Q: What have been the high points and low points of your career?
A: Clichéd I know, but the ‘80s at Saatchis (and indeed most other agencies) were a ‘golden age’. It was a decade in which anything genuinely did seem possible, and Planning really took off as a discipline. 1988 was probably the high point – I even managed to tag myself onto a XXXX shoot in Australia.
The economy started to go pear-shaped in 1989, and the media and marketing landscape began to fragment. While the many subsequent changes have been by no means all bad, things have never been quite the same since.
My low point was the bleak midwinter of early 1991. We had just launched Bainsfair Sharkey Trott, it was the depths of recession, we had no clients, nobody was pitching anything, and there was tumbleweed blowing down Frith Street. (Luckily, things picked up in the spring.)
Q: In your work, who has had the biggest influence on your communications thinking and practice – and why?
An honourable mention to Charles Channon, who was the catalyst in bringing together new thinking about how advertising works and also (with Simon Broadbent) laid the foundations of the IPA Effectiveness Awards. But my biggest influence is Jean Marie Dru’s work on Disruption, bringing creativity to strategy (alongside Dave Trott who brought strategy to creativity).
I worked with Jean Marie and Dave in the early ‘90s, and also read an awful lot of IPA Effectiveness papers (judging in ’90, ’92, ’94). Disruption was founded on a systematic analysis of success, and the IPA awards provided a vast amount of insight and evidence alongside this.
Creativity in any area is about making unexpected connections – I get a lot of strategic inspiration from ‘outlooking’, transferring thinking from other categories or indeed countries. Disruption also evolved into an ‘open system’, with a big strategic toolkit, much of which I still use today.
Q: What knowledge or skill do you have today that you wish you had possessed when you started out?
The short answer is Experience. I know a lot more than when I started, and still learn new things all the time. Experience helps you see patterns and make relevant but expected connections (markets differ but people are the same). It provides confidence to tackle difficult problems, and inspire confidence in others. It saves you time, and allows you to do more.
Planners are sponges, naturally inquisitive, and look beneath the surface of things. They acquire experience faster than most people, but there’s no substitute for miles on the clock.
I’ve always been suspicious of ‘one-size-fits all’ approaches – every problem is different. But there are tools and approaches that make it easier – the skill is matching the right tools to the problem at hand, again a function of experience. If I’d had the toolkit, I’ve acquired through experience at the outset, life would have been easier and more productive.
Q: What is the single, most important change you have seen in the industry since you started? Has it been a change for the better or worse?
Much doesn’t change – most notably the human brain and the nature of a balance sheet. But, driven by technology (and de-regulation), the speed of life and doing business has changed immeasurably since I started in research in the early ‘70s. Things that used to take weeks, or were not even possible, now often happen almost instantaneously. Communications have tended to become less planned – we’ve shifted from a ‘Think-Do-Learn’ world to a ‘Do-Learn-Think’ one.
Most of this is fantastic. We can do more, more easily, more quickly and more efficiently. A lot of breakthroughs have always been accidental, so doing more is mainly good. But what we often lose is time for reflection and ‘unfocused thinking’, as well as crafting both strategy and content. And I think it is this that we need to fight for, not necessarily more ‘billable hours’ just more time for things to ‘marinate’ in the background.
Chris Baker is a partner in Bacon Strategy & Research, a consultancy that brings fresh thinking, solutions and ways of working to brands, businesses and marketing communications.
With degrees in Physics and Economics, Chris started his career in market research at BMRB, before moving to Saatchi & Saatchi in 1981, becoming Deputy Head of Planning in 1988. He was a founder member of Bainsfair Sharkey Trott (BST.BDDP) in 1990, where he was Planning Director. Subsequent mergers in 1997 and 1998 took him to senior planning roles at GGT.BDDP, then TBWA as Director of Strategic Consultancy. He set up Bacon in 2008.
Chris judged the IPA Effectiveness Awards in 1990, 1992 and 1994 and, as Convenor of Judges, was editor of ‘Advertising Works’ 7 & 8. He has won several IPA Effectiveness Awards over the years, including a Silver for Castlemaine XXXX in 1986, Gold and Special Prize for Integration for the launch of the Central London Congestion Charge in 2004, plus a Gold and Special Prize for Channel Planning for Digital UK in the recent 2012 awards.
His experience is broad, covering hundreds of brands across most sectors, consumer packaged goods, automotive, public sector, charities, and beyond. Some of his current work is direct with clients, but he also works flexibly with agencies, consults for The Advertising Association, and maintains an involvement with the IPA Effectiveness Awards as a mentor for entrants.
In his spare time he is a Director at Ealing Golf Club.
Last updated 12/11/2014