Category Archives: Digital Strategy

Merry Christmas, Big Issue Bill

I buy the Big Issue from Bill. If you are a regular around Central Station, you may have noticed Bill. He’s a wiry looking older chap, who has constructed a vertical shelf as a shopfront which he wheels around with him. It provides a holding place for his magazines, music from a battery operated stereo, a collection of personal paraphernalia (including a small plush dog that often ‘escapes’ onto the nearby pavement), and a topical sign that greets passers-by.

You are most likely to spot Bill this time of year, when he dons his Santa jacket, hat and beard. He’s not a foolish man, so in this heat he opts for blue workman’s shorts. Buying a copy of the Big Issue from Bill is always and experience – I won’t share any of his wit and wisdom here, perhaps in another post.

Today Bill had a little surprise after he handed me the magazine. He reached down into a box at the bottom of his wheelie-shelf, and pulled out a plastic tray and a little piece of paper. From the tray he offered me a ‘tempter’ – a chocolate éclair to chew on. And then he handed me the piece of paper. ‘It’s a Christmas card’, he said, by way of explanation.

The ‘card’ is a quarter of an A4 sheet, printed with festive bunting and a photograph of Bill’s fluffy canine companion (wearing his Christmas headgear). It simply reads, in a suitably festive font, ‘Merry Christmas And a Happy New Year from Big Issue Bill And friends’.

My question is a simple one. Why is it that ‘Big Issue Bill’ is far more skilled at experience and relationship marketing than most of the faceless, charmless monster-corporations whose saccharine Christmas music and tacky festive displays we endure every day?

Merry Christmas to you too, Bill! See you next year.

(cross-posted from the Naked Communications blog)

Digital’s Live Connection, Digital Media (Asia)

A while back I spoke to Sarah Yin, a journalist who was writing about the use of digital to create real-world connections for Digital Media (Asia). Interesting article, came out in March. Apparently this is what I said;

“Digital is a wonderful environment to foster word-of-mouth,” says Brett Rolfe, a director at Naked Communications in Sydney. “It can make it easier to find audiences that you wouldn’t find easily in the real world, and you can be more tailored in your digital communications.”

However, Rolfe warns that digital media can only act effectively in this sort of campaign when clients are clear about two things: who the audience is, and whatmessage they want to communicate.

“We feel that what you should be doing with any communications problem is identifying touchpoints where you want to relate to the consumer. This is entirely influenced by what your product is, who your consumers are and what objectives you have at that point,” says Rolfe.

Yeah, sounds like me. You can check out the full issue here.

Integrated Head, Specialised Hands

[This post is syndicated from the Naked Australia blog]

Many agencies and networks seem to be struggling with the ‘specialisation vs. integration’ dilemma. On the one hand, fragmentation of marketing vehicles (particularly in the digital space) is demanding ever-deeper specialised expertise. Being digital experts used to be enough – now we have mobile experts, search experts, and any moment we will no doubt see the spawning of mobile search experts as the technical specialisation continues. On the other hand, an increasing (and long overdue) disenchantment with shoving the same old ads down the same old media channels is demanding greater strategic integration from agencies. When client’s expect a media-neutral ‘big idea’ to be the foundation for their campaigns, agency groups can no longer rely on sending around a slick TVC and expecting studio to create ‘matching luggage’ executions across print digital et. al.

Some of the networks (particularly the digital ones, like Isobar and the ill-fated Blue Freeway) attempt to address this conflict between specialisation and integration by bringing together a group of diverse specialist agencies under one roof. In this way they can assemble the right mix of specialisations in response to a given problem. This approach is also adopted by a few of the more forward-thinking international clients who bring together multi-disciplinary ‘agency councils’ to work toward a single integrated idea. The challenge with the ‘multiple specialists’ approach is twofold. Firstly, it relies on agency cooperation, and while this often starts with the best intentions (P&Ls and political infighting notwithstanding), cooperation is often hard to achieve unless the groups consistently work on projects together. Secondly, bringing the right mix of specialists together is impossible until you know the shape of the solution – as a result, agency councils often steer the outcome (innocently enough) toward their own expertise… regardless of the nature of the problem.

A better solution is to separate strategic and creative thinking from execution. Agencies that focus on developing media-neutral insights, strategies and ideas are not under the same pressure to develop deeply specialised technical skills as executional agencies. For this reason, clients can brief a single ‘integrated strategy and creativity’ agency to develop the architecture for a solution in response to their marketing problem. As long as they apply sound strategic analysis and innovative thinking, these agencies can build the integrated ‘big idea’ foundation that can then be briefed out to specialist executional agencies. Importantly, these specialists can be chosen based on the proposed solution – making sure you can have the most appropriate partners every time without limiting your options.

Integrated strategy and idea, specialised execution. It probably doesn’t make life that much easier, but it does give you a better chance of creating some really good marketing.

On the Production of Creative Subjectivity

“Businesses today are requiring higher levels of creativity and innovation in the face of rapid change, fierce competition and increasingly complex markets. Nowhere is the more obvious than in digital media, where new approaches are being sought to creative concept development.

Grounded in psychology, academic research into creativity has focused almost exclusively on the individual, acknowledging social and cultural environment as passive factors. This paper proposes an approach that radically de-centers the individual, suggesting that creativity emerges from within a complex engagement of individuals, processes, resources, structures and limitations. The model proposed draws on the notions of ‘distributed cognition’ and ‘machinic subjectivity’ to provide a framework that encompasses the creative potential of the individual, but situates it within other equally critical environmental elements.

Given this understanding of the creative endeavour, the term ‘manager’ becomes too limited and prescriptive, and might best be replaced with a more suitable term such as ‘facilitator’ or ‘catalyst’. There is a clear consensus on the value of ‘creative generalists’ who are able to bridge discourses and act as catalysts for creative connection. Such generalists as these appear to be ideally placed to facilitate the creative assemblages that are taking shape inside digital media agencies. ” [read the full paper]


Rolfe, B. (2007) ‘On the Production of Creative Subjectivity’. In K. K. W. Wong, L. Fung & P. Cole (Eds.) DIMEA ’07 Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on Digital interactive media in entertainment and arts (pp. 50-57). NY, USA: ACM New York.

Scott’s Experience Planner Blog

A while back I sent out a few copies of our strategic creativity deck to those folk writing blogs that I get a lot out of, on the off chance they may find it interesting. I was very flattered to discover that Scott Weisbrod has decided to post a few of his favourites on his great Experience Planner blog (if you don’t read it, why not?!). I’ll be curious to see which ones Scott picks to share…

Strategic Creativity Deck

Well, after an inordinate amount of writing, designing and related faffing about, we finally have the OneDigital strategic creativity deck. Fifty-two nice glossy die-cut thought starters for developing digital marketing strategies. They’ve been great fun to put together – it will be interesting to see how they get used internally and externally.

“The strategic creativity deck was created by OneDigital in our ongoing pursuit of digital marketing excellence. It’s a great resource for kick-starting your thinking and getting those creative juices flowing.
We use it internally and with our clients. The deck is designed to help you think beyond traditional solutions, inspiring new approaches to creating engaging brand experiences.”

The times, they are a’changin

Well, a number of pieces of news to report – on personal, professional and academic fronts…

– As of December, Digital Strategist Pty. Ltd. will cease trading. After three and a half years, I aill be hanging up my Director hat (though I will retain the trading name – and this groovy web address). The company has done very little business since I have been at OneDigital, so it seemed the sensible thing to do.

– At the same time, I will be discontinuing my PhD candidature at UNSW. This took a lot of thinking, but I eventually decided that I could not do it justice while working a serious full time job. I am still very much interested in the area, and hope to pick it back up, but that would be in a few years at least, so for now… Dr. Elvis has left the building.

– In somewhat related news, I will be transitioning from Director of Strategy to Creative Director at OneDigital. This is a very exciting move, as you can probably tell from my willingness to shelve both the business and the study to pursue it. I think the agency has incredible potential, and coming on as Creative Director will hopefully give me a chance to help the team turn that potential into reality.

So, the circle of time, yadda yadda… from one thing and on to the next. The year ahead will no doubt prove to be challenging, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Brett Rolfe
Creative Director, OneDigital