Creative Lives — Making the work, work: Creature of London Strategist Lorna Burt
With a background in politics and sociology, Lorna Burt has always had an active interest in human behaviour – something she’s carried over into her current role as a strategist at advertising agency Creature of London. Wrapping her brain around brand and business problems on a daily basis, Lorna helps to solve challenges by altering the way people think, feel or act – whether that’s changing people’s shopping habits or encouraging people to be more green-fingered. It’s a role that she admits is difficult to define, so we caught up with her on the details of being a ‘Strat’ in advertising.
Strategist, Creature of London (2016–present)
Senior Planner, Leo Burnett (2011–2015)
BA Politics and Sociology, University of Bristol (2007–2010)
Tell us a little bit about your role within the company.
I’m a strategist or planner, depending on where you are and who you’re talking to. I think strategist is a more useful description of what I do, (it also stops it from getting confused with town planning, which happens quite a lot). Strategy a relatively new discipline, so to steal a definition from other, smarter people; we make the work work.
We make sure the creative output of the agency aims to change people and solve problems. That means we understand the client’s business problem and what behaviour needs to be changed to solve that. We then help generate creative work – this could be a social post, logo, brand line, TV ad, or an event. Almost every day brings another opportunity to wrap your brain around a different business, brand, person, problem, and a different kind of solution.
What does an average working day look like?
A lot of meetings; creative reviews, briefings and talking about both of those things with creatives and creative directors. Also chats with clients, sitting down with an account director to talk through a deck, research debriefs, feedback sessions, and conversations with media agencies. In between that I’ll work on presentations and briefs and read – anything to help understand the problems and the world, and to help point the solutions at those things.
“Almost every day brings another opportunity to wrap your brain around a different business, brand, person, problem, and a different kind of solution.”
How did you land your current job?
I started as a planner on the grad scheme at Leo Burnett over six years ago, working on big brands like Kellogg’s, Max Factor, Unicef, and McDonald’s. I found my current job through a recruiter who suggested Creature would be a good fit for me. I wanted to continue working on big brands but at a smaller agency with different people, value and ways of working.
What are your working hours?
I generally work from 9am to 6 or 7pm, but I spend days out of the office too, either researching or at clients’ offices, so hours can vary.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Formatting Keynotes is the bane of being a strat – you spend a lot of time getting the flow and look of your presentation spot on. When you’re part of a creative agency I think you have to spend time making sure that every piece of output looks right.
Lorna at work
What skills are essential to your job?
Talking, working, and listening to people; expressing yourself clearly and helping others express themselves clearly; presenting; writing; having an opinion, but wielding it lightly and being curious, persuasive and open-minded. They might sound obvious, but they’re all really important. Fundamentally, understanding the world and structuring solutions is pretty much the core of it.
Would you say your work allows for a good life-work balance?
Yes, generally. Working in Shoreditch helps – it’s easy to meet people nearby or pop into town if you need to. There are obviously times when you go above and beyond on the work front, but that’s generally recognised and appreciated, and steps are taken to make sure it doesn’t happen too often.
What tools do you use most for your work?
A laptop (MacBook Air), phone (my poorly treated S7) and Keynote. I also have a notebook – the official Creature ones are school notebooks (the cool kids choose squares over lines) which I love.
Creature’s work for Anchor
Creature’s work for Anchor
Creature’s work for Anchor
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
A barrister. I saw Liar Liar and liked the idea of persuading a room of people that your version of events was the right one. I went off the whole law thing quite quickly and thought about politics, journalism and film. But it’s always been about informing or changing the way people think or feel.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I wouldn’t say I use any particular political or sociological knowledge from my degree in my everyday life, but my degree and job both share a focus on people and why they do they things they do. Writing a load of essays also really helped with structuring thinking and reasoned arguments.
What were your first jobs?
My first relevant jobs were two internships I did one summer and autumn, one as an account handler, and the other as a planner. I was awful at the account handling, but I got to write (and give) a presentation about youth trends during the planning one. There was no contest as to which one I preferred.
“When you’re part of a creative agency I think you have to spend time making sure that every piece of output looks right.”
What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
Getting on a grad scheme. They’re a bit old fashioned, and you spend a lot of time doing useless training (hello spending a day learning to make a weather segment for local radio) but they’re about security and investment, which is hard to come by when you’re 21. They’re still mainly for account management positions, so I think they should be made to be broader and more efficient.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I’ve learnt that being as collaborative as possible always leads to better work. It can be hard early on when you want to impress people, but the most confident thing you can do is to use other brains and ask for input right at the beginning. Plus, people love being asked for their opinion.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
I’d say there is a lot more client-facing-ness and selling than I had imagined. Strategists can do just as much to sell the work as an account handler or creative.
Creature’s Shoreditch-based office from outside
What would you like to do next?
It sounds obvious, but keeping doing more strategy. I’d like to try my hand at different categories, more brands, and show clients that strategic and creative thinking can be invaluable at a business level, not just in developing advertising. I’d like to help to define brands and shape all of their output, from products to services, and then take that out into the world.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a strategist?
Like a lot of roles in advertising, I think there are now fewer differences between a strategist and a creative, and everyone is expected to have an opinion about the strategy or the work, whatever their role. I would say it’s best to become close with your current strategists and ask to see their presentations, to chat through their thinking and share your own thoughts. Get them involved in shaping your work, identifying ideas and connecting it back to the brief. This way you’ll get to see how they think, and even if strategy isn’t for you, it’s an interesting exercise and might be even be useful!
This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on Creature of London.