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Strategy: The Bridge from Data to Creativity

Strategy: The Bridge from Data to Creativity

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

May 23, 2018

A new role. And a new opportunity. Greg James, Havas Group Media’s Global Chief Strategy Officer, shares how he plans to connect creative and media with solid strategy.

"So it’s about simplicity and storytelling, and I think within this network, strategists also play a role bridging creativity."

In his first chat with Download, Havas Media’s newly minted Global Chief Strategy Officer talks about strategy in 2018—knowing when to pivot from an original plan—and even shares his must-sees in Londontown and the Big Apple.

 

So, tell us a little about your background.

I actually started out in film and theater—but I always wanted to work in production or marketing for creative businesses. I landed in PR by accident, i.e. some C-list celebrities and those new websites in 1999. Later, I joined Cake, which was then, and still is, a real breath of creative fresh air in the industry. It was a business that really was about putting great ideas into action to build brands. I gained an incredible amount of experience in many areas as Cake grew across sponsorship, events, content, and different kinds of media deals and negotiation—which helped me bring a really different perspective when I later moved into the Media Group as CSO for Havas Media USA.

What does this new role as Global Chief Strategy Officer mean for you, the media team, and our media clients?

Media is incredibly complex today. So many channels to connect with consumers and so many ways to invest client money and buy within those channels. I think the role of strategy is first and foremost to simplify. It’s easy to lose a real perspective of whom we’re talking to—strategy has to champion real people and real consumer behaviors, and marry that with the incredible smart planning and buying technology, plus the resources that we have. So it’s about simplicity and storytelling, and I think within this network, strategists also play a role bridging creativity. Media has to be fun as well as smart. I hope we can harness the incredible intelligence in the Group and marry that with creativity.

What impact do you hope to make in this new position?

So I hope to be able to provide some clarity to the Group and to clients who are overwhelmed too—they need navigators. I think the strategy community should provide a really pragmatic voice of reason for our clients. And I want us to provide the best service to our clients. There’s great work being done that we need to better explain, be proud of, and, of course, share with the world for clients and other agencies to see.

How is the strategy on a global scale different from a regional perspective?

In some ways the world is getting smaller, and brands that have a presence around the world have to stand for something—as we know from Meaningful Brands. So our job, globally, is to make sure we’re all aiming at the same North Star. Locally, however, consumer behaviors vary so much; it’s our job to bridge that—to find local nuances that make a brand or media plan resonate within a local market, but still recognize that consumers are increasingly global, as is the content they’re exposed to.

"We have every resource to ensure that we are the best in the business."

What should everyone know about strategy—even if they’re not in a strategic role?

They should realize that everything they do should be in service of a strategy—i.e., a purpose in which decisions are rooted. So even if you aren’t in a strategic role, you have to see you’re part of a bigger picture: How does your action help the end goals? How does it serve the overall strategy? I think many of us are guilty of thinking strategy is this ethereal intellectual concept, but it should be democratic—a simple way for everyone to see where we are going and, just as important, why.

How should strategy affect content?

One of the things I’m hopeful that we can do is make sure that strategic thinkers in both our media and creative groups have relationships and dialogues with each other. Context is so, so important for content strategy. Our Villages are the perfect environments to promote successful content creation. We have every resource to ensure that we are the best in the business.

How do you know when something needs to change?

Oh, big question. We just feel it—don’t we? A process is broken when you know that it’s becoming harder and more stressful. If that process isn’t performing well, it’s time to change. One of the things I’m happy about in this role is the direction from our CEO Peter Mears. Peter’s got a practical approach: “If it feels broken, fix it. Do something different.” The size of our media team really is one of our biggest advantages. We can genuinely move and change so much faster than many of our competitors.

When should things stay the same?

I’m kind of excited by change personally, so I’m not sure.

How are strategy and creativity connected?

Two sides of the same coin. Some of the best creatives I know are as strategic as they are creative—like my old Cake friend Mark Whelan, who’s now CCO in London across the Group. Strategy helps you think in straight lines, and it helps you break the rules.

Your must-see in London?

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern on a Sunday afternoon. Don’t take your mother.

Your must-see in New York?

Governors Island—it’s like a secret trip to 1950.

What are you genuinely passionate about?

Positivity. Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Oprah.

What do you wish that you could tell your younger self?

I’ve basically been 40 my whole life, but maybe I’d tell him we’re all just making it up as we go along—and it’s fine.

"So it’s about simplicity and storytelling, and I think within this network, strategists also play a role bridging creativity."

In his first chat with Download, Havas Media’s newly minted Global Chief Strategy Officer talks about strategy in 2018—knowing when to pivot from an original plan—and even shares his must-sees in Londontown and the Big Apple.

 

So, tell us a little about your background.

I actually started out in film and theater—but I always wanted to work in production or marketing for creative businesses. I landed in PR by accident, i.e. some C-list celebrities and those new websites in 1999. Later, I joined Cake, which was then, and still is, a real breath of creative fresh air in the industry. It was a business that really was about putting great ideas into action to build brands. I gained an incredible amount of experience in many areas as Cake grew across sponsorship, events, content, and different kinds of media deals and negotiation—which helped me bring a really different perspective when I later moved into the Media Group as CSO for Havas Media USA.

What does this new role as Global Chief Strategy Officer mean for you, the media team, and our media clients?

Media is incredibly complex today. So many channels to connect with consumers and so many ways to invest client money and buy within those channels. I think the role of strategy is first and foremost to simplify. It’s easy to lose a real perspective of whom we’re talking to—strategy has to champion real people and real consumer behaviors, and marry that with the incredible smart planning and buying technology, plus the resources that we have. So it’s about simplicity and storytelling, and I think within this network, strategists also play a role bridging creativity. Media has to be fun as well as smart. I hope we can harness the incredible intelligence in the Group and marry that with creativity.

What impact do you hope to make in this new position?

So I hope to be able to provide some clarity to the Group and to clients who are overwhelmed too—they need navigators. I think the strategy community should provide a really pragmatic voice of reason for our clients. And I want us to provide the best service to our clients. There’s great work being done that we need to better explain, be proud of, and, of course, share with the world for clients and other agencies to see.

How is the strategy on a global scale different from a regional perspective?

In some ways the world is getting smaller, and brands that have a presence around the world have to stand for something—as we know from Meaningful Brands. So our job, globally, is to make sure we’re all aiming at the same North Star. Locally, however, consumer behaviors vary so much; it’s our job to bridge that—to find local nuances that make a brand or media plan resonate within a local market, but still recognize that consumers are increasingly global, as is the content they’re exposed to.

"We have every resource to ensure that we are the best in the business."

What should everyone know about strategy—even if they’re not in a strategic role?

They should realize that everything they do should be in service of a strategy—i.e., a purpose in which decisions are rooted. So even if you aren’t in a strategic role, you have to see you’re part of a bigger picture: How does your action help the end goals? How does it serve the overall strategy? I think many of us are guilty of thinking strategy is this ethereal intellectual concept, but it should be democratic—a simple way for everyone to see where we are going and, just as important, why.

How should strategy affect content?

One of the things I’m hopeful that we can do is make sure that strategic thinkers in both our media and creative groups have relationships and dialogues with each other. Context is so, so important for content strategy. Our Villages are the perfect environments to promote successful content creation. We have every resource to ensure that we are the best in the business.

How do you know when something needs to change?

Oh, big question. We just feel it—don’t we? A process is broken when you know that it’s becoming harder and more stressful. If that process isn’t performing well, it’s time to change. One of the things I’m happy about in this role is the direction from our CEO Peter Mears. Peter’s got a practical approach: “If it feels broken, fix it. Do something different.” The size of our media team really is one of our biggest advantages. We can genuinely move and change so much faster than many of our competitors.

When should things stay the same?

I’m kind of excited by change personally, so I’m not sure.

How are strategy and creativity connected?

Two sides of the same coin. Some of the best creatives I know are as strategic as they are creative—like my old Cake friend Mark Whelan, who’s now CCO in London across the Group. Strategy helps you think in straight lines, and it helps you break the rules.

Your must-see in London?

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern on a Sunday afternoon. Don’t take your mother.

Your must-see in New York?

Governors Island—it’s like a secret trip to 1950.

What are you genuinely passionate about?

Positivity. Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Oprah.

What do you wish that you could tell your younger self?

I’ve basically been 40 my whole life, but maybe I’d tell him we’re all just making it up as we go along—and it’s fine.

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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