At the launch of the 2015 APG Creative Strategy Awards, planners packed the Townhall of APG partner Google to find out the theme for this year, and hear insights from 2013 Grand Prix winner, Luis Toledo. JWT's Strategic Planning Director for Latin America had flown in to share his inspirational Banco Popular campaign, Grand Prix winner in 2013.

Tracey Follows, the new Chair of the APG, started the evening by announcing the theme for the 2015 competition: "Strategies with Influence".

Follows defined this as "the strength of strategic thinking that went into the brief, and what real influence was created as a result of the work". She also highlighted the importance of showing an evolving strategy, quoting German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke, "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy". Entrants should show "how the strategy evolves with the changing circumstances of reality." Follows emphasised that for the 2015 APG Creative Strategy Awards the "operationalization of the strategy is as important as the theoretical framework."

To meet the brief of "Strategies with Influence" entrants should consider where the strategy had a disproportionate influence on events. Planners were urged to think about how their strategy started, then how it continued given the impact of consumers, employees, and competitors.

In concluding Follows emphasised the APG Creative Strategy Award's unique positioning, "We're not looking for proof of return on financial investment, simply return on intellectual investment. That your strategy helped your brand, product or client in the end get more out of a situation than initial circumstances might have suggested… that's what we call influence."

Craig Mawdsley, Joint CSO AMVBBDO, then gave some tips to getting on the APG Creative Strategy Awards shortlist. Getting to this stage is important, as every shortlisted entry will win a prize. Mawdsley emphasised how the awards have grown from a London-based event to be representative of the state of strategy globally, and highlighted the importance of the body of work created by the awards as a bank of knowledge for the industry.

Entrants were encouraged to really think about what they had done that might be better than their peers and focus the entry on the strategic thinking. Mawdsley said that "The campaign outcome doesn't matter as long as the strategic thinking is creative and had influence." He also emphasised honesty in the case studies, to tell the story as it happened and think about what a reader might question. Papers need a compelling coherent story, but it shouldn't be over simplified.

Mawdsley also outlined some changes to the second stage of the competition. Previously shortlisted entrants had been asked to give a presentation but the judges had become concerned this awarded slick presenters and agencies most able to give significant support with high quality video and props. In 2015, shortlisted entries will be invited to summarise their paper and then have a conversation with the judges. He described the format as being similar to the Graham Norton chat show, although if entries have not been honest in any way it may become more like Mastermind! Entries will need to talk persuasively about the influence of their strategy, but while the theme is important the winning campaign from 2013 would likely have won whatever the theme.

Luis Toledo, winner of the 2013 APG Creative Strategy Award Grand Prix, took to the stage to share his winning campaign and to highlight the context in which the strategy was developed.

Due to Banco Popular's 50 percent market share and status as the only local bank, the pitch for the prize winning campaign was the most important opportunity for agencies in Puerto Rico in a decade. The previous agency had been incumbent for 25 years. The stakes were raised by the fact Banco Popular asked JWT to resign their current banking client prior to the pitch. And Toledo emphasised the impossibility of the challenge by comparing it to asking the Rolling Stones to rewrite the lyrics to 'Satisfaction' and promote the new song to number one in the charts, to help market a bank.

At the outset, the brief from Banco Popular was very tactical – including a request to introduce a new account surcharge. Toledo's team elevated the conversation to address a bigger problem in Puerto Rican society of welfare dependence, and reconnect with the bank's slogan, "Propelling progress." The planning team started by interviewing employees to garner insights about the organisation, but didn't find the process to be useful. The eleventh hour inspiration came from an interview with a historian who'd written a chapter about the 120 year old bank in his new book about Puerto Rico. Toledo discovered the bank's primary purpose from 119 years ago, was to help people overcome poverty. Toledo reinterpreted the meaning of poverty to relate to Puerto Rican's welfare dependency, as 60 percent of the population received federal aid from the United States. To win the pitch, efforts were focused into producing a five minute documentary about this new kind of poverty, and the need for Puerto Rico to move forward as a more productive society. The bank responded emotionally to the film, particularly the marketing director who realised they were no longer true to the purpose of the organisation. The campaign would give them the opportunity to reconnect with the brand essence, reconnect with the people and grow the economy of Puerto Rico.

The challenges weren't over, Toledo and his team had yet to persuade world famous salsa band El Gran Combo to use their song in the campaign. Describing the initiative as not a campaign but a "fight", Toledo did not take no for answer and evidentially secured their involvement at the last moment.

​Luis Toledo concluded by explaining that planning discipline must beware the enemy of playing it safe. He emphasised that planners need to have ambition, especially to connect at a higher level on the client side, "Sometimes we're little Indians but we need to have a high level of conversation with the most important people. To be successful you need to be well prepared and to believe in your idea. Bravery is an attribute we all should pursue."

The APG Creative Strategy Awards in association with Google are now open for entries – closing date 30 April 2015.