Creative People Need To Think Strategically. Right?

I will absolutely not make judgments on agencies that appear on “The Pitch” based on how the show makes them look. The heavily edited, overly dramatic, trainwreck of a reality TV show has taken some decent people and make them look awful. I’ve met some of the participants on a few of the shows so I prefer to trust my personal judgements over some editor.

But I do want to focus on one very glaring takeaway from the most recent episode, which featured Charlotte’s BooneOakley.

We’ve written about them before (although Oakley’s comments in the linked article here are a bit ironic at first glance) and they’ve done some very cool work. But on “The Pitch,” a very big deal was made of the emergency illness of Greg Johnson, the agency’s CMO. Because without his presence, we’re led to believe the creative folks at the agency, even the senior folks, can’t (or don’t) think very strategically and need a reality check only Johnson can provide. And when they do finally make their pitch, with some interesting ideas, they have a bit of trouble explaining the rationale behind their thinking. Keith Greenstein does an admirable job of pulling together some answers when pressed by the client, but the camera shows him struggling to be convincing.

So here’s what I’m wondering: Do most creatives think strategically? I’ve always thought we had to, or else. Are young creatives even taught (or expected) to think strategically anymore? Is there really a gulf between strategic people & planners and the creatives at the most creative shops? Or is it just expected that the creatives should go as wild with their thinking as possible, and that it’s up to folks like Johnson to rein them in?

As I said, I won’t judge BooneOakley by this show, and their rejection by a client who simply wanted some viral buzz. But I was cringing watching all of them struggle without Johnson. Creatives need to be strategic. And it doesn’t have to equate to being conservative or boring.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. I didn’t like seeing Boone Oakley appear as if lost at Strategic Sea. That was not good. But I did like seeing the disarming, down-to-earth nature of the partners and the people around them. While strategy is the glue that binds, I also appreciate that Boone and Oakley know their strengths and try to work around their weaknesses. 

  2. DClaxton says:

    Shawn: I made some comments on my FB wall the other day about it.  I’m 1 for 3 in picking the winning project with this show now, and to me, all that weird-angle early 1990s snap-focus video is annoying to watch. 

    I personally thought the Boone Oakley pitch was better and for the life of me, I’ve not seen any of the creative material featured in any of the three episodes I have seen actually on TV.  

    But yes, they did make it seem like BO was aimlessly adrift without Greg in the office.  I believe one of the staffers even said they needed him to come in to right the boat.  (That was amplified with the other two out howling at the moon….)

    But to your point, yes, there has to be strategy in creative.  Otherwise, the focus of a project can run away really, really fast.