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Katya Allison

Director of Marketing
Content at GRIN


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How To Market Beyond Data with Mark Pollard at Sweathead

In this episode:

Mark Pollard

Host and CEO at Sweathead

Mark’s approach to marketing hopes to reinvigorate the creativity and empathy that he believes many businesses are lacking.

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Full episode details

On today’s episode, host Katya Allison is joined by Mark Pollard, Host and CEO at Sweathead and Author of “Strategy is Your Words”, for a discussion about creativity in marketing and the marketing space.

On creativity in marketing

Sometimes, marketers can get bogged down by data and it causes brands to lose the human spark that made them compelling. Mark offers a few words of wisdom to combat this:

  • Clarify common department language and create definitions that everyone can clearly understand.
  • Learn to view ideas as combinations of thoughts that are specific and novel.
  • Rework the way creative briefs are formulated. Simple, creative and interesting briefs produce better content than long, data-centric briefs.
  • Use data but don’t let your team be chained down by it. Once data starts squelching creativity then it’s no longer helpful.

Mark’s approach to marketing hopes to reinvigorate the creativity and empathy that he believes many businesses are lacking.

#content #PR #Affiliate #marketing #influencermarketing #creatormanagement

If you enjoyed today’s show, please leave a review and subscribe so you never miss an episode. For more information and links to all of the resources mentioned in today’s episode, visit

Quotes from the episode

Mark Pollard quote on creativity in marketing with headshot

“You have to create a culture in each team where people can feel safe and can be honest.”

-Mark Pollard

“In a creative brief, tell me something that I haven’t heard before, something that has a ton of energy, and that’s raw.”

-Mark Pollard

“Sometimes you need to slow down and not take the first answer. Ask, ‘Why does this matter?’ and eventually you’ll feel like you crack infinity.”

-Mark Pollard

Mark Pollard (Guest) (00:00):

Let’s say… Okay, we’re going to talk to marketers, but we want to talk to marketers who are desperate to do creative work. This is their last shot. If they don’t get this campaign through, they’re leaving. I want to know that stuff. I don’t care about all the data points that you’re going to pull in and bore me with. I want to know like the real honest stuff about these people, even if it’s a bit dramatic.

Katya Allison (Host) (00:29):

Welcome to the GRIN Gets Real podcast, a show for marketers by marketers, to talk shop and share insights on the ever-changing landscape of the digital world. My name is Katya, and I am your host on this exciting journey as we talk to our experts who join us.


Now, GRIN is the number one creator management platform designed for the next generation of brands who recognize that, in the creator economy, authenticity is everything. To get insight on how GRIN can help you manage your creator strategy, visit, that’s


Now, on to my guest today. My guest is Mark. He is the CEO of Sweathead, a strategy training company with a community of 18,000 strategists and a podcast with over 1.3 million listens. In recent years, he’s consulted and trained companies like Wall Street Journal, Twitter, Complex, Media, EA Games, The Economist, as well as agencies around the world. We are going to dive into all things behind the word strategist, so put your AirPods in, turn up the volume and get ready for my guest today, Mark Pollard.


Mark, welcome to the GRIN Gets Real podcast. I’m really excited to have you on here to dig into things beyond just the data for marketers.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (01:51):

Thank you for having me, Katya. Looking forward to the chat.

Katya Allison (Host) (01:53):

Same. So, let’s provide the audience a little bit of context of who you are and just kind of what your area of expertise is?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (02:01):

Sure. So, an Australian in New York, green-carded this year. Official, official. 11 years in New York.

Katya Allison (Host) (02:08):


Mark Pollard (Guest) (02:09):

Thank you. Thank you. I’m not English. I get asked that every now and then. Depends where I am in the States. But yeah, I’m in the US for 11 years. From Sydney. I’ve been around digital and advertising agencies since I was a teenager. About a decade doing websites, so user experience, information architecture, a lot of content planning and writing. And then, late twenties, joined Leo Burnett in Sydney and had this hybrid role of essentially being a digital strategist part of the time, and then an account planner or brand strategist the rest of the time.


And since then, I’ve been trying to sort of piece together the best of those worlds, but also this other world that I grew up in, which is the world of publishing. I used to publish a hip-hop magazine, an underground one, so I was around graffiti and DJing and breakdancing and rapping and all those things for a very long time. And that’s obviously a very expressive culture. It’s also a very competitive culture, and you can’t hide in big words and jargon. And so, anyway, I’ve been trying to channel all these universes that I have existed in and put it together in a world where, now, I mostly teach and train companies and people about how to do all this work, how to do strategy, through a company called Sweathead.

Katya Allison (Host) (03:22):

I love it. I’m really excited about it. What I really wanted to dive into was, in our previous conversations, we’ve talked about strategists and marketers being two different roles. So, I’d love for you to just kind of educate the audience a little bit. When we’re talking about a strategist, what is that? And what, if any, is the overlap with a “traditional marketer?”

Mark Pollard (Guest) (03:43):

Yeah, look, I’d put strategy and strategist above marketing because you could be a strategist in your life, in a game of chess, in sports, right? When we are talking about strategy within marketing, a lot of marketers are… I was going to say strategists. They’re strategic. A lot are. A lot are just running around making stuff for the sake of making stuff. And you see their decks, they’re full of numbers and information. There’s no point of view, there’s no argument, there’s no creativity. But a lot of marketers are very strategic.


What I’m largely talking about when I talk about the strategist, is a role called account planner, which is just over 50 years old. It appeared in the UK as one of three legs of the stool in advertising. So, one leg was the account management team. Their job was largely to represent the interests of the client, as well as the business and the agency. Then you had the creative team. Their job was to come up with stuff. And then the account planner, the main role was really to try to understand the world, especially people. So, when I’m talking about strategists, I’m really talking about account planning.

Katya Allison (Host) (04:48):

Well, I’m glad that you made that distinction because truthfully, I view myself as a strategic marketer. So, when we were initially talking about it, the strategist, I had a knee-jerk reaction. I’m like, “Well, no, I can be strategic.” But those two things are very different. And you’ve written this book, “Strategy is Your Words”, and in that book, you dive into just kind of the framework of, I believe, account planning. So, I’d love for you to share a little bit of insight about just what goes into this framework.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (05:24):

So, it’s a long book. We nearly sold 5,000 copies. It’s nearly sold 5,000 copies.

Katya Allison (Host) (05:29):

You’re just at the corner selling them?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (05:30):

I know, yeah. Well, we’re not on Amazon, right? So I’m a little Aussie selling 5,000 copies of a book in a foreign country through a pandemic, by the way. Launched it a few months into the pandemic. And so just feel a lot of joy and love when I think about the books. Just happy to have it out. Some of it makes sense and some people even like it. Not everyone.


Half of the book goes into the mindset and the psychology of a strategist. It’s quite absurdist. It’s a bit silly. You need to be okay with weirdness to even understand the first half of the book. The second half of the book is more practical and it follows this framework that I came up with called “The Four Points”. Strategists in my line of work love frameworks. And what this does is it tries to argue… And this is not original, a lot of people believe this. But it tries to argue for strategy being a problem-solving craft. Problem solving by understanding people, the consumer and culture to get to a new way, possibly a new way of seeing the brand or the product, to try to build associations in people’s memories and minds to eventually sell.


So the second half of the book is practical. What I just said was a bit intellectual, but it dives into techniques about how to articulate problems, how to dig into problems, how to write insights, what insights are, how insights are like ideas, how ideas can be thoughts, but not all thoughts are ideas. It just goes into the nuances based on someone having spent a couple of decades working in this industry and paying a price for a lack of clear thinking, or paying a price for working with big teams, which for me was always working the weekend.

Katya Allison (Host) (07:09):

Yeah, yeah. One of the things that I kind of want to unpack a little bit is this idea of thoughts and ideas because in our previous conversation as well, too, we talked a lot about just kind of creativity. And I think that that feeds into really a great way to distinct what the… Distinguish, not distinct. Distinguish what that difference is between ideas and thoughts, or really just dive into what do you mean by that? What’s a thought, what’s an idea? What’s the difference? Because I do think that people conflate both of them. They think that that thought is this genius idea that’s going to revolutionize what you do for your brand.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (07:49):

Yeah, so I have definitions. I think each team deserves and can do better. Just having a page of words that they use all the time, clearly defined. And not in a dogmatic, authoritarian, mean way. Just generally speaking, when we use the word idea, it means this and by the way, we have three kinds of ideas that we tend to come up with and here’s what we mean by those kinds of ideas. So I borrow largely from a man called Edward de Bono who published a lot of business books and most of them deal with critical thinking and creativity in business. He passed away last year, so rest in peace to him. And he really started to promote lateral thinking in the 1960s. And it’s pretty amazing because when you make creativity, the research around it, there was so much interesting stuff happening in the 1960s, 1970s. I don’t know what happened in the 1980s. I don’t know. But like [inaudible 00:08:41]

Katya Allison (Host) (08:41):

[inaudible 00:08:41] we’re blanking on that one.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (08:42):

I know. The world got really conservative, right? But essentially, to paraphrase him, an idea is a combination, a useful and novel combination of things that don’t usually belong together. So if you’re in a brainstorm, marketing brainstorm and someone says, “Hey, we could do a stunt at South by Southwest,” that’s not yet an idea. That’s not something that can exist in the world. That’s a thought. The idea would need to be more specific. And it depends what you’re selling. I’ll make something up on the fly, which is always dangerous. If you’re selling noodles and they’re hilarious, it’s a brand that does comedy, maybe you’re like, “You know what? We’re going to create a range of wigs made from our noodles that people can wear and eat while they’re watching a South by Southwest tour.” That didn’t come out too bad. That’s more of an idea. And you give it a name, ‘Eat Your Wig’, or something like that. You give it a name. That’s an idea, hasn’t existed before, novel and useful combination of things. The thought we could do something at South by Southwest, that’s great. It’s not yet an idea. So you got to keep pushing through.

Katya Allison (Host) (09:57):

I love this school of thought because I know that as a director of community, or just sitting in the marketing team, one of the things that we’re always trying to foster is more collaboration and creativity. And I think that one of the things that we consistently get delivered is what you’re talking about. That’s not an idea, that’s a thought. So what’s your advice to foster more ideas versus thoughts when you’re trying to live in this creative space as marketers to find… I don’t know, to really think big and find new solutions to “problems”?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (10:35):

Well [inaudible 00:10:35]-

Katya Allison (Host) (10:35):

How can I foster more of that?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (10:37):

Well, it starts by understanding what the word idea means to you and what kinds of ideas you’re coming up with. Because not only do you need to have a point of view on the word idea, but there are social ideas, content ideas, brand ideas, UI, UX ideas, PR ideas, media ideas. There are 20 types of ideas that get used. So what are we talking about when we say the word idea? Start there. Okay?


Two, is really borrowing from Edward de Bono and realizing that an idea is at least the combination of topic A plus topic B. Stick it together or stick those topics together, give the idea a name and explain it in a sentence where you’re trying to capture the ingredients of the idea in a very clear-headed way. So we need the definitions and then we need to understand that we are combining things. So we could think about how can we sell noodles, topic A, and then topic B could be pens, and we stick them together. I mean, I did it with topic A being noodles and topic B being wigs. I don’t know why I’m introducing pens. Because I had. I had one that worked.

Katya Allison (Host) (11:42):

They are two very different things. I think that because they’re two very different things, it could potentially foster some ideas.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (11:50):

Yeah, and so just understanding that it’s the combination and that combination can be random or it can come from your research. So for community managers, maybe they see certain behaviors that are interesting and unexpected, and you combine them and it leads to a thing. And the third thing is really through writing. Humans are really good at thinging things. Naming behaviors.

Katya Allison (Host) (12:11):

Did you say thinging things or thinking things?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (12:14):

Thinging things. We thing things.

Katya Allison (Host) (12:15):


Mark Pollard (Guest) (12:18):


Katya Allison (Host) (12:19):

What does that mean?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (12:21):

Well, it’s like when you see manspreading… Mansplaining.

Katya Allison (Host) (12:22):

Okay, I get that.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (12:30):

That’s an example of humans naming a thing, in this case two types of behavior, giving it a name and then we’re like, “Oh, yeah, I get that. That creates a new sense of meaning. I understand my world a little bit better.” All right? So I think those three things.

Katya Allison (Host) (12:39):

I think when you do that, it also helps people understand it so that they don’t get stuck in semantics. I think that that has been, honestly, my theme for the week. I get stuck on semantics. So I love the idea that you… I love the idea. Look at me, see now I’m using it. Right?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (12:54):

I know, I know. That’s the danger when you talk to me, you start to second guess yourself.

Katya Allison (Host) (12:58):

I know. I was like, “Oh no, I’m doing the thing. I am doing the thing right now.” Well, because… Oh, see, and now I totally lost my train of thought because I got stuck on the idea. But what I was trying to say is that we often get stuck on semantics. So I like that what you’re proposing is, let’s have a set definition to begin with, so we don’t even get caught up in that because that’s not where creativity lives, us having a semantical debate. But us having this creative collaboration about, “Okay, what more?” I’m also just looking for what are the types of… Or, if you even have advice for this. What are the types of questions that I can ask potentially in this kind of group setting if I’m trying to foster more of this creativity in people that maybe don’t think that they’re creative? But I think that there’s creativity in everyone, you just have to figure out how to get it out. What can I ask someone so that they dive a little bit deeper so it’s not, “Okay, well, we should sell noodles at South by Southwest.” Right? I can’t just say, “Well, that’s a thought, not an idea. Next.” I think to be creative you have to try to get it out of someone, right?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (14:12):

Yeah. So one of the roles of the account planner or the strategist in an agency is to write a creative brief that would go to a creative team and a creative team would come up with ideas. I think another thing that’s going on right now is there are so many strategy and creative roles in companies that aren’t used to them. And so all these people are having to work together where they don’t understand each other’s language, some people aren’t conceptually trained, but they’re responsible for ideas. And it’s just this kind of chaos out there.


So, if we got together and we were working on a campaign for you or for this noodle company, we understand what the word idea is. We get together for an hour, we have some stimulus, some research. That’s also a key job of an account planner or a strategist is usually to do some qualitative or quantitative research. Maybe there’s a creative brief, and in that brief, there could be a clearly stated problem that you’re trying to solve, some kind of insight that helps us understand the problem differently, and then a strategy statement, or a single-minded proposition or a key message.


And then, once you’ve got the creative brief there, or at least those three things, problem, insight, strategy statement, you can come up with ideas and you might say, “In the next 60 minutes, we want to come up with 10 ideas.” But we know what an idea is. We’re going to give each idea a name and we’re going to explain it in a sentence. We get them all up on a wall or in the mirror, whatever you’re doing, zoom-wise, breakout rooms. And that can be a really productive use of time. But if you don’t know the words you are using or how ideas happen, et cetera, you’re just going to be swirling. And every meeting’s going to feel like Groundhog Day, everyone’s going to be frustrated. And so, sometimes, slow down and get those foundations in place first.

Katya Allison (Host) (15:52):

I think one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen across my career, just in general, is when you walk away from a really great collaboration session that makes you feel creative, it almost feels like you’ve just done a CrossFit class. There is something very invigorating about opening up that other side of your brain.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (16:14):

Yeah. So let me turn this into a real-life exercise, okay? Because I’ve trained thousands of people, hundreds face-to-face. Hundreds, probably thousands face-to-face, but definitely hundreds face-to-face. And what I often find myself doing is getting people to slow down and stop rushing through all the information and stop stopping just the obvious facts. So why do you like those interactions, where you feel creative? Why do you like that?

Katya Allison (Host) (16:39):

Why do I like the interactions?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (16:39):

Those interactions that make you feel creative. Why? Why do you like it?

Katya Allison (Host) (16:40):

I like it because it feels good. I feel smarter in a weird way, even though it’s being really creative. I also think there’s something very… to me, it’s satisfying. And I don’t know how to articulate that satisfaction of it. Like, ah. I didn’t even know that I had that in me. So it’s like, no, I’m trying to go back. I like it because it’s self-discovery for me. That’s what I’m gaining from it.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (17:15):

But, “I didn’t know I had that in me.” See how simple that language is? That’s more of an epiphany to me. And then, you bookended that sentence with longer words to sound smarter. “But I didn’t know I had that in me.” That’s really interesting to me. So that feels like something of an insight. Now, instead of rushing through the brainstorm, coming up with new ideas, et cetera, because we’re not even playing with ideas yet, I would slow down and go, “Well, why do you think you find it satisfying when something you didn’t know was inside of you, pops out?” Why is that satisfying to you?

Katya Allison (Host) (17:50):

Because I value growing.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (17:53):

Okay. Why do you value growing?

Katya Allison (Host) (17:56):

Because I’m always striving to get better.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (17:58):

Why are you always striving to get better?

Katya Allison (Host) (18:00):

And that’s the value for me.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (18:01):

Yeah. Why?

Katya Allison (Host) (18:01):

Why am I always striving to get better? Because I always want to be the best version of myself.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (18:09):

Okay, why? Give me 20 more seconds. Why?

Katya Allison (Host) (18:12):

Okay. Why do I always want to be the best version of myself? Well, this is going to be really rot. Because if I’m the best version of myself, my kids will be the best version of themselves. If I really, really boil that down.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (18:28):

Yeah. And so the language that I like the most still is, “I didn’t know I had it in me.” And I guess what you’re saying is if you can find it in yourself, then you feel that you’re going to be a good role model for your kids so that they should be able to find it within themselves to also be creative, to solve problems, et cetera.


I’m bouncing between real talk and kind of some business jargon here as well. But what I’m trying to show you is, we’re not even talking ideas yet, but just from in … an insight to me is a kind of revelation, maybe a confession. And I’ve interviewed thousands of people, rappers, graffiti artists as well as people about beer and raising babies. And it’s when they start to slow down and pause, when I keep going, “Why?” Or, “Why does that matter to you?” Or, “Tell me a time that mattered to you.” And eventually, I start to hear, especially if I’ve got headphones on, if I’m recording it, there can be a bit of a crack, a little crack in the throat. And that’s when I know that we’re having a real conversation.


But people aren’t always comfortable doing that. So you got to create a culture, in each workshop, or with each team, on each project, where people can feel safe to be honest, to say silly things, mischievous things, et cetera, right? But all I wanted to show, and it took a few minutes to do it, is sometimes you just got to slow down and not take the first answer and go, “Why does that matter? Why would that matter to you? Why would it matter to someone else?” And eventually you kind of… I feel like you crack infinity and you stick your hand in. You can pull a little butterfly out of infinity. You’re like, “Oh that’s beautiful. I didn’t know I had it in me.” Short words. Beautiful.

Katya Allison (Host) (20:05):

I didn’t. I know, and I don’t know that I would’ve been able to articulate it to that. It’s interesting to me, you’ve obviously been doing this for so long that you can hear it faster than most people, or sooner. You see it. Because I also talk out loud, which I feel is part of that process of, why do I feel that? I kind of need to say the words out loud. Is that truly the thing? I think so much out loud, that to get to what you heard, that I didn’t even realize I said, is so fascinating. And my assumption then, is when we’re talking about… And this is full circle. When we’re talking about that difference between strategists and marketers, that strategist is that person that can see that human part of it, that thing that I don’t even know, that as a marketer, I’m trying to solve something but not honestly trying to solve it through ideas, where a strategist seems to be trying to solve it through ideas. But I don’t know what your thoughts are on that.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (21:00):

Yeah, definitely, potentially. So to turn that little insight into an idea, you could call your workshops with your team from now on, “Get It Out of Me” sessions.

Katya Allison (Host) (21:11):

I love it. Yes.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (21:11):

And it could have something to do with birthing, midwifing, I don’t know. But you could find a theme, a creative… like a visual theme and structure the sessions based on “What’s Inside of You?” for five or 10 minutes, I don’t know what that involves, and then “Get It Out of Me”. So that’s where the insight and the idea can connect quite closely.


And I do feel, and not in an arrogant way, because being good at some of this stuff also means that you’re bad at other things or that you pay a price for it. I find it very hard to turn off my mind. My mind’s constantly going, “What about this? What about this? What about this?” I watched something on television, I’m connecting it to something from when I was three, and something when I was 16, and a rap song from when I was 17, and an argument I had recently. That brain goes quickly and it tends not to slow down. So these things have a light side and a dark side as well. That can be difficult to manage for some people.

Katya Allison (Host) (22:08):

Boy, you’re very in tune with it, obviously, which I would think that in the position that you’re in, that also helps a marketer in general. So how do you tie both of those? How do you tie those things, that creative brief? How do you deliver that to a marketer so that it is digestible? Because I imagine that where you have this overview and you’re providing it to the marketer, how do they implement on something like that?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (22:36):

Yeah. So to be a little picky and semantic, the audience of a creative brief in an advertising agency is not a marketing team or a client. The audience of a creative brief is the creative team. That’s like a copywriter and art director. Typically the marketers, like in an agency relationship, just to situate it there. The marketers will usually give the agency a marketing brief, the marketing brief’s role… I feel like the main audience of a marketing brief is typically internal. It’s the marketing team’s internal stakeholders to unlock budget.

Katya Allison (Host) (23:06):

For sure.


Hopefully, there’s clear communication if they’re working with an agency or an in-house team. But often there isn’t. Often, it’s one document trying to do three jobs and they become too long, too full of business jargon. And the people who need to use the input creatively are like, “This is useless,” but they can’t say it. So I think if I could reframe your question… Sorry, this is annoying strategist behavior. If I can reframe your question-


No, I love it. I will learn from this.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (23:33):

Yeah, I feel like what you’re saying is, how do you share the kind of thinking that we just went through back with the marketer? Let’s not worry about a creative brief or a format. And I got to tell you, it’s really hard. I find the US a lot more conservative. It’s more literal sometimes. And so if I’m working on strategy and it’s a little bit out of the box, it’s a bit unusual, that would be pretty mainstream in Australia, pretty mainstream in the UK. I’m not talking about being provocative, unusual for the sake of it. But ideas are necessarily unusual because they haven’t existed before. You know?

Katya Allison (Host) (24:10):


Mark Pollard (Guest) (24:10):

And so, not all marketers are able to receive ideas. Some marketing organizations are actually quite conservative, small c conservative, and they don’t get foreign objects. Okay? So it’s quite hard. And the thing is, if you need to do creative work and strategic work and marketers don’t quite get it, then there’s no use sharing it with them. You kind of need to skip over a few steps and maybe hide it from them.

Katya Allison (Host) (24:34):


Mark Pollard (Guest) (24:34):

Yeah, it’s true. Or you need to find that one person in the team who gets it. Because otherwise you just spin in circles and everyone burns out and then they quit. So I answered a different question, but I don’t know if it was useful.

Katya Allison (Host) (24:49):

No, I think that that’s really helpful. I mean, if I could sum up what I am hearing is, I’m hearing that you don’t articulate that. A creative brief is definitely for the content and the designers and I understand that, as well, too. So let me dive into the creative brief, as well, too. Or maybe I can ask you some follow-up questions in regards to what’s in this creative brief. Right? And I will continue to bring the marketing side of it because that’s my brain, but I’ve also managed creatives, as well, too. And I know what I put into their creative brief is very specific and the marketing elements feed into it as well. And the marketing elements that I’m talking about are the buyer personas, right? Who is my target audience? What’s that number? Ultimately, a creative brief should tell you what my main objective is behind this. Because I assume that that goes into the content and to the design of it. But when you’re talking about a creative brief, what are the guts?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (25:50):

Yeah, it’s who the audience… Again, the challenge with a lot of strategy documents is they lack honesty and they’re full of jargon, right? So let’s see if we can make something up. I don’t know if this one will work out. But let’s say our audience was marketers. Well, tell me something about them that I don’t know. And if it’s obvious, don’t put it in the brief. Let’s say, okay, we’re going to talk to marketers, but we want to talk to marketers who are desperate to do creative work. This is their last shot. If they don’t get this campaign through, they’re leaving. I want to know that stuff. I don’t care about all the data points that you’re going to pull in and bore me with. I want to know the real honest stuff about these people, even if it’s a bit dramatic, right?


And I think too many people treat these documents like their college essays or college assignments, filling them up with 50 pieces of information that nobody cares about. We can’t bore each other with creative briefs. But obviously, you want something to do with the audience in there. Something short, creative, unexpected. You don’t even have to write in full sentences. Could be little phrases. Marketers desperate to do creative work, last shot, might quit if doesn’t get campaign idea through. You could talk like that. You want to understand the problem that you’re trying to solve for the brand. You want to understand some numbers like, what other things you’re going to measure? It is important…


I think something that’s probably sacrosanct is, I think some of the numbers in creative briefs are less important than people imagine. Typically, you want an insight, an unspoken human truth, but you want that to sound or to read more like a standup comedian’s language than business school language. You don’t want a cliche like, moms are busy. No, no, no, no. Tell me something that I haven’t heard before, something that has a ton of energy, that’s raw, probably some kind of single-matter proposition or key message.


And then, there’s other things, it’s stuff to do with the brand. What brand assets do we have to work with? There’s probably four or five things that need to be on most creative briefs. It also depends on the philosophy of the team writing the creative brief. So for example, agencies like TBWA, their philosophy is disruption. McCann Erickson, truth well told. Those sort of philosophies will lead to different templates. But maybe a little bit about competition and culture, but one page, make it provocative and if it’s not interesting, delete it.

Katya Allison (Host) (28:21):

I love how you’ve broken that down. And there is a reason why I titled our conversation Marketing Beyond Data. Because you’ve said several times already how these numbers, yeah, they’re great, but that doesn’t really tell me anything. And it actually speaks to a previous conversation I had had with someone else in regards to just kind of value graphics in general, tell me about that person. And I love the fact that you actually just mentioned a comedian because what a comedian is so good at is it’s taking a look at the ordinary and finding that connection that’s universal, that people just get. And I think for a creative brief, you kind of need that because that’s essentially what you’re trying to emote out there. And it tells more than a breakdown of, I’m looking for the end user and they’re a millennial and they care about this. Which I’m sure is really helpful, but it’s not as valuable as I think what you’re describing.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (29:23):

It’s not helpful. And that’s 98% of briefs and that’s what gives strategy a bad name. I just think everyone’s trying to sound important and special and educated as opposed to clearheaded and, okay, could part of your brief exist as a tweet or as a blog post, and if it did, would it get shared?

Katya Allison (Host) (29:39):


Mark Pollard (Guest) (29:40):

The writing of these documents needs to be compared to proper writing, not fake business school writing. Because most briefs are, moms are busy, your millennials don’t think we’re cool, therefore we’re going to make ourselves cool. And it’s like, what are you talking about?

Katya Allison (Host) (29:56):

Yeah, I love this. We could probably talk about this forever. I went completely off topic from what I told you that we were going to talk about and we’re almost to the end, which is our prediction time question. So I’d love to hear what you see just kind of changing in just the marketing world. Maybe it is incorporating more strategists, maybe it is changing that school of thought, but what do you see changing over the course of the next year or two?

Mark Pollard (Guest) (30:23):

Yeah, so I’m never big into big bold predictions, but I do see a slight correction. I feel like we’ve had at least a decade of focus on data, programmatic advertising, bottom-of-the-funnel techniques, conversion, a real disinterest in advertising to the point where a lot of people in Silicon Valley think that if you need to advertise, it’s because your product sucks. That’s ridiculous. That’s not what the science says.


So I hope, I believe, I believe, and I hope we’re going to have a correction where creativity and empathy are going to matter more in business. And the reason that’s going to happen is because people are going to increasingly understand, as they do in some countries. Because some of this research is more mainstream, but people are going to understand that creativity is a competitive advantage. Your marketing team and your agencies, they’re not drawings and pictures people, they’re critical thinkers, capable of helping the business in substantial ways, if the business knows how to use them.


So my prediction and… It’s really a hope, but I’ll call it a prediction. My prediction is there’ll be a correction in business where data and logic, people know they matter, but more critical thinkers and people capable of creativity will be brought into more of the big adult parts of businesses.

Katya Allison (Host) (31:40):

Now, I love that, and I’ll take the hope as a prediction and vice versa. I mean we won’t get locked into semantics, but I think hope, prediction, I love it both. I really appreciate you just kind of diving into marketing and strategy and thinking beyond numbers. Because to me, I like to feel in that creative space as well too. So thank you for giving me that gift today and I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

Mark Pollard (Guest) (32:06):

Thank you for having me. It’s been an awesome chat. Thank you.

Katya Allison (Host) (32:09):



An interesting conversation with Mark that really kind of focused on everything but the numbers of marketing, and honesty, creativity. Definitely stretched my thinking. And as uncomfortable as it felt, having him really kind of put me on the spot with those questions and trying to identify my ‘why?’ I can see how this way of thinking, really kind of forcing people to dig deep and articulate themselves at the lowest denominator, can really help be more creative. It’s like you’re being forced to get to the root of it all and to remove all the just “fluff” so that you have that space to just truly think ideas through in creative ways, and none of that has to do with numbers. And I think as marketers, strategists, and all of that in between, we need a little bit more of that.


You want to hear more? Be sure to subscribe to the GRIN Gets Real podcast to get the latest episodes. Give us some stars or share your favorite episode or insight in a review. I definitely want to read it. Connect with me on social. You can find me on LinkedIn, Katya Allison. And if you’re interested in learning more about GRIN, visit our website at Until next time, keep grinning.

© Grin Technologies Inc. 2024. All rights reserved.

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