Keeping Real People in Sight

Bring the logic but don’t forget the magic.

Tom Patterson
Strategy Director BBH London

Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do?

I’m a Strategy Director at BBH London, where I’ve been for just over three years. I’ve spent most of that time working on Tesco and Audi.

What did you do before your current role and what led you to where you are now?

My first job after Uni was as a qual researcher at a brand consultancy – working mainly on tech and entertainment brands like Microsoft, Universal Music and Nokia. I enjoyed it, but realised I wanted to be more directly involved in the creative bit, so moved into the world of creative agencies. I worked for a year or so as an Account Manager at Leo Burnett on P&G before moving into a Planning role at a couple of smaller agencies (The Bank and Now). Then I got my foot in the door at BBH as a Strategist.

How would you define the role of a strategist in your agency?

BBH is, and has always been, totally geared around great creative work. In the words of Nigel Bogle: ‘we’re in the business of creativity that has the power to transform the fortunes of brands’. With that in mind, the role of a Strategist at BBH is simple - to create an environment that incubates, propels and proves the worth of excellent creative ideas.

How have you seen the role of a strategist evolve since you first began?

I think the fundamentals are the same. Strategists need to have a good understanding of the people who buy and might buy the brand they’re working on, have a decent grasp of how their client’s business works and have the ability to transform this intelligence into something simple and inspiring. I do think the complexity and confusion that now abounds in the broader comms landscape means that simplification has become even more important – and that’s where a strategist can add immensely to the process. Also, this complexity and confusion means we can more easily lose sight of people – what they need, want, think, do and feel. Again, strategists can really show their worth by keeping real people in sight. (That’s where we’ll win against the Consultants too.)

In your opinion, what are the greatest barriers an aspiring planner/strategist encounters when trying to start their career?

From an industry perspective, I think there’s a general lack of roles and lack of investment - time, training and money - at the junior end of the discipline. It’s why initiatives like Home Grown at BBH are a great thing – we end up hiring around 50% of the people that get on the internship. From an individual perspective, I find that fewer Planners come into the industry having done something else first – whether that’s research or otherwise. Strategists have to create their own authority and in the absence of experience in the industry, the thing you did before can be helpful for that.   

In your time, what have you noticed are the key skills and traits that separate great strategists from the mediocre?

Empathy – The ability to bring humanity to the table. To bring an understanding of people in the real world but to treat the team empathetically too.  
Mischief - Bring the logic but don’t forget the magic.
Simplicity - Keep it as straightforward and as elegant as possible.

How do you avoid getting stuck in a cultural bubble and stay informed on the needs and desires of everyday consumers?

Always go to the groups.