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I am a strategy director with experience in all stages of brand strategy and execution. I work with CEO's on the future of their business, and I bring brands to life through tailored content. Whatever you need. I am based in London, but can work wherever you and your clients are.

 

 

The Blog of Camilla Grey

I'm a brand strategist completely obsessed with technology. I've been blogging since 2008 both here and as a contributor to the company blogs of Moving Brands, Digit and Wolff Olins. I'm also the co-founder of the print-only newspaper Can't Understand New Technology. Comments welcomed. Haters gonna hate.

 

Use your words - the value of talking about your work

Camilla Grey

Last week I was very excited to give a talk at Design+Banter, an event series bringing designers together every month in London to trade stories and share ideas. I didn’t exactly fit the brief but. having spent my career working closely with designers, I was permitted honorary entry.

I chose to talk about why (and how) designers should talk about their work. In meetings, in pitches and online, the ability to articulate the thinking and approach to creative work cannot be underestimated. Doing so adds value in many ways, but for the purposes of the talk I identified four.

1/ Make friends
Talking about your work isn’t about “going viral” (although that‘s always fun). It’s about connecting with your colleagues, your peers and your potential employers. Quality not quantity. Sharing your work alongside your point of view allows you to become known for your thinking and approach as well as the finished article. Networks (both on and offline) are fuelled by ideas, so it’s important to get used to sharing yours. 
Pro tip: Writing is muscle: make a little time each day to write about your work and your ideas. Ask someone you trust to read and give feedback. 
Ones to watch: @howells @almonk

2/ Get promoted
We’ve all been there — an intense team meeting tackling a meaty brief. You’ve the got ‘big idea’ in your pocket, but someone louder has got the attention of the room. Taking a moment beforehand to jot down some key points will give you confidence to speak up, get heard and get noticed. Furthermore, contributing to the company blog or press opportunities is a great way to demonstrate your commitment and become known for your point of view. 
Pro tip: Tell your boss you’re committing to this. They’ll be very happy to hear it! Set yourself a goal and work towards it. Eg. A post on the company blog within a month. 
Ones to watch: @movingbrands @wolffolins

3/ Win work
Although more designers are taking on c-suite roles, your client is unlikely to speak the same, highly visual, language as you. Similarly, they may not be thinking about their needs in the same (or, more often than not, right) way. It’s your responsibility to challenge the brief, re-frame it, and play back your work in the context of their business and the wider world. Your innovative, creative approach may be the answer, but you have to help everyone make the cognitive leap if it’s to be successful. 
Pro tip: Study the people around you and whom you admire. Analyse why clients and teams listen to them, and care what they think. Learn and borrow from them, but in your own, special way.
Ones to watch: @manchipp @ustwo

Visual note-taking by Daniel Nobre

Visual note-taking by Daniel Nobre

 

4/ Influence people
As I touched on, the role and value of creativity, design and innovation is expanding exponentially. As is that of talented people with those skillsets. Increasingly creativity is what gives companies their competitive edge, and the world incredible solutions to major challenges. Take ownership of your part in this. By communicating what you do and why you do it, it’s possible to shape the future thinking in your field. 
Pro tip: Look around you. Respond to current events, or thinking from other experts in the industry. If you do, don’t just replay the issues, but focus on your personal response. Why did you think it’s interesting?
Ones to watch: @muratmutlu @andysandoz @johnmaeda

Working with designers is the best thing about my job — I love the way you think and I love the way you write (when you do). It’s kind of weird, and that’s ok. Embrace that weirdness and give it a go. You might like it.

Photography by Joe Watts

Photography by Joe Watts


Thank you to Gearóid O'Rourke and Sam Willis for hosting a great evening. And to Tom Petty for making my slides look pretty when all I have are words. And a huge thank you to everyone who sent such kind messages afterwards.

Time to die

Camilla Grey

 

There’s a lot written about — and entire businesses dedicated to — transforming organisations to make them fit for the future. These industrial-era firms, or ‘dinosaurs’, present with symptoms that suggest potential extinction, and the impulse is to save them. We fight lack of direction with manifestos, silo-d teams with culture re-boots, R&D free-fall with innovation labs, slow decision making with agile processes, and corporate paralysis with defibrillatory workshops, tools, events, recruitment and moonshots. Everyone wants the dinosaur to live. But is that always the humane option?

Last week I met up with another Wolff Olins alum, Nick Keppel-Palmer. Although we never worked with each other directly (he left before I joined), his reputation and approach for saving big dinosaurs endured. As our conversation turned to this subject, I expected him to make the case for survival. Instead, he suggested the opposite, “What if we just let them die?”

If it hadn’t have been lunchtime, I would have ordered a proper drink right about now because this was interesting. What if we let them die? What if we helped them to die? Why had noone suggested this before? As Nick explained…

The weird thing is that all the best companies started life by doing something good and new that the world needed. The big car companies, supermarkets, energy companies, even the banks all started life making it easier for people to live, or move, or eat, or prosper. Their value was in what they did for us, not in what they had.
But at some point each and every one of them stopped looking outwardly to find what new value they could create, and instead became defined and confined by the value inside — everything they had under their big roofs and behind their thick walls.
The problem nowadays is that pretty much all of that value, that external value that makes it possible for humans to do new stuff and to live better, is coming not from old ultra efficient dinosaurs but from start ups that exist only to create the new, not to replicate the old.

Now, I don’t think that either of us are suggesting that start ups win, and now it’s time to go on some global spree, powering down the Fortune 500 one by one “for their own good”. But I like that, for some, it could be an option. I like the idea that after time, consideration and exploration of all other solutions, there’s an acceptance that the list of symptoms is just too long and a dinosaur can be laid to rest.

Because the great thing about letting a dinosaur die, is that it can then come back as something else. Free from the problems that killed it, it has the potential to reincarnate with the strengths that kept it going so long in the first place. Strengths like people, market understanding, consumer insight, networks, real estate and IP.

What’s important to remember, is that this shouldn’t be about making room for another generation of dinosaurs. In fact, we’re already seeing once nimble, responsive organisations grow lumbering and lost. For Nick, it’s about approaching companies in the way we’re starting to approach work,

No jobs for life, work defined by outputs and creativity not by inputs and time, portfolio existence, a much more dynamic value exchange between employer and employee which is defined as temporary at the outset, with the expectation that continuation is the exception not the norm. What if we treated companies the same way?! Wouldn’t it be great……?

Subscribing to this philosophy, means believing that organisations could become just as flexible and transient as the people that work for them. They are small, efficient and fast — creating value where it’s needed before changing into something else. We are already seeing flashes of this approach in ‘pivoting’, but it’s positioned in the context of failure. What if companies weren’t built to endure and grow old, but to live short but beautiful lives?

So, the next time you’re faced with a brief that reads like a list of symptoms, or a team trying to solve problems within the very framework that created them, maybe it’s ok to accept that treatment won’t lead to a cure. Let go of what can no longer evolve, and move forward with what can. From the dinosaurs came the birds. Time to die.

With thanks to Nick Keppel-Palmer for his insights and input to this piece. Image by Howard Grey.

Squad girls: Swift's influential women's networking group

Camilla Grey

“I absolutely slay omelets”. Yeah you do T-Swizzle. But reading between the lines of a recent Vanity Fair interview and Taylor publicly rolling “squad deep” to the VMA’s over the weekend leads me to think it’s not just omelets she - and her BFF’s - are slaying. It’s the entertainment industry too. 

Is Taylor Swift’s squad the sugar-coated, pillow fighting, kitten holding girl gang the world’s media will have us believe, or is it in fact a networking group for high net worth, highly influential women leaders? I mean, Miley, what’s good? 

In the VF article, Taylor explains, “When you’ve got this group of girls who need each other as much as we need each other, in this climate, where it’s so hard for women to be understood and portrayed the right way in the media… now more than ever we need to be good and kind to each other and not just each other”. As a lyricist, you can’t blame her for a bit of hyperbole, but compare her definition to that of c-suite women’s organisation, Watermark, and the missions are almost sisterly, “a community of executive women who have risen to the top of their fields—coming together to connect, develop and advocate for the advancement of women in the workforce”.

Wipe away the lipstick and it’s clear to see that the group of women Taylor surrounds herself with goes beyond mere friendship. These are women earning millions of dollars a year, they are managing careers, brands, teams, finances, properties, relationships… They are innovators, finding new ways to connect with their fans, release their work, and explore other verticals beyond their areas of expertise. Why would they look to an aging record exec, when they can look to each other? As model Cara Delevigne concurs in the same article, “There’s always a lot more pressing matters going on than what we’re wearing”.

If their private conversations are about more “pressing matters”, why aren't their public ones? Taylor and her squad can amplify their power by sharing more of what makes them truly powerful. I'd love to know how Kloss manages her finances. It'd be great to hear how Cara maintains a demanding schedule across time zones. What exactly are the skill sets they outsource and who does those jobs?

Getting your glad rags on and shutting it down at the VMAs is certainly one Squad Goal. But being an influential female leader is the one we should all aspire to, and one we can help each other achieve.

Up next

Camilla Grey

As of today I am a freelancer in brand and content strategy. I’ve heard you’re not meant to use the f-word. But the c-word (consultant) isn’t very me. I’m a gun for hire, I do strat, let’s get on this.

After two and a half years at Wolff Olins - an amazing, amazing institution where I was given opportunities and support that I never dreamt of - I’m cutting loose. There’s no big, dramatic reason. I just felt ready. Ready to take all I’ve learnt and apply it to projects I choose. Ready to take some risks and cope with the lows as well as the highs. Ready to work in a new way with new people. It might even be a bit of a laugh.

There’s another little change happening too. Camilla’s Store - my username since the beginning on Blogspot and then across every social profile going - is fading away. For a long while CamillaStore was my alter ego - far more brave and sassy than I felt. But we’ve both grown up a bit - she shoots her mouth off less, and I have more confidence. For personal reasons and all-important brand consistency, you can now find me @camillaxgrey or here on my new website.

I am legit thrilled to be starting out with Murat Mutlu, who I admire deeply, at Marvel App, where they are growing fast. I’ll also be working concurrently with Adaptive Lab - one of the next generation of agencies and full of smart, young thinkers. And I’m going to be writing more. It begins…

If you have a project you’d like to talk to me about, please drop me a line to say “hi”. Or check out the rest of my site to see what I’ve been up to lately. See you out there.

 

 

A newsletter of a generation

Camilla Grey

Yesterday, Lena Dunham announced the forthcoming launch her of newsletter, Lenny. Describing it as being like “your over sharing Internet friend”, the newsletter is aimed at young women and will cover fashion, politics and relationships. Dunham and her co-creators have outlined big ambitions for the newsletter and hope to surface many different voices through their content. But perhaps most interesting is how The Cut (the women’s section of the New York Times) heralded Lenny’s launch. In an otherwise warm and positive piece, their opening line made no bones about the underlying intention of Lenny.

“The Lena Dunham experience is getting another brand extension.”

Brands — and Lena Dunham has become a brand — must constantly find new ways to cut through an otherwise crowded space and (it just never gets old) engage deeply with their target audience. In 2011, I wrote about Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter client (now publishing platform) A Plus. If you’ll excuse me the self-indulgence of quoting myself,

A.plus has gone beyond hoping that people will actively seek out or notice tweets from brands — or in his case “celebrities” — and positioned it right there next to your Twitter stream. As Twitter, and indeed other social networks, age and grow, the idea that your brand’s voice will be heard through the noise just because you’re good at tweeting is not a risk worth taking. What A.plus proves, is that if you have the insight on your audience to give them something they’ll truly use — like a great Twitter client — then you have also created the opportunity and right to give your voice, your message priority

Lena Dunham has earned that right, and she’s been smart about where she’s used her voice and how. And yet, while the underlying need to stand out has not changed, audience savvy has. And none more so than among the young, enlightened, feminists that Dunham is going after. In fact, she’s helped educate them. Through GIRLS, her book and her social channels, she’s instigated a discourse around our online and offline selves, around what’s meaningful and what’s bullshit, and around what’s art and what’s artifice.

The focus when it comes to Lenny seems to be about modern feminism, but I think it’s really about something deeper — the existential dilemma of self as brand. In the Buzzfeed coverage, Dunham is quoted as saying, “We’ll be allowed to show the ugly and complicated thought processes that go into forming your own brand of feminism”. But take out the last two words and it takes you closer to the nub of the challenge facing everyone today, not just women. Feminism is a part of it, but what’s made Dunham “a voice of a generation” is her creative response to the bigger picture, to responding to mass marketing with self marketing.

I read recently that Millennials aren’t a demographic, but a genre — a cultural style that’s informed by a diverse set of interests that spans fashion and politics, food and finance. What defines a Millennial isn’t their age, gender or location, but their ability and appetite to live full lives amidst a barrage of conflicting messages and pressures. In this light, Lenny is potentially quite meta — a ‘brand extension’ about navigating life in a world of branded extensions. My inbox awaits.