Head of planning at DDB Group Australia on the importance of curiosity and how she’s bagged the 'best job in the agency by far’
DDB Group Australia’s Dom Hickey began her career working in a crime scene lab for the NSW police department before joining the advertising world. During her creative career she’s worked at Wunderman Thompson and CX Lavender before she joined the team at DDB in 2016. Dom also has her own podcast called Junior Mafia which shares the stories of young talent in the industry.
LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?
Dom> I think the terms are pretty interchangeable. One definition is that strategists work in a specific discipline with a lean towards tactical implementation. Planners are T-shaped, focusing on creative insights and messaging across disciplines. It also varies by agency.
LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best?
Dom> Planner. It feels broad enough for the many challenges that come my way.
LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?
Dom> There are so many brilliant examples of campaigns that give you a real a-ha moment, straight from the strategy. Always, Like a Girl. Nike, Nothing Beats a Londoner. The more recent Sperm Positive campaign from DDB New Zealand landed a killer insight.
I love the Give a Flybuys work from CHE Proximity. It’s inclusive and playful, representing so many Aussie tribes in a way that’s respectful and real. It’s also given the brand a long term, flexible storytelling platform. I hope it works its socks off.
LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, what do you find the most useful resource to draw on?
Dom> There isn’t a substitute for touching, smelling, and experiencing the product. You can’t find the real problem without really understanding what it is. Talking to people at either end is also important. Find the people who love the product, find the people who hate it. That will help uncover something to really fight for.
LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?
Dom> Writing creative briefs. There is nothing quite as satisfying as unlocking a big challenge through a real human insight.
LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?
Dom> There’s a great quote from Ogilvy: “Give me the freedom of a tight brief”.
Planning frameworks provide a structure to start exploring in a way that feels tightly organised. Hunting insights down rabbit holes yields interesting results but you need to be tethered to an anchor point to bring findings together in a way that feels sharp.
The 4Cs (or 5Cs) is something almost every planner uses. Working through culture, consumer, company, category, and connections gives you a balanced scorecard for thinking. Stephen King’s planning cycle is as valid today as it was in the ‘70s.
In regard to planning principles, while we’re always learning and evolving the laws of brand growth are proven. These should be used in every brief.
LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?
Dom> I like a good debate, so my favourite creatives stand up for good work, challenge flat briefs and have a point of view. When you brief a team, you’re always wanting them to take a magic leap to something better, not just where you landed in the strategy.
LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?
Dom> There will be times where the creatives have found something brilliant and fresh that didn’t come from the brief. That’s okay, but the strategy should always be sharp and rich enough that it’s driving the work, not the other way around.
Making sure the creatives are excited about the strategy before they begin work is a good start. If the brief feels ordinary, the work will be ordinary and creatives will try and find a better way in.
LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?
Dom> You can show people frameworks and structures, but you can’t teach someone to be curious, and curiosity can’t be faked. I think bringing together a team with diverse backgrounds and different ways of thinking is one of the most important parts of a strong team.
These principles didn’t change during Covid, however the year was particularly challenging for some, so being mindful of the pressures outside of work was important to get the best out of people.
LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?
Dom> I think there is a growing expectation for agencies to have some skin in the game and be accountable for results. Effectiveness should be integral to the culture of an agency and proving effectiveness should be a core part of strategy.
LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?
Dom> Planning needs to be able to sell itself as a critical part of the journey towards good advertising work. Too often, planning departments are hugely outnumbered and struggle to get proper client funding.
LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?
Dom> Do it! It’s the best job in an agency by far.