Martha Soler was recently elevated to chief strategy officer at MullenLowe SSP3 Colombia and Mexico. She previously held the position in Mexico.
She is an intriguing mix of planner with creative due to the fact that much of her career has been spent working as the latter. A result of that is her viewpoint that strategy is the "first creative piece" of a campaign.
Outside of work, Martha does stand up comedy. "I think comedy is an inexhaustible source of insights," she says on her LinkedIn.
Find out about that and more in her Planning for the Best.
LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?
Martha> I actually never made that distinction. In my mind they are not mutually exclusive. But I do think both strategists and planners should also be creatives. I have always seen the strategy as the first creative piece in a campaign, maybe because I started my career as a creative. It was more years ago than I care to admit, so when I began working in advertising, we did not have a planning department as such in the agency. We covered a lot of what planners did in an unofficial manner, looking for insights, striving to create differentiation, working to find unique territories, challenging the brief.
LBB> Which description do you think suits the way you work best?
Martha> I like to think of myself as a creative planner. At least it is what I aspire to be every day.
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?
Martha> I love the strategy behind the ‘Got Milk’ campaign, particularly because it involves finding a completely new way to communicate in the category. The California Milk Processor Board had been producing campaigns centred around the benefits of consuming milk (calcium, strong bones), but results were not promising. People were not drinking more milk. Then a brilliant planner, Jon Steel (I am a fan), challenged the way they were addressing the problem by highlighting not the benefits, but the ABSENCE of milk, making the beverage an absolute must have.
The rest is brilliant planning and advertising history.
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?
Martha> Life. I think all aspects of life feed every inspiring campaign. Our observations, our conversations, the things we see, read, share. The different places our curiosity takes us. One fountain of insights for me, for example, is comedy. I am a stand-up comedian wannabe in my alternate life, and I enjoy seeing the parallelism between that and planning. Both look for strong points of view about life. Both seek to tell the truth in original, unique ways. Both study pain points to transform them in emotional ways to connect. I think planners should have a lot of hobbies, take a lot of courses, maybe join a couple of cults for a while…
LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?
Martha> I enjoy the chaos before the calm, when you have no idea of where you are going, when you have tons of research and data before you and no clue what to do with it…and then, you start seeing the dots connecting, patterns appearing, ideas materialising. I love that moment.
LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?
Martha> In this day and age of technology and data, I keep coming back to a simple principle: You still need an IDEA behind everything. You still need to connect to a powerful, human truth.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work with MullenLowe Brazil on two projects that are good examples:
-The new Redoxon Brand Platform, that is built on a wonderful connection made between Immunity and Humanity, because only when we feel good can we do good.
-And Bepanthen/Bepanthol Baby, that highlights the deep power of skin to skin connection.
The work is purposeful, rooted in human truth, and it takes communication to a more powerful emotional level.
Another example is the work we just developed for Monex, a financial group. The category is often very functional, and we connected to how the financial world can FEEL, and the difference Monex can make.
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?
Martha> I have had great relationships with creatives. I especially love the ones who are open to collaboration. Planning should be a tool for them, never an imposition.
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?
Martha> Maybe it is a sin to say this, but to be honest, I think it can work in both ways, in case we have a powerful idea that came after the strategic planning phase. If it is brilliant, if it makes sense, working to validate it and support it is valid. But normally, in the agency, we really strive to identify the strategy and the insights before the creative ideas, to inspire them, to fuel the fire inside our creative teams.
LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent?
Martha> Passion. Ours is a demanding industry and I believe people should love what they do to be able to succeed.
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?
Martha> I think it is great to have more platforms to evaluate and showcase strategic thinking, and I love that today, effectiveness is not divorced from creativity. Results without strong ideas behind are not having the same impact.
LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?
Martha> Sometimes it frustrates me when we become slaves to slides rather than ideas.
LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?
Martha> I would tell them that curiosity is the best asset, that creativity is not just reserved to the creative department and that the left hemisphere of the brain is just as important as the right, so think, and have fun.