simplicity. It’s actually a difficult skill to get people to think “..well yeah of course. That’s obvious”.

Anything else you would like to add?
Be nice. Work hard. Have fun.

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