TVC's Lappage on the art of creating a killer strategy and being a great strategist


By Richard Draycott, Managing Director

December 2, 2016 | 6 min read

Strategy, strategy, strategy is as important today in marketing as location, location, location has always been in property. Having a great marketing strategy to support your brand, or to build your client’s brand, is absolutely vital if you want your communications to be cohesive and really engage with your audiences. But unlike apples, killer marketing strategies do not grow on trees.

Greg Lappage

Greg Lappage of TVC Group talks about what makes a great strategy and great strategist

So, where do great strategies come from? From the minds of people like Greg Lappage, TVC Group’s creative director, who recently shared some thoughts with The Drum Network on what drives the best strategies, where he has his best strategic thoughts and why strategists are more entrepreneurial than ever.

Is devising a comms strategy an art or a science?

A bit of both I guess. For me personally, it’s an art, it’s understanding the rhythm of the strategy, how it flows, fits together and builds into a compelling ideology.

That said I work with some very clever people in i2i (TVC’s strategy and insights team) who add insight and rigour – the data science, analysis and channel knowledge that add the credibility to creative.

So, what are your key ingredients for a killer strategy?

You need a purpose – it’s not enough anymore to have a killer idea and a beautiful narrative, people want to know what you stand for.

It’s all about developing strategic intent. With the right strategic approach, a brand can deviate; take some really interesting turns, but still move in the right direction. A strategy can be a roadmap, a benchmark or a manifesto, or when it’s really good it can be all three.

I really think that positivity and energy drive successful strategies; clients can intuitively sense it if you’re not 100% fully immersed and committed to an approach.

Can you explain TVC Group's evidence-based approach when devising strategy?

We’re very lucky in the fact that the team self-organises around strategic and creative challenges. The most successful strategies at TVC are when we take the whole team on the journey from the outset - there’s too much knowledge, data and channel opportunity for one planner to own a strategy outright.

It’s a process, a cycle; we plan, commission, create and activate and then we learn. But it’s not rigid, flexibility is important too; creative has generated some of our best strategic insights, just as some of our best creative ideas have come from strategists. Strategy, creative and distribution are all critical.

A recent PR industry survey revealed that nearly half (41%) of comms professionals spent only occasional or no time on strategic planning. Does this surprise you?

A little bit, but the PR industry has always been considered faster and more intuitive than other comms disciplines. I think there still exists the misapprehension that strategic planning slows things down or mires the process in theory.

The trouble in working loose and quick is that you gravitate toward predictable solutions – it’s human nature, we look towards what is familiar.

Is it possible to teach someone to be strategic?

Absolutely, I think there are loads of techniques and tools to open up an enquiring mind. An appreciation of consumer psychology helps but the role of a strategist is broader and more entrepreneurial than ever – it might be delivering an insight, it might be developing an innovation or planning an event. Planners today are more like experience architects.

There are lots of different styles of strategist too, from the precise and analytical to the instinctive planners, those who just have that innate ability to look at the world differently.

There’s an analogy with creative – there’s brilliant art directors, who graft, learn and hone their craft and there’s the ones that can just throw down a layout that just looks brilliant. The same principle applies to ideation. You can learn but some people have the gift! A creative and strategic mind-set is rare but more and more businesses outside of agency world don’t see a distinction. Sometimes, I think it’s the speed of culture. It drives an Occam’s razor approach to strategy.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, to come up with an elegant and simple solution, but I see lots of strategy work where ‘simplicity and purity’ is actually just plain simplistic.

The speed that we all work at and the sheer amount of information strategists need to process mean sometimes answers are post-rationalised. You have to find ways of parsing that data and find your strategy without looking towards data that confirms your biases or prejudices.

Strategy is not easy sometimes you have to work on complex, time consuming and arduous tasks to reach a point that seems natural to your client and target audiences.

How important is evaluation as part of the strategic process?

It’s critical – it makes the full process empirical, we can truly learn from it. Clients are often looking for very specific metrics to benchmark - so measurement has become bespoke. Does it affect behaviour, sentiment, does it achieve business objectives, or does it reflect breakthrough thinking?

I think many more clients’ will shift their remuneration away from a time based model to reflect their own specific criteria.

Where and when do you come up with your best strategic thoughts?

Anywhere really, I’m quite promiscuous. I’m always thinking and I’m sure that there are many people at TVC who do the same. When you love what you do it’s a 24/7 job.

I come up with the odd wrong ‘un too (I had a shocker about a Gorilla, a banana and some hair dye a couple of months back…hopefully it never left the i2i team).

Greg Lappage is creative director at TVC Group, a London-based integrated communications agency and works with brands such as Jaguar Land Rover, Virgin, Red Bull, Eurostar and more.


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