Power Behind the Throne: Remi Couzelas, Head of Planning, 303 MullenLowe

MullenLowe Group
Full Service
London, United Kingdom
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Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role? 

I left France when I was 23, with no career plan and a string of small jobs in hospitality as my only real experience. So, I’d say that I’m French outside of work but professionally I’m a mix of English and Australian culture having spent so long working and developing a career everywhere but in France. Currently I am the Head of Planning at 303 MullenLowe in Sydney, we have a nice and eclectic group of clients across health (Bayer, Cancer Institute), financial services (Citi, Budget Direct and Buyers Buyers), lifestyle (Harley-Davidson and Audi), FMCG (Unilever), technology (Cars24), Government and much more. My role is twofold: 1) make sure we deliver excellent outcomes across all clients 2) drive new business opportunities. To help me do this I have a team of great thinkers that specialise in brand, data, CX, PR, digital, social and technology.


How did you get your start as a strategist? What led you to pursue it as a career?

After studying commerce and interning at one of the largest retailers in Europe, the easiest move should have been to send my resume to big retailers in Australia. But to me, starting a career in a new country meant that I should have a go at doing something that really intrigued me and this thing for me was developing brands. Interning for a retailer I saw first-hand the power of branding and I was fascinated by it. I should also mention that from a very young age (10y.o) I used to love watching ads on TV (two of my favourites are ‘Good vs. Evil, Cantona’ for Nike and ‘Sampras vs. Agassi’ in NYC, also for Nike) and this hasn’t really changed.

Like many of my peers I got my first start in a research/brand consultancy called Added Value (part of WPP). This company doesn’t exist anymore but for myself and many other people in the industry, it was the teacher and accelerator for a career in planning.


What set of skills do you believe it takes for a strategist to thrive in the current advertising landscape? 

It is virtually impossible (at least for me) to be great at everything, so you need to find your center of gravity, the one thing that you love doing, be it brand, CX, digital etc. and from this build a generalist view i.e., you understand how other skills and expertise can help you, how it comes together and how it makes the end goal better for it. I am what people would call a classically trained brand planner and for me everything starts and finishes with brand. I use consumer insights (qualitative/quantitative), semiotics, cultural insights, and in-depth interviews to get to an answer but I also need to be able to understand CX, technology, and data without being an expert at it (just ask my team). 

What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? What helps keep the work interesting for you? 

Related to my earlier point, I feel like the fragmentation of strategy/planning is a real challenge. Teams are increasingly made up of specialists rather than generalists, as a result we sometimes lose sight of the big picture or ‘north star’ for a brand. We are also expected to work faster, take into consideration many data points in a short amount of time and collaborate with many specialists/teams within the agency or outside to turn around briefs more quickly. We do a lot of what I call ‘instant’ planning. To me, what keeps planning interesting hasn’t changed, I still love brands and ideas and I still believe in the power of influencing businesses and people using creativity. 


Is there a part of the role that you feel is often misunderstood?

I like to say that planners are the ‘power behind the throne.’ We ultimately need to help and support creative the best we can. This job is still about the creative product be it a 30 second ad spot or the latest in e-commerce. As a planner you need to think about what is going to be the creative output and then how you put together a team to deliver that. So, if we look at e-commerce, you need to help tech people, creative people, and data people understand how your brand can live in this context. 


Do you have any advice for those looking to work in a similar role?  

With so many specialisations both within agencies and client teams, if you can pitch yourself and build a career as someone who can bring diverse thinking together and deliver a solution that can help build the big picture, I think you’ll be safe. Embrace and get involved in research, study the fundamentals and principles of marketing. I really don’t subscribe to the trend that criticises consumer research and marketing training. For me, they are essential pillars of planning.


How do you keep your finger on the pulse of culture? Where do you look for inspiration? 

I love to run my own focus groups and in-depth interviews; I find it a great way to get your mind focused on what really matters. This should be a mandatory skill. The rest includes a mix of academics, sociologists, psychologists, writers, journalists, semioticians, documentaries etc. anything I find remotely interesting I’ll consume. Firstly, it is something I enjoy doing, but realise I am lucky to come from a family where all these sources of knowledge were available to me. I don’t have to force myself, I’d still be doing it even if I had followed another career. Professionally of course it helps you understand what’s changing, not changing or emerging at the fringe. Today looking at my side table (I am writing this as we are in lockdown) here is what I see (mix of magazines and books): US GQ, Bruce Mau’s MC24, This is Not Fashion, After Midnight and Natural Causes.