Build an Advertising Team from Scratch

Marketing Team Presentation

The win­ning team from fall of 2014

If you find your­self need­ing to quickly—or slowly—build a team that can com­pe­tently build and exe­cute a com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy from your busi­ness goals, I’m here to help.

How I Know

For the last few years, I’ve taught Adver­tis­ing Cam­paigns, a class that asks 25–40 stu­dents to build a strat­egy and exe­cute for a real client. The chal­lenge is tak­ing a ran­dom mix of stu­dents and help­ing them focus all they’ve learned on real client work.

What’s Dif­fer­ent for Businesses

If you’re a busi­ness owner, you prob­a­bly have most of these skills. The excep­tion would be the abil­ity to exe­cute strat­egy (cre­ative pro­duc­tion) and a really com­pe­tent strate­gist (which is like a uni­corn; most com­pa­nies just try to make a coher­ent plan).

The good news is this: there are plenty of con­trac­tors who can execute.

The other good news: my stu­dents are great, but they don’t have the expe­ri­ence. Your staff might be able to cre­ate some­thing more pol­ished and pro­fes­sional than my stu­dents can. (On the other hand, after a year, my stu­dents will be kick­ing @$$; just sayin’).

The Jobs

Let me first say that, if you’re not hir­ing well, you cre­ate the need for micro­man­age­ment. You don’t want that. Get the right peo­ple. Here’s a guide.

Adver­tis­ing Job Descriptions

AKA: Account Exec­u­tive (account manager)

Cares about: What the client/company wants and thinks.

Func­tions: Con­nect with client (sales skills). Project man­age­ment (stay out of tasks).

Team spirit and good functioning.

Tools: Soft skills, good focus on client goals, project coor­di­na­tion and busi­ness knowledge.


AKA: account plan­ner, brand strategist

Cares about: Con­nect­ing client with the customer.

Func­tions: Research, sys­tem­atiz­ing infor­ma­tion from research, form­ing ques­tions and telling an inter­est­ing, focused story to cre­atives, giv­ing them a clear prob­lem to solve.

Tools: Mind maps (to sup­port lat­eral think­ing), curios­ity, deep under­stand­ing of the brand and the cus­tomer, good judg­ment, and the cre­ative brief (to sup­port lin­ear thinking).

Media Plan­ner

Cares about: Bring­ing the strat­egy to life through media choices.

Func­tions: Under­stands how to bring strat­egy to life in media.

Tools: Bud­get (spread­sheet), sched­ule (cal­en­dar), mea­sure­ment of effec­tive­ness and an under­stand­ing of avail­able media.

Con­cep­tual Creatives

Note: Cre­atives fall into two cat­e­gories. It’s best not to get them con­fused. Con­cep­tual cre­atives think up new ideas and con­cepts. They’re gen­er­ally more strate­gi­cally aligned. They’re bet­ter at com­ing up with a new approach that will match up against your com­peti­tors’ claims. A fin­ish­ing cre­ative is a pol­isher and edi­tor. Don’t ask them to have a robust cre­ative process; they’re the ones mak­ing your stuff look nice, not fig­ur­ing out what it should be.

Cares about: Bring­ing the strat­egy to life through a focused story.

Func­tions: Expe­ri­enced and con­fi­dent enough in their cre­ative process to rig­or­ously explore mes­sages that will exe­cute the strategy.

Tools: Strat­egy, focus, fun, work ethic (lots of thumb­nails and head­lines), the abil­ity to tell a great story with a moti­vat­ing moral.

Fin­ish­ing Creatives

AKA: Design­ers and Wordsmiths

Cares about: Pro­duc­tion quality.

Func­tions: Mak­ing sure some­one else’s idea looks nice, is well-edited and professional.

Tools: Design pro­grams, edit­ing abil­ity (gram­mar, usage, spell-checker) and good design best-practices.

A Word about Think­ing Styles

Think of account exec­u­tives and fin­ish­ing cre­atives as peo­ple who want to get things done and look really nice. In other words, they’re peo­ple who want to do it really well. So you don’t want to hire peo­ple who have great new ideas for these posi­tions. You want peo­ple who can reli­ably exe­cute, based on expe­ri­ence. Think “best practices.”

Think of strate­gists and con­cep­tual cre­atives as peo­ple who want to do things dif­fer­ently. So you don’t want some­one who never takes risks and never fails. You want all kinds of ideas that show rich­ness of thought. Think “innovation.”

The media plan­ner is a mix.

Real­ize that the dif­fer­ences in think­ing between these two think­ing styles actu­ally builds a high level of cre­ativ­ity that also works.

Quickly Build­ing a Cre­ative Team

In the end, it’s not hard to build a team that does good work. I do it in 10 weeks with under­grads. You can too. And that’s just the invest­ment. Think about what could hap­pen after that 10 weeks is up and the team is gelled, has ideas and now has experience.

How Curiosity Leads to Brutally Efficient Strategy

Curious cat

Cour­tesy of Flickr user Admiller. Edited by Stadler. Cre­ative Com­mons License:

If curios­ity is a self-indulgent, unbusi­nesslike pur­suit, why is it so pop­u­lar these days? Maybe because we’re real­iz­ing it’s fuel­ing some pretty effi­cient strategies.

You might be pic­tur­ing curi­ous peo­ple as soft, undi­rected and undis­ci­plined. They’re time-wasters who prob­a­bly enjoyed their time in lit­er­a­ture class a lit­tle too much, dis­cussing things that don’t mat­ter. But that’s not the curios­ity we’re talk­ing about.

Curios­ity Focuses on a Goal

When curios­ity is most effec­tive, it’s ask­ing ques­tions about a busi­ness goal. In my field, curi­ous peo­ple ask ques­tions about the mar­ket­ing goal, even decon­struct­ing the mar­ket­ing goal so they can under­stand how the com­pany makes deci­sions. Addi­tion­ally, under­stand­ing why the mar­ket does what it does and pro­fil­ing com­pet­ing brands to find patterns.

Process Dis­ci­plines Curiosity

Great strate­gists apply curios­ity by using a process. Some build a SWOT, 5-Forces or 4P’s/4C’s analy­sis, using those frame­works to inven­tory and orga­nize their research. Those inven­to­ries inform the research they do from here on out. Oh yeah, and those analy­sis tools go through at least 3 revi­sions before the work is done.

Rig­or­ous Research Enables Curiosity

Addi­tion­ally, they don’t just ask ques­tions when it’s fun, but they stick with it, know­ing that the process always pro­duces action­able results that give a strate­gic advan­tage. This some­times looks like an addi­tional 3 inter­views or 5 more hours of read­ing user forums to gather more insight.

Curios­ity Asks Ques­tions You Don’t Care About…Until You Do

Strate­gic curios­ity can seem to ask irrel­e­vant ques­tions or ques­tions that are too sim­ple. Strate­gists are used to tak­ing chances by ask­ing ques­tions that help them under­stand the real sit­u­a­tion (behind all the assump­tions). The best strate­gists have a way of ask­ing ques­tions that make us real­ize we don’t know the answer (even to sim­ple ques­tions like “Who’s our audience?”).

And by demand­ing a higher level of speci­ficity, they help us to make deci­sions that are strate­gi­cally help­ful, rather than vague and slippery.

Best of All, Curios­ity Feeds Strategy

Strat­egy shows you the most direct route to the best result. But it can’t work with­out the right insights. To put it another way: strat­egy uses sys­tems think­ing to make sense of insights; curios­ity deliv­ers the insights.

By study­ing the dif­fer­ences between us and our competitors—by show­ing curios­ity for hid­den, but high-leverage differences—we can become bru­tally effi­cient in adver­tis­ing and brand decisions.

How the CIA Puts Thinking back into Problem Solving

CIA Crest

When solv­ing a prob­lem, lots of peo­ple are taught research (by itself, an unin­sight­ful process for problem-finding) and prob­lem solv­ing. But the miss­ing piece is the “think­ing” part. And that needs to hap­pen reg­u­larly from begin­ning to end in order to under­stand the sys­tem: how the parts work together. And that’s why I love the CIA’s Phoenix Checklist.

Research with­out think­ing only takes us obvi­ous places. We don’t see con­nec­tions, because we don’t look for them; instead, we’re only see­ing con­nec­tions from oth­ers’ research and opin­ions. We’re only see­ing what presents itself, as the the data lead us down rab­bit trails. In the end, we’re left with no insights about the prob­lem we’re solv­ing, but only a cat­a­log of facts that are pretty obvi­ous to both our­selves and every­one else.

Brain­storm­ing with­out under­stand­ing leads to poorly fit­ting solu­tions. With­out the abil­ity to see the prob­lem at a log­i­cal, systems-level is like ask­ing a three-year-old why my truck is back­fir­ing. He doesn’t even begin to under­stand com­bus­tion, so why would he know about this par­tic­u­lar situation?

The the Phoenix Check­list asks us to look at the prob­lem from dif­fer­ent angles, essen­tially cre­at­ing mul­ti­ple thought exper­i­ments for us to use to log­i­cal and sys­tem­at­i­cally nav­i­gate the prob­lem, giv­ing us a much fuller under­stand­ing. And with a fuller under­stand­ing of the prob­lem comes more energy spent on highly rel­e­vant solutions.

How the CIA define prob­lems & plan solu­tions: The Phoenix Check­list « BBH Labs.

4 Simple Ways to Lead Strategically

Usu­ally, strat­egy and lead­er­ship fail­ures point back to 4 things: fail­ure to think, fail­ure to dis­cover, fail­ure to decide and fail­ure to nego­ti­ate. Want to learn to lead strate­gi­cally? Read on to dis­cover the three most com­mon lead­er­ship fail­ures and what to do about them.

Lead­ers For­get to Think

Many com­pa­nies use best prac­tices like a crutch, mov­ing through sit­u­a­tions with­out stop­ping to think about the sys­tem. In other words, what are the basic build­ing blocks of our sit­u­a­tion? If we can think con­cep­tu­ally, we can see real­ity more clearly. But we have to be able to stop, turn off email, say no to dis­trac­tions and think. If you need to be con­vinced, check out this arti­cle.

Lead­ers Fail to Discover

It’s easy to find data to pro­tect you from tak­ing the blame, but the best lead­ers aren’t look­ing for excuses; they’re look­ing for for­ward move­ment. ROI is very help­ful, but it’s backward-looking; it can’t tell you what’s ahead as well as qual­i­ta­tive research and the leader’s strate­gic cre­ativ­ity in con­nect­ing the dots.

Lead­ers Fail to Decide

Great lead­ers decide and define. They don’t show up with part of the data and ask oth­ers to make the deci­sion for them. And then they take respon­si­bil­ity for the decision.

Lead­ers Fail to Negotiate

Once the leader decides the prob­lem and the strate­gic direc­tion, he/she presents it to his team and allows them to cri­tique, inquire and improve. The leader needs to have a strong enough phi­los­o­phy of the problem/opportunity to enter­tain objec­tions and make sense of them.

The Solu­tion

The solu­tion isn’t straight­for­ward, but starts with a few things.


Find soli­tude and make it your mis­sion to sit for an hour and a half every week with a blank piece of paper (or sev­eral). On that piece of paper, write the top­ics and major cat­e­gories you’re try­ing to address. Then, think about the prob­lems from a con­cept level. In other words, don’t say “if only so-and-so would file TPS reports,” but say “how do we deal with the TPS reports prob­lem?” This allows you to reframe prob­lems so you can solve them. Remem­ber, all you need is a 1/4″ hole, not nec­es­sar­ily a 1/4″ drill bit.

Accel­er­ate Dis­cov­ery with a Work­ing Hypothesis

Dis­cov­ery may be even eas­ier than we think. We’re taught in school that there’s one right way to con­duct research (some ver­sion of “learn every­thing you can about the topic,” which is a very unin­ter­est­ing, unor­ga­nized, bottom-up process, lead­ing to time wasted), but I say cre­ate your own hypoth­e­sis and ask ques­tions until you find a con­vinc­ing answer. This could be get­ting sources from the trade press, indus­try experts, hir­ing a research firm or con­duct­ing your own qual­i­ta­tive research (inter­views or focus groups). The key is this: get curi­ous and get good at prov­ing or disproving.

Reframe Deci­sions

Deci­sion can cre­ate dis­com­fort. But since we can’t get away from it, let’s reframe it. We never make wrong deci­sions, but we could always improve. So have a bias toward deci­sion. This take practice.

One more thing about decision…it’s almost impos­si­ble to have deci­sion clar­ity when you don’t have a clear goal and strat­egy. So maybe go back to the strat­egy draw­ing board before you try to make a tough deci­sion. It could make it easier.

Nego­ti­a­tion is a Pro­duc­tiv­ity Multiplier

Nego­ti­a­tion is the easy part, as long as you’re cool bring­ing peo­ple in and lis­ten­ing to what they have to say. Here’s the beauty of nego­ti­at­ing: when they have a say and get pas­sion­ate about a point of view, they’re now engaged. And engage­ment is always a pro­duc­tiv­ity force mul­ti­plier. So make peo­ple feel heard and involve them often. It’s not your job to be right all the time; it’s your job to make peo­ple around you effec­tive. If you can do that, you can nego­ti­ate projects to be more on-strategy.

This advice is sim­ple, but it’s not easy. It takes an ever-increasing amount of secu­rity in the leader and a desire to grow.

Agree or dis­agree with any­thing in this piece or want help? Let me know.