April 29, 2004

Russell Davies


Russell Davies (we like him) is Head of Planning at W+K London since 2001. The same year he returned from the States where he worked at W+K Portland for nearly 6 years. W+K London (Russel’s current alma mater) has won in the last 12 months: "Best Commercial of the Year" at the BTAA awards; 2 Silver Awards at 2004 Campaign Press Awards; 2 Golds for "Best Creative Brief and Briefing" and "Best Campaign for Established Product/Brand" at 2003 APG Strategic Planning Awards and most recently got a Grandy (grand Prix) at 2004 Andy Awards.

Hidden: Nearly 16 years ago, John Philip Jones (in Admap) suggested that British ads under-used rational claims unlike the American ones. Apparently he observed that in Britain there seemed to be a greater emphasis on user-imagery (creative advertising), and in the US more emphasis on product functionality (advertising that sells). Nevertheless it is common knowledge that in the UK, people generally enjoy and approve of advertising, while in the US it is generally considered intrusive. Since you worked in America for nearly 6 years at W+K Portland, what are, in your personal opinion, the great cultural differences between the British and the American advertising industry?
Russell: I don't think I'm that qualified to talk about this since I only ever worked at W+K. And we're not exactly typical. But I think a lot of people get the wrong impression about advertising in the US because they don't think about the relative size of markets and the people who get to advertise.
What I mean is this - in the UK (and probably most of Europe) not many people are big enough to advertise on TV. Big brands, big retailers, people who put a lot of time and energy and thought into the advertising they do. In the US everyone gets to be on TV; car dealers, local retaillers, mom and pop stores, everyone. So TV there is the equivalent of local newspapers here.
If you actually compare like with like, I don't think the ad cultures are that different. There's hard-selling things in both markets, there are Budweiser Frogs in both markets.

Hidden: How has the planning culture evolved in American agencies since it was imported by Jay Chiat in the early 1980s?
Russell: Don't know really. There are obviously tons of really good American planners now, but they still seem to be importing Brits. Planning seems to be less of a community over there, because it's so geographically dispersed. It probably hasn't evolved that much, it hasn't evolved that much here either.

Hidden: Strategic Planning vs creative planning: What are they? Two different names for the same thing? Or two different disciplines?
Russell: Just words. Neither of them very good names for what we actually do.

Hidden: A good creative brief should always include ….. ??
Russell: A picture. a deadline. a lot of ideas.

Hidden: Is there any specific rule of thumb you like to apply whenever you develop a strategy / brief?
Russell: The more good ideas you put in the front end the more good ideas you'll get out the back end.

Hidden: What is your opinion on integrated communications? Do you think that different creative ideas should be used in different and fragmented media? Or, to be more effective, a good idea should fit and travel across the same media?
Russell: Some ideas are better as ads, some are better as DM, some are better as both. The ones that are better as both are really hard to find so you often end up with something that makes good print, good DM, good events, good TV, good etc but will never be excellent in any channel. It depends what you want. Obviously the ideal is to be excellent everywhere, and sometimes you can be. But often you have to decide between being good everywhere or being excellent in one place. It depends on your communications priorities.

Hidden: Guerilla marketing - a buzzword or a truly buzzing strategy to connect with sceptical consumers who don’t pay attention to the conventional media noise?
Russell: No-one pays attention to conventional media noise. People only pay attention to stuff they want to pay attention to. There's only good marketing and bad marketing, good ideas and bad ideas. There as many bad ideas which piss consumers off in 'guerilla marketing' as everywhere else. Probably more so. It's easy to ignore a bad tv commerical - it's harder to ignore a bad street team. Some would see that as a virture, I see it as a failing.

Hidden: Emotional branding/ love brands? Is this just jargon?
Russell: How can you have non-emotional branding? This is just jargon, but if the jargon changes the debate a bit then that's good. I don't think Kevin Roberts is the Einstein of branding, but at least he's trying to change the language a little.

Hidden: On the future of brands and advertising - Is direct marketing or PR the future as some are saying (for example: Al Ries)?
Russel: The future is clear. People will only want to interact with stuff they want to interact with. Whatever it is. DM. PR. Events. Whatever. The only thing we'll have to do is build communications stuff that's respectful, entertaining, appropriate, engaging. That's the future.

Hidden: You wrote in the FT Creative Business (October 2002): “Our interaction with real people is via databases, laptops and reports. We have more information but less understanding”. Should planners and creatives go out more often to the streets, to the points of purchase, to the consumers’ natural habitat?
Russell: Everyone should go out more. We all spend too much time at our desks. And we all rely on third hand experience too much, but given the contraction in the industry it's probably unrealistic to expect that to change much.

Hidden: Account planning is not a mono-discipline. What skills and knowledge do you think a planner should possess in order to hit the consumer “sweet spot”?
Russell: A planner needs to know how to: present well, enthuse creatives, edit films, take photographs, excite clients, lead agencies, write ads, analyze research, talk to anyone, read a lot, get excited by brands, tell the truth under difficult circumstances, make a decent cup of tea, write well, build relationships with traffic and production, clear the photocopier, deliver gravitas, speed read email, spread optimism.

Hidden: This is for all the art directors and copywriters out there: How did London’s W+K planning team influenced the idea and execution behind the extraordinary Honda ‘Cog’ TV spot? What role did planning and strategy play there?
Russell: We did nothing. The creatives did it all by themselves.

Cheers for the interview Russell.