Friday, September 25, 2009

Strategists are Method Actors


Strategists are method actors. I know a lot of you highbrow types are scoffing at this headline. "I'm not acting -- it's real immersion into the brand." No, you're acting. Here's how I know:
Yesterday I had three presentations, yes, t-h-r-e-e, on three very divergent brands: a hospital that specializes in quaternary care (that's medical jargon for serious stuff), a well-known franchise pizza brand, and a very large destination fashion brand. And it was my birthday. Oh, AND, to make it all a bit more pleasantly pressure-filled, because everyone knows I love a good challenge, it was my turn to host "Breakfast Club" at the agency -- a monthly agency-wide, themed breakfast for 60. Themed. Breakfast for 60. Birthday. Three presentations.

Getting a sense of the challenge?

I can't begin to tell you what Monday-Thursday looked like. Our shop went into mind-warp. There were papers flying, random people I've never seen before running around, food being delivered non-stop (Pitching clearly makes the average creative department hungrier. Imagine cubing that hunger). My desk was piled so high with studies, reference manuals, version 1 of deck 1, version 16 of deck 2, version 4 of deck 3...and don't forget the birthday card signed by the entire agency and those random guys running around helping this week. It was crazy. There was only one thing that got me through -- method acting.

First, Friday morning I wake up at three. I head downstairs and make the largest pot of coffee man has ever brewed. I head to the shower to prepare for my Mad Men-themed Breakfast Club. Yes, we had also decided to channel our Sixties brethren. There was a very complicated french-twist hair-do planned, because this is what every head of marketing I was presenting to that day was hoping I'd spend time doing -- a Sixties glamour-do and breakfast for 60. I looked good. Then I did this. Off I go to the grocery store to buy breakfast...oh, right, I hadn't bought anything for anyone to eat yet. Now it's 6 a.m. I'm in my sixties frock, rockin' my Betty hair, practicing my pitches in the car, warming up care of Borat (see video link above)...and I remember I just left the house without saying good-bye to my family. Remember, it's my birthday and I have young children that think my birthday is as important as theirs, that we must hold hands, dance around, celebrate and go to Build-a-Bear. Maybe they forgot and there won't be a meltdown for my husband to deal with. Onward...

Three Keynote presentations completed and loaded onto the Mac. Check. Call to make sure conference room prepped. Check. Mini pigs in a blanket. Check. Fake cigarettes. Check. Not clinically insane yet. Check.

Here's where the acting comes in. Before every pitch I do this thing. This breathing thing. I don't think anyone else notices, but it calms me down and opens the file in my brain where all the cultural information is stored about the brand and the thinking I am about to present. I channel the brand culture. And we all do it. If you're a strategist or creative type reading this, you know you do it, too. You adopt the personality of the brand. You talk like it, dress like it, adopt its physical mannerisms, allude to relevant cultural icons and purposefully avoid conversations that don't play into the scene. We method act.

I've come to realize throughout my career this is what makes us good at what we do -- in order to understand deeply the issues and opportunities of a brand, we must immerse ourselves in the brand culture. We must become a part of its DNA. And only then, after we feel it, physically feel it, can we begin to think about it, can we offer guidance and concept creative. So often, we jump into creative thinking without deep experience. I'm not talking about research. I'm talking about seeing the joy of a brand in a consumer's eye. Hearing the way men argue about a brand's worth. Smelling the air outside a store. Touching the fabric on a chair inside. Our brands are human. We have to experience them physically to present their worth completely.

Great presentations are channeled through relevant, compelling and honest brand culture. Every presentation demands a different tonality filtered through the truths of the brand. When we see brands as people, it's easier to adopt their expression, lexicon and belief system. And we owe this to them.

Become a brand before you speak on its behalf. Just try not to do it three times in one day. On your birthday. Dressed as Betty Draper.

5 comments:

edwardboches said...

Great story. Have had too many days like that, though not quite as well themed. But I must say, in an age of bad blog writing, your post was captivating, visual and fun to read. Hope you get to dance with the kids this weekend. Let them make you pancakes and get someone else to clean up.

Gretchen said...

I actually just cut into my birthday cake! Great morning. Thank you for the kind words.

WILLIAM said...

I HOPE YOU SOCRED WITH THE PIZZA PEOPLE.

Betty Draper....now there is a brand...

Lori Miller said...

Great story telling. I could see, feel and smell it. Boy I miss working with you!

Gretchen said...

I miss working with you, too, Lori! I saw the Beneficial boards all over 95 -- they look great.

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