Q&A with Gideon Keith of Strategy.

Our latest Q&A is with Gideon Keith of Strategy Creative. Gideon is the recently appointed Creative Partner for the Auckland office and along with Managing Partner, Melanie Spencer will be re-establishing Strategy’s presence in the Northern market.

Portfolio has a long-standing relationship with Gideon. He has created our last two brand refreshes and continues to manage our creative. Well he manages us, managing our creative.

Annie caught up with him to find out a bit more about his new direction, and intentions for the future of Strategy Auckland. As well as a rehash of a bygone era.

Do you feel like this move is a total reset for Strategy rather than a re-establishment in the Auckland market?
Neither really, I see it as the next step in the life of Strategy. Studios go through phases driven by the people, the place or the clients. Change is an inevitable and necessary part of business, it brings in new ideas and builds on the institutional knowledge and experience. 

But for me it is a reset. When my old studio, Seven, merged with Strategy in 2010 I struggled with the loss of my identity and integrating into a quite different culture. This time I can build a studio around the Strategy culture without that baggage to deal with. 

What will be the most critical focus for the team now you’re settled in?
New business. It’s the critical role that I think CDs/CPs sometimes neglect. It defines the calibre and scope of the work coming in which obviously has a flow on effect. Good clients + good briefs = great work. So we’re focussing on building the client base and developing good strategic partnerships.

What will Strategy bring to the industry in Auckland that it doesn’t already have? Or, what will it take and make improvements on?
The big thing for us will be living up to our name. The circuit back to Strategy started with a contract with an Australian branding agency to build their Auckland studio and over those two years I learnt a shedload about how much strategy informs great work, the processes involved to develop that strategic intent and how not to implement strategy in a creative studio. 

I think everyone is talking up the strategic side of their offer but only a few are delivering. We want to make a name for ourselves for connecting solid thinking with great creative.

Do you have an aim for studio size at this stage, or is that a bit horse before cart?
I think you always have in mind an ideal size for what you want to do, what kind of problems do you want to solve, how big, how complex, how technical and that informs the skills and head count you need. We want to remain small and focus on the quality of the work.

You have directed a couple of music videos, back in the day. Which current artist would you love to work with and make a rad 90s style video with?
Wow, you have been trawling through microfiches of the interwebs. That was a long time ago (in a suburb far, far away) and I think the tag director is a long bow to draw, I was part of the team that created those music videos. The bulk of the credit should go to Marcus Ringrose.

I would love to dust off the director’s chair for Death Grips or Gesaffelstein. Death Grips are just mad, they are pushing boundaries musically and their low-fi homemade aesthetic for their videos (like this and this) really appeal to the punk in me. Gesaffelstein is making really cinematic techno, the clips for tracks like Hate or Glory or Pursuit are works of art in their own right. I also love the work of Romain Gavras like M.I.A.’s Born Free, I love the concept of that clip – if you know my sense of humour you’ll understand it’s appeal.

You and I recently talked about your first job, with Mark Adams. Obviously graphic design has changed on so many levels since then…what hasn’t though, in your view?
In deference to Mr Adams, I’d have to say that grads and juniors have always been a liability. But the studio ‘system’ of teaching, building skills and experience, developing designers is alive and well and turning those liabilities into assets. That process of nurturing talent hasn’t, and shouldn’t, change. The tools, skills and processes are forever evolving but successful studios are learning environments. They mould the amorphous creative blobs that come out of school into the designers of tomorrow. What Mark taught me in the mid 8os has stuck with me and made me the designer I am today. I hope I have, and continue to have, the same effect on the people that I have worked with over the years.

Is your favourite colour black?
Come on Annie, you know black isn’t a colour. Right? 

I digress. You’ve managed and worked with a variety of creatives over the years, what for you is one of the most important things you look for in designer, in a good staff hire (besides the obvious)?
A history of curiosity. I look for someone that is – and has been – open to new ideas and experiences, someone who looks at things from the edge or the side. There’s an old joke about how many designers does it take to change a lightbulb? Designer: Does it have to be a lightbulb? The questioning and inquisitive mind is the single most defining asset of a creative. And a good sense of humour – and thickish skin.

Thanks Gid, appreciate your time, as always.

Q&A with Annie


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