Ogilvy & Mather London's Chief Strategy Officer, Kevin Chesters, spoke to Campaign about the agency's latest venture, Get Out There.

2016. A year of proper surprises. Our faces seemingly freeze-framed in permashock: we didn’t see that coming. or that. And as for THAT!

June 24th 2016. Brexit Day. That was a bit of shocker, eh? We woke up to a result that none of us saw coming. And it was just the start.

As a communications industry, we claim to understand people. We talk about insight, behaviour, emotion, intuition. But if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that we don’t really have a bloody clue. About, well, anything really.

Post-June 24th we hosted a series of post-Brexit client dinners here at Ogilvy for CEOs and CMOs and as we sat in our Ivory (coloured) tower on the South Bank one thing kept coming back time and time again. It’s not surprising that we were surprised. But we should know our customers and country a bit better, shouldn’t we?

Ogilvy research post-Brexit revealed a massive gulf between London and the rest of the country. 54% of people from outside of London think that Londoners have a different view of what it means to be British than they do. 61% of people who live outside of London believe that Londoners do not share their values.

So, as planners, if we never leave London, how can we hope to connect? The best ideas are those that get talked about in the street, at work, in the pub or your kitchen. Not ideas that won’t survive outside the Groucho echo chamber. Nor ideas that are adored by the industry, but forgotten or never seen by real people.

This new year should mark a new way of doing things. Which is why, at Ogilvy & Mather, we’re launching Get Out There.

Starting from now, we’re sending all of our planners rogue. Every month, they will get on a train, and visit Bradford. Torquay. Grimsby. North, South, West, East (and we don’t mean Bethnal Green). Bustling urban centres and remote rural outposts. They will go out into the streets and talk to people. REAL PEOPLE. Take a hypothesis. Test it. And report back. Not with more Powerpoint slides. With photos, video, words.  

It’s nothing new. In fact, it’s the oldest research tool in the book. But according to a recent survey among planners, primary research informs less than 2% of creative briefs. For 94% of planners, their main research inputs are ‘the internet’, or other secondary data. These days we’re more inclined to hide behind a laptop than go and have an actual conversation. We don’t leave our desks let alone our city. Not very brave or inspiring.

We started in Boston, Lincolnshire in November 2016. The town that recorded the highest Brexit vote, and the so-called ‘murder capital’ of England. You’ll be relieved to know we survived. And in December, we spoke to shoppers in Oldham, the most deprived town in the UK, about the intensifying pressure to spend at Christmas. This month, we’re off to the Isle of Man – a “crown dependency” denied a vote in July’s referendum but an island that will have to live with consequences of leaving the EU.

We plan to share our findings with the entire industry, because we all need to get closer to real people. Not just planners. Even rogue ones.

We might discover something new. Or we might spend 30 minutes discussing the price of kippers with Beryl from Bournemouth. But that’s a risk we’re willing to take. Because when we get out there, we get out of our old ways of thinking. And that can’t ever be a bad thing, can it?

Let’s get out there.

This news was originally published in Campaign.

Take a look at Get Out There on Medium here.