Manifest founder Alex Myers on breaking down creative barriers

Manifest founder Alex Myers on breaking down creative barriers

Creative and strategy. Strategy and creative.

The relationship between strategy and creativity is ever-changing, but always vital.

Creative Moment editor Lucy Smith caught up with Alex Myers, founder and CEO of Manifest, to find out how he plans to set his agency apart when it comes to great creative and strategic work. Manifest know a thing or two about good creative, having won Creative Moment's Creative Agency of the Year 2021.

Lucy Smith: We've been talking about the integration of marketing and PR for close on 20 years, where have we got to on that road?

Alex Myers: That progress only happens when you stop seeing PR and the wider creative industries as different sectors - and it’s not PR agencies, but integrated agencies driving it forward. 

In truth, earned media is just one pillar of brand communications, and if you’re not interested in the wider picture, you’ll always play second fiddle to the other agencies willing to start with a channel-agnostic strategic approach. Too often we hear of PR agencies creating a single OOH billboard as ‘eating adland’s lunch’ when in reality they are just using paid media as a PR tactic and don’t connect the value and performance of both channels at all. 

Doing great things in the creative sector involves representing the full creative gamut in your strategic thinking, not working backwards from a headline as is so common in PR agencies.

That means rethinking personnel, redefining client relationships and bringing down the fences between the creative disciplines. A PR agency can’t do great things in the creative sector without the ambition to become a creative agency.

Lucy Smith: How do creativity and strategy intersect?

AM: In a world increasingly embracing a unitary approach to brand communications - where media channels aren’t just complementary, but symbiotic - strategy is the new creative.

Traditionally, brands have looked at the ECD and creative flair of agencies as a primary reason to hire them, but we are already seeing that change as brands increasingly value the high level brand strategy essential to game-changing creative work. 

As a result we’re entering an era of the high profile Executive Strategy Director (ESD). That’s not to the detriment of creative teams but a huge benefit for them; without strategy the creative doesn’t work, but without creative, even the best strategy will fail to fly.

Lucy Smith: Haven’t great strategy and great creative always been intrinsically linked?

AM: All the best creative work comes from great strategy, yes. That link, however, has more demands on it than ever as the media landscape has fragmented, and the average media experience has evolved across myriad devices. 

Strategy at brand level is more complicated now, and the spectrum of creative delivery ever broader. It’s easy to see this as a new field of challenges, but in reality the opportunities this brings shine even brighter. 

The synergy between strategy and creativity is more important than ever before as it is the key to not only competing in a category but to redefine it. It’s no longer a union that just shapes your marketing - it shapes your business, and that’s an exciting proposition for anyone in our industry.

Lucy Smith: Do you think you can ever have a brilliant creative campaign that isn’t strategic?

AM: You can have a creative campaign that delivers reach without any clear strategy. It just won’t ever meet its potential to drive results. 

There is a big difference between a campaign people see, and a campaign people join — that difference is strategy.

Lucy Smith: Congratulations on your move to LA. What differences do you see in creative in the US?

AM: We’ve been in New York now for six years, and the differences between the US and European markets are bigger than you’d think. However, just as there’s a huge cultural divide between the north and south of the UK, the differences between East to West coast America are stark. It’s important for us to build a bi-coastal presence not just to deliver better national reach, but better cultural balance for national campaigns.

In terms of differences, the US market is still quite siloed, and creativity therefore tends to exist in some channels and not others. 

Our brand-centric approach is very different to the US agency archetype, but that’s changing fast. Things move more quickly in the US and that includes industry evolution, not just campaigns. I think the US market knows that Europe is a step ahead on culturally relevant creativity, and they’re really open to learning and evolving. Europe, though, can often be a bit defensive about what they have to learn from the US market when in reality America is miles ahead in some areas.

Lucy Smith: How impacted do you think the creative marketing sector will be from the current economic downturn?

AM: As with any macro economic situation, there are opportunities as well as risks. I think, as usual, it will be larger networks that suffer the most, as the premium they charge for their ‘safe pair of hands’ reputation feels less and less compelling in a market context that demands innovation and better ROI from marketing. 

As with past economic downturns, I think we’ll see more agency consolidation from bigger brands - which, in truth, brings better work as well as efficiency gains - meaning agencies that remain steadfastly ‘in their lane’ might lose out to more adaptable shops with a broader, integrated proposition.

Lucy Smith: On a personal note, what are you hoping to achieve with Manifest this year in terms of your creative output?

AM: I’d love for us to continue to cement our ‘unified’ approach to creative work - where channels don’t just complement, but amplify one another. We saw this with our The Boob Life work for Tommee Tippee, where a brand film incited a social media reaction that generated headlines across the globe. 

As an international indy agency, we’re also able to work as one 24hr creative team, so seeing that evolve as LA joins the fold. We are seeing global creative - traditionally the realm of diluted cultural relevance - evolve dramatically with digital media, and I’d love for Manifest to be a driving force for that through its global AOR relationships.

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