5 minutes with… Lee Parkinson

5 years ago by

Design Assembly recently got the opportunity to chat with Lee Parkinson Strategic Director at Strategy Creative to learn more about his diverse career, audacious attention-grabbing campaigns, how to draw inspiration from everywhere, what biomimcry can teach designers (& why we need to learn fast!) and his side kick Bamm the strategy dog.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry?

I’m the Strategic Director at Strategy Creative – quite a mouthful but a terrific job! It’s a long way from where I started my career, with ten years in the British Army. From the Army, I made the somewhat ‘natural’ progression into technical sales & marketing on the client-side, followed by a move to ‘Agency-land’ some 20+ years ago. It was the dawning of the internet age, and I resigned from the comfort of the corporate world, to join a young, small digital agency as their CEO. Over the years, I have been a copywriter, creative director and agency strategist (my real passion and strength), and have done stints with some of the biggest agency networks as well as smaller NZ indies.

What does your typical day at strategy involve?

I work from home in Central Otago on Mondays and Tuesdays. 
Those days typically involve Skype meetings, telephone calls, thinking, copywriting, and developing brand and communication strategies for our clients. In between that I try and have lunch with my wife Gillian, take the dogs out for a walk along the mighty Clutha, or a leisurely e-Bike ride along our cycle trails. I drive to Christchurch on Tuesday evening.
I work from our office on Wednesday – Friday, and during those three days, nothing is ever the same. Internal meetings, client meetings, preparing new business decks, writing briefs, reviewing creative, insight work and more strategy development. I usually drive home at the end of the day on Friday.

What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?

Good question – I have been in the industry for a long time now, and I have been lucky to have worked on many cool projects. There are two that come to mind – for very different reasons.
Back in 2005, I led a project that was to become, at that time, the biggest ever txt promotion in New Zealand’s history.
Sink F69, ‘Push the Button’ a text-based game of battleships. 
The campaign (for Telecom Mobile) resulted in a winner blowing up a real battleship and sinking it off the coast of Wellington. The project was audacious and always going to attract attention!

Footnote: this was not just a random act of extreme vandalism; the ship was sunk to become a dive wreck and marine reserve.

Push the Button poster designs by Rod Schofield

More than 6 months in the preparation, a marine trust was set up to strip the ship (a retired New Zealand Navy frigate) of all fittings and to establish the wreck as a dive site. Throughout this process, there were many hurdles to overcome, including consultations with local government bodies, iwi, environmental groups, and the NZ Defence Force.
However, it was all worth it in the end.  In 8 days, over 90,000 people registered to play, sending 2.5 million txt message ‘plays’ over the following four weeks. 
The main event brought the city to a standstill. On sink day 150,000+ people turned up to watch from the land, and over 240 vessels took to the water. The winner was on the water with us, and pushed that button.

Sinking F69 attracted global news media coverage of Telecom Mobile’s role in the event. Push the Button even featured in a National Geographic documentary. Of course, a project of that magnitude involved a team of outstanding people working collaboratively, from designers to game developers, to trained divers, demolition crews, and explosive experts.
I had the privilege of working on a major project for CMRF (Canterbury Medical Research Foundation). Founded in 1960, the Foundation has provided millions of dollars of medical research funding, helping to save and improve the lives and health of many Cantabrians and New Zealanders. We were asked to look at their brand and storytelling to ensure it continues to be relevant and relatable for the future.
Our work turned up a few nuggets that led to a crystal clear insight and storytelling approach. CMRF benefit from donations and ‘gifts’ from high worth individuals, families and corporate benefactors.  There are three main players in each research story — the researcher, the investor, and of course, the beneficiary of the results of the research. So instead of continuing to ask people to ‘give’ or ‘donate’ on its head, why not flip it and ask them to invest? As any investment requires a return, in this case, the return is quite simple, powerful and profound. Life.
Invest in life 
A simple and powerful new positioning. We developed annual statements for ‘investors’, showing them where their dollars are going, providing updates on research projects, and for those projects that have been completed, what benefit they are providing – lives saved or enhanced. As for the storytelling, well the three players involved, the researcher, the investor and the beneficiary of the research – are each as important as the other. Each tells their part of the story in their own words.
The story of the Greenshield family is the first cab off the rank. https://cmrf.org.nz/story/the-greenshields/ The Greenshields have not one, but two young children with type 1 diabetes. Family life has been irrevocably altered by having to manage their children’s conditions. But because of Sir Eion Edgar’s investment in Diabetes research through CMRF, Dr Martin de Bock’s is providing hope to the Greenshields, so they can put the worst aspects of this terrible condition behind them.

Above the Greenslade’s daughter (beneficiary), below Sir Eion (investor).

The word is that the new CMRF brand positioning and campaign is connecting with people and organisations, and the early metrics are outstanding.
CMRF is a great client doing great things that should matter to us all, and we are proud to have been involved in this amazing project.

What have you been working on recently?

I work on most of our clients large or small, especially at the front end. Finding insights, drawing out the narratives to help tell their story, exploring their market dynamics, writing creative briefs and helping review the work are all part of the job.
A couple of recent examples include a terrific start-up, Brothers Green.

They were developing a kid’s healthy, nutritious and delicious hemp seed bar and entered, then went on to win the inaugural Foodstarter competition, a joint initiative between the Ministry of Awesome and Foodstuffs South Island.
Foodstarter is a programme designed to foster more food-based start-ups, and then mentor them.
The major part of the 2018 winner’s prize was to be ranged and stocked within New World supermarkets throughout the South Island, something of enormous commercial value to any food manufacturer.

Another part of their prize was branding and design services from Strategy Creative. From the beginning to the end, it was quite a journey, and we ended up developing their overall brand story, category brand, and product brand. 
After nearly a year, the first Hempy Bars hit New World supermarkets, and the Brothers Green held a lovely (and healthy) launch party to thank their family, friends and supporters. We wish Brendan and Brett, the founders of Brothers Green, much success for the future.

Another client we are privileged to be working with is Ngāi Tahu Property. This is exciting for us as we embark upon a journey of learning – and we have so much to learn, but we are respectful and ask questions – a lot of questions. We bring our knowledge and experience of design and communications to the table, and Ngāi Tahu Property bring not only their industry knowledge and experience, but also the cultural capital that comes through being owned by the people of Ngāi Tahu.
We are inspired by what we are discovering and learning, Ngāi Tahu purpose is timeless, summing up perfectly why they do what they do. Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – for us and our children after us. In a world facing major challenges, don’t we all need to think more about the legacy we are leaving for those who come after us?

Where you do you draw inspiration from?

  • Everywhere. No really, everywhere.
  • I am eternally curious and believe that to grow and thrive we need to learn something new each and every day.
  • However, although we can do so much online, it is important to understand that the more we search online using our own tools, we are receiving ever deeper and more narrow perspectives.
  • Whether looking at books on Amazon, deciding what to watch on Netflix, searching for information on Google or Facebook, we are now provided with results that merely support our world view or interest set.
  • Our search results are now biased by what our online behaviour indicates interests us – and this just feeds our confirmation biases. Sadly it could spell the end of serendipity.
  • So, do a digital detox for a while. Go offline – often. Clean out your cache.
  • Go to a library, pick a book at random, and then actually read it.
  • Visit an art gallery. Sit and people-watch. Talk to people who are unlike yourself.
  • Write to yourself while sitting down by moving water or any other place that centres you.
  •  I am particularly inspired by nature, as some of the most perfectly formed and adapted designs are in the natural world.
  • I urge anyone with interest in design to explore biomimicry.
  • It is defined as the “design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modelled on biological entities and processes”.
  • I would hurry though, because as Veronica Stevenson*, an inspiring Kiwi biotech entrepreneur explains, “Nature’s genome is the greatest library ever created, and we are losing it without having read it.”

*Veronica is not a client of Strategy Creative, but I urge you find out more about what she is doing in the field of biomimicry, here https://www.humblebee.co.nz/


Some watch-outs

There are always new ways, tools and techniques to tell stories.

We cannot forget though, that people are drowning in a sea of advertising, marketing messages, news, and fake news, so while we need to be able to break through the clutter, we must respect our audiences’ time, resources and ethics.

I intensely dislike ‘greenwashing’ or ‘woke-washing’, as these tactics are not just disingenuous; they are dishonest. Thankfully, I feel that consumers are getting wise to these tricks now.

We all know the importance of an organisation having an authentic purpose, vision and values. It doesn’t have to be about saving the world, but it has to be true. Often this is the biggest differentiator in parity product categories and lived daily, can be a source of competitive advantage.

I am a big advocate of behavioural economics, and understanding why people actually (or do not make) decisions.

A basic understanding of people’s biases and heuristics is a great place to start when designing effective communications.


What do you hope for the future of design in New Zealand?

  • We already have some great designers in NZ.
  • We have a heritage of being resourceful problem-solvers, and ultimately, great design is all about problem-solving.
  • The world is becoming more conscious of the carbon footprint of everything they buy, and physically we are a long way from most international markets.
  • However, much design can be weightless, and with careful planning and collaboration with other offshore markets, we can export much of our IP and design work, with minimal carbon footprint, and perhaps have the final products manufactured in the markets we wish to serve.
  • We should be world leaders in many areas of design in the widest sense of the term.
  • We need to design, a design for life.

Outside of work hours what hobbies are you involved with?

I spend far too long in my car, commuting from Central Otago to Christchurch every week, but that also gives me quality thinking time, or time to listen to audio books and podcasts. Other than that, at the weekends I spend time outdoors with my wife, walking the dogs, or riding the cycle trails on e-bikes (sometimes riding with the dogs!)


And finally, where to next for you?

I have several things I want to do when I have more me-time. Christopher Hitchens famously said “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” I’d like to find out whether this is true – that we all do have a book in us, and in my case, whether that’s where it should stay or not.

Tags : Lee ParkinsonStrategy Creative

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