Advice for young planners – Skunk Strategies


Never surrender to lacklustre thinking, always know you have a better idea. Image courtesy of asboluv

I like Skunk Strategies.

Or rather I like them in the absence of anything else. And you might find the approach useful especially if you are working in a difficult sector, on a difficult piece of business or at an un-inspiring agency.

We don’t always get to work on dream projects with loads of latitude and the freedom to create the thinking that we feel is the most interesting. This is especially the case at the beginning of our careers or with client organisations or agencies that set their strategic sights low.
So we acknowledge that the confection on the table is somewhat lacklustre in the thinking department, though we are nominally responsible for it. Sure it’s no ‘positive hate’ or ‘tolerate mornings’ but it’s a damn sight better than the original pile of rubbish the client or agency management was determined should sit in the middle of the brand bagel or whatever they happen to be using. And we then reassure ourselves that it is actually quite good for this category.
Everyone can understand why these kind of disappointing outcomes happen. What is unforgivable is when we don’t have an alternative strategy under our hats that we love and tried to sell instead.
Whenever I come across thinking that simply doesn’t excite me but where there are extenuating circumstances for why the strategy is as it is, I always ask the planner for their skunk strategy. A skunk strategy is that alternative bit of thinking that they really wanted to land. Who knows, with a following wind we might be able to create some new energy around it and even if this isn’t possible it is a reassuring sign of professional pride and personal standards.
I heartily recommend this approach whenever you feel that the piece of thinking on the table simply underwhelms you. I mentioned a few skunk strategies – particularly from pitches in the Strategy Safari post I did a couple of years ago.
Incidentally I named Skunk Strategies after an approach we took at HHCL on big pitches. There would be an official pitch team and a skunk pitch team with the later freed from the obligation to follow the pitch brief at all.
When pitching to hold onto the Tango business I was in a skunk team that was concerned with putting the ‘orange’ back into Tango and used the strategy ‘Its the oranges stupid’ in honour of the note that Clinton had pinned around the place in the run up to the 1992 presidential elections. One route was based on the observation that Tango contained the whole fruit a bit like economy pies contain the whole pig. The line was “The whole orange from snout to arsehole” and the work depicted the ghastly abattoir where Tango was made. Hey ho.
Here’s the Folger’s ‘tolerate mornings’ ad by the way – still think its great.

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7 Replies to “Advice for young planners – Skunk Strategies”

  1. ‘And research because this hardly suits the buccaneering spirit of the digital frontier where gut feel and instinct get results’ – this is from a former post of yours (but it wouldn’t allow me to post comment).
    I think this is a great line. Before I entered advertising, I used to think I had great ‘gut feel and instinct’ etc .. I still think it is really important. But to discover the power of research is something else. Firstly, research is NOT boring (it is when you first start off). I love gathering data now because I know this data will help, in some shape or form, make the campaign / brand more RELEVANT. And being ‘relevant’ is really great. Plus real research is about qualifying your data and this takes a creative-thinking / human approach. This isn’t a chore. But often / usually enjoyable / interesting. And having done as much research as time allows, you then go into the creative thinking stage feeling that you deserve to be doing creative thinking, and that your creative thinking isn’t just based on how good you think your ‘gut feel and instincts’ are!

  2. Rob I think tango’s reaction was called CHI … shame though it is

  3. I completely agree Rob, I work as an account exec for an agency that does not really believe in planning and research, (other than for the odd pitch) and it is driving slowly insane. As we are expected to write the brief and provide the creative’s with the platform to start their work, yet we have no platform ourselves from which to start which would be good research and analysis. Much like you before I started in Advertising I thought that not doing research was fine and you should just trust your instinct, but the more you look at and analyze good campaigns the ones where the understanding of the consumer is well considered come out top time and time again.

  4. Sounds like Mother from what I’ve heard Karl!
    Instinct is good, well planned research is good, why anyone would automatically exclude one of those two without a damn good reason (no money, no instinct, etc!) is beyond me.

  5. Banksy rocks! More insight and art in everyone of his ‘fitis than in any brief I ever wrote – instinct or otherwise.

  6. The last 3 pitches I’ve watched my agency lose have been defeated by skunk strategies – the emotively resonant and creatively fertile thinking seems to consistently molest the “well informed” client strategy into submission.
    The tricks seems to be able to pick & prey on a client’s lack of strategic confidence with a skunky & well sold POV.
    My kingdom for pitch bravery!

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