Stuart heads up all aspects of 3 Monkeys Zeno creative output. He’s won industry awards across PR, marketing, sponsorship and digital here and in the US – and is proud of being shortlisted at the New York Film Festival for a campaign he created for Microsoft, in which Edgar Wright directed the first crowd-sourced animated web film. Stuart has developed innovative campaigns and ideas to promote booze, biscuits, burgers, perfume, kids clothes, PCs and phones for brands like McVitie’s, Jacobs, McDonald’s, Nokia, McAfee, Marks & Spencer and Unilever. He’s worked with sporting and entertainment talent from David Beckham to Dizzee Rascal.
Can you talk us through your last ‘big idea’, Stuart?
A great idea we had was for savoury ice cream, to bring Jacobs products like Twiglets and Mini Cheddars to people in a different way during the summer. We had a savoury ice cream parlour – because it turns out that not everyone has a sweet tooth – and it enabled people to sample and trial Jacobs products in a different way. The insight was born out of the cultural trend that people are mucking about with food in different ways and we looked at when they eat food, how they eat food and so on. The brand had heritage but needed contemporising and being more relevant to a new group of people – it was a bit like if you think about the hackathons that are happening in technology and mix that up with food and have a but of fun.
Was it a success?
It delivered on the business results that we’d set out. For me, you can come up with great ideas all day but unless it’s about effective creativity then why are you doing it? It can’t just be creativity for creativity’s sake. The more that creativity can be grounded in insight and can be measured and link back to business objectives – that’s where you’ll have the best scenario.
What was the creative process?
We’ve put a process in place here where it’s all about grounding things in insight, so we have the insight and planning phase where we look at the brief, we interrogate the brief, then we draw upon insights. Whether they’re cultural or contextual or competitive or within the brand, the insight then informs our creative process. I think the creative process has to be where you start off with a big idea and then you look at tactics, whereas far too often people look at tactics first. At each stage of the process you need to check back against the brief, but also pressure-test: is the central idea right? We have a number of criteria that we checklist against that. We pressure-test it with the client, and then pressure-test the tactics as well, so it becomes much more of a collaborative process where the client is involved and it’s not just done by a single person. It’s about a creative culture within an agency and what we’re seeing that the more collaborative that process is, the stronger the idea and the more resonance it has and the better the outcome.
Have you been able to implement anything that improves creativity at 3 Monkeys Zeno this year?
Yes – we’ve put in place systems and processes and we’ve started with behavioural change as well. One of the things that we have put in place is an effective creative briefing process that starts off with the brief and goes right through to the idea being presented. That has proved very effective in terms of the output that we’re now creating and the robustness of the ideas. And the general quality is consistently high.
Do you feel that clients currently prize genuine creativity over a desire to simply tick all the boxes/cover all bases, or do you tend to feel that the opposite is true?
We’re hired for ideas and we’re paid for activation. I think that enlightened clients will give you some license and put greater emphasis on ideas that really do shift perception and change behaviour and we’re fortunate to work with a lot of enlightened clients. But generally, within the industry, there are varying degrees of understanding of what creativity is; what creativity is to one brand manager is not necessarily the same to the next. Also, we are beholden to what people are actually buying, in terms of the level and scale of ideas. You can apply creativity to everything whether it’s news hijacking or an integrated idea so it’s a misnomer to think that it can only be applied to big creative campaigns.
Do you feel that you have a thriving culture of creativity there?
I think we’re starting to really nurture it, and there’s a real emphasis from the top to do that, and to stay fresh as well.
Do you formally assess your team’s creativity?
We have created a bespoke in-house measurement and evaluation system, and what that allows us to do now is to put some real science behind measurement of ideas linked directly to client business objectives. There’s nothing more effective in showing the role that PR plays in the marketing mix and also how this particular idea has moved forward the KPIs that have been set for PR to be evaluated against. The more science we put behind that, and the more science we put behind the ideas and how they are going to further the business goal and link it directly to outcomes, the better.
Is there something of a disconnect between what clients want and what they’re prepared to pay for?
I think people forget that idea generation is resource heavy, and I think that agencies have got to commit the time and the quality of resource internally because it will give greater quality output of ideas. The ideal scenario you want to be in is where you have lots of great quality ideas rather than a few. That’s the nirvana – to have a book of high-quality ideas to start with rather than to have to be scrabbling around with one or two and finding that actually, you’re going to have to revisit the process again. The role of people being able to understand analytics and insight and really make sense of them and then apply creative thinking to that is vital. I think the future is people with both those skills – and not a planner and a creative separately. And I think that will come, in part, from the diversity of where the industry recruits from. We have a fairly stereotypical way of recruitment, still, and I think the industry needs to break free of that and look at people from different backgrounds to have a diverse pool of thinkers.
On that note, what do you think the PR agency of the future will look like in terms of creativity?
I think generally the creative industry is having to evolve quicker than ever. The speed, the technology, the democratisation of creativity has completely changed the way that ideas and content are consumed. Brands and companies are in a constant battle for people’s attention and I think we have to continually rethink the creative processes and the way that we go about the execution of that to keep up. We have to go beyond a good idea to not only provide something useful for customers but also inspire true engagement with the brand. I think the uptake of social platforms and an inherently global audience mean that we have to start projects with a greater degree of ambition than ever before.
The playing field’s been levelled, then..,
The ability to influence popular culture used to be in the grasp of just a handful of people; today everyone with a great idea can get into the zeitgeist. In a way, we are now seeking to influence culture rather than be influenced by culture. The speed at which we are having to evolve means that we are constantly having to change and rethink the creative process and execution.