TURNING WEAKNESS INTO STRENGTH

Historians generally agree the most important battle in our history happened in 480 BC.
The Battle of Salamis determined the course of western civilisation.
But it wasn’t a land battle, it was a naval engagement.
At that time the Persian Empire was the largest in the world, it had overrun everything.
The only thing left to swallow up was Greece, and the Persians had already captured Athens.
Their massive army was unstoppable.


Their only weakness was they were a long way from home, and their army needed to be supplied.
Which was done by the massive Persian navy
The only possible threat to this was the much smaller Greek navy.
So, before Greece could be totally conquered, their navy had to be destroyed.
This shouldn’t be a problem.
Not only were there fewer Greek ships, they were also smaller.
The heavy Persian ships were used for ferrying troops and supplies across the open sea.
The Greek ships were only used in coastal waters.
So 371 Greek ships sheltered in the straits of Salamis.
And 1,207 Persian ships came to destroy them.
A small force of Greek ships rowed out towards the Persians.
Then turned and retreated.
The Persian navy chased after them.
Hardly noticing they were being lured into the narrow channel.
As the mighty Persian force chased the tiny Greek force, the rest of the Greek navy appeared on their flank.
The Persians couldn’t turn their heavier ships in the narrow channel.
The smaller, faster Greek triremes slammed into their sides.
The Greek bow rams smashed through the Persian ships below the waterline.
The sea poured in, ships sank, men drowned.
The Greeks then attacked the next row of Persian ships.
As they sank them, the ones behind tried to turn around and get out of the channel.
But the rest of the Persian navy was coming in behind them.
The turning ships ran into their own ships, jamming up the straits, and the ships behind rammed into them.
And successive lines of Persian ships were either rammed by the Greeks or rammed each other.
By the end of the day the Persian navy had lost a quarter of its strength.
Over 300 ships.
The Greeks had lost just 40 ships.
If the Greeks had left Salamis and fought the battle in the open sea the result would have been very different.
The Persian ships would have had room to manoeuvre.
They outnumbered the Greeks four to one.
They could have surrounded them and destroyed their entire navy.
But the Persians didn’t do that.
They were so confident of their superiority, they believed wherever they fought they’d win.
They didn’t even need to think about it.
But the Greeks also knew the Persians had massive superiority.
This meant they did have to think about it.
How could they change a problem into an opportunity?
To fight the battle where they had an advantage.
What was their USP and how could they use it?
This is the planner’s job.
To set up the battle so your side has an unfair strategic advantage.
When, where, and who you fight.

The actual battle, how you fight?
That’s down to the creatives.

  • Nick Holmes

    Hi Dave
    Great blog as ever. 
    It raised a query for me in the light of your previous blog (AD FIRST, BRIEF SECOND).
    Planners do the strategy, they work out the battle plan.
    Creatives go into battle.
    CDs are the commanding officers of the creatives – the Generals.
    If CDs don’t read briefs, they don’t know the strategy – the battle plan.
    Do they not therefore risk sending their troops into an un-winnable fight?
    And doesn’t that make the general derelict in his duty to his men?
    Love to know your thoughts.

  • Dave Trott

    Hi Nick,
    I didn’t say don’t read the brief at all, ever.
    I said, as a creative director, don’t read the brief before you pick the ad that stands out most.
    The creative team will have read the brief, otherwise they can’t do the ad.
    But I must be judging standout first.
    Also, I said having picked the ad that stands out most, then I read the brief.
    Before we run the ad.
    So it’s more like sorting out where I’d choose to fight the nemy.
    then checking my thoughts against the planners before we fight the actual battle.
    But, as you spotted, it isn’t a perfect analogy.
    But then analogies never are, that’s why they’re analogies and not the real thing.

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