APG Presents: A Conversation With Graham Alvarez

APG Presents: A Conversation With Graham Alvarez
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Each week The APG will get up close and personal with some of the most unexpected thinkers within our industry and get an insight into what makes them tick and how their minds work.

Graham Alvarez, Senior Strategy Planner at Clemenger BBDO

  1. What was your first job?

Unloading boxes at Toys R Us. I lasted all of two weeks, as I soon discovered that Dick Smith Electronics, which was situated upstairs in the same mall, paid commission. For a 15 year old, that’s a big deal.

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

“Work hard and be nice to people”. It’s what my dad told me when I was younger and he’s the sweetest man that has ever graced this planet. Good enough for him, good enough for me.

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

A chef. I’ve set myself a challenge to get rid of all of my money as quickly as possible on food, and food-related activities. So far, I’m doing well.

  1. What is your favourite word and why?

Panacea. Partly because it generally has positive connotations, partly because it sounds warm and cuddly, like a big hug.

  1. Where do you do your best thinking?

Generally, I’m at my best where and when I’m relaxed. Sometimes that’s at work, but mostly it’s going to be at the beach, at home, or when I’m exercising.

  1. How did you get into Planning?

Through the AFA Graduate Program. Also, out of the graciousness of two people.First, Jane Miller, a GAD at JWT, picked me to be part of the AFA grad program that year and who thought I thought like a Planner. Second, Andrew McCowan, the agency’s Planning Director, who saw that I was a half-decent Planner and terrible production assistant, and so cut my time short in TV and recruited me into his department.

  1. What do you love about being a planner?

I like the problem-solver-y aspect of Planning. It’s the most interesting and fun my job gets.

Reading, researching, figuring out, piecing together, uncoiling, unfurling, undoing, and getting all Beautiful Mind on problems is incredibly interesting, challenging, and, ultimately, rewarding.

  1. What in your opinion makes a good planner?

    This sounds somewhat workmanlike. Certainly, not as sexy as ‘creativity’ or ‘passionate’ and other similarly evocative terms. But the best Planners I’ve worked with are endlessly persistent.

Persistent enough to keep digging. Keep fighting. Keep challenging. Keep writing. Keep going. Keep looking. Keep talking. Keep thinking. This sort of energy, enthusiasm, and thick-skin-ness is just plain necessary.

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

Data, brand, communications, media, channel, digital, insight – all kinds of planning jobs. As the role continues to expand, there needs to be an equal and opposite need to ensure that the fundamentals of planning are still at its heart. This is not to say that the job should not, or cannot, evolve, merely that the core pillars of it remain intact.

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

I loved the SMART TXTBKS work out of the Philippines last year.

Many organisations around the world have used tablets and laptops as education tools, particularly in an effort to lighten the physical burden of textbooks on younger kids. In the Philippines, however, this wasn’t financially feasible. They therefore turned to another option: old, analogue mobile phones.

In the first world, these are seen as relics, which almost makes this piece of thinking better. Much like Millions or Tap Project, they’ve taken something ubiquitous and repurposed it to solve a problem.

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

We’re an industry obsessed with what’s new. New technologies and platforms.I love the idea of taking existing things and reframing it. (As per my example above.)

Call it thrifty, call it innovative, but looking at something: a problem, a customer, and attitude, a client, a competitor, a brand asset, and reframing it I find to be a useful start point.

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

Perhaps it’s my love of food, but I love what certain chefs can do.

Just think about it: how many meals do you eat in a lifetime? How many of these can you actually remember? So when a chef makes you look at an ingredient, or a dish, or a flavour in an entirely new way, in a way that creates a memory and elicits an emotional reaction, that’s pretty special.

A tip is to watch “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress”. Once known as the best restaurant in the world, the movie tracks the 6-month period during which the venue closed for the head chefs to develop the following year’s dishes. Watching these guys concept was inspiring. They would take an ingredient and ask: could we make this into a jelly, could we juice it, what if we served it with X or Y, what if we froze it, and so on. They were tireless in their pursuit to make every dish something truly remarkable. And they knew the remarkable doesn’t come from orthodox thinking.

Image credit: Enric Martinez.

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