Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?
My name is Jake, I am originally from Slovakia but have been working and living in various countries over the past 10 years. This nomadic lifestyle brought me to Germany about 3 years ago where I have been working as a strategic planner since. Currently, I work as a brand strategist at Havas Düsseldorf on a major FMCG account.
How did you get your start as a strategist? What led you to pursue it as a career?
I was kind of always interested in the world of ads. Maybe also thanks to my university teachers who made the industry extremely interesting for me. After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I started my career as a digital account manager. That’s when I really developed an in-depth affinity towards the advertising industry – I was only 21 years old and got totally smitten by it. However, I felt like I wanted to be more involved in the process of the creation, but not too much. I guess I was looking for some sense of balance there. So, I decided to do my master´s degree in Creative Advertising at Edinburgh Napier University to develop my understanding of the industry and especially its heritage. It took me a while and a lot of networking on LinkedIn to land my first proper gig as a strategic planner, but slowly and surely it finally worked out.
What set of skills do you believe it takes for a strategist to thrive in the current advertising landscape?
That´s hard to say generally - it highly depends on what kind of strategist you want to be or what kind of strategist is needed. Media strategists have completely different set of skills than for example brand strategists; it’s a question of tasks and fields of requirements. I personally see myself as a brand and cultural strategist, so it is really important to be observant and try to come out of the advertising bubble as often as possible. Keeping up with The Real Housewives franchise as well as The New Yorker magazine are both vital, yet completely opposing extremes of culture to observe. I enjoy this irony of my work.
What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? What helps keep the work interesting for you?
The most challenging thing is when there is no clear articulated target and hence indecision as a consequence. But that´s simply a part of the creative business and process that we need to accept.
I get bored easily, so the fact that I can jump from project to project and challenge to challenge on a weekly or even a daily basis is a great motivation for me. Moreover, I enjoy additional things that come with being a strategic planner, like making internal inspiration sessions, writing opinion pieces and running workshops with colleagues.
Is there a part of the role that you feel is often misunderstood?
Hmm, sort of. Explaining my job to, for example, my grandma is quite hard, because I’m not the one who writes the copy or creates the visuals; yet I don’t really manage the project, so what do I do then, right? What is often misunderstood is that strategy isn’t only about writing briefs. Yes, it is vital but there is so much more to it, which is hard to describe due to its complexity – which exactly is the exciting part of my job.
Do you have any advice for those looking to work in a similar role?
I think in advertising industry overall, trying to get into strategy is quite hard as the pool of jobs is much smaller compared to other career options and thus there are not as many internship options.
First, figure out what kind of strategist you want to be, as I said, and then identify major players in that segment. A little bit of LinkedIn networking helped me greatly to step my foot in initially. Takes a while but once you are in, you are in it for the long haul and that´s when the actual hard work starts.
Generally speaking, you have to be naturally curious person interested in simply everything. It´s tricky, because the more you know, the more you know you actually don´t know anything at all. It´s a trap!
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of culture? Where do you look for inspiration?
I have a set of publications that I read and that I have bookmarked. I also follow other established strategists online, especially Julian Cole and his Planning Dirty platform, and I talk to people a lot – friends, family, colleagues and ask them what motives their everyday decisions, whatever it may be. Having a 12-year old GenZ sister helps too – that’s how I learn about things like Mukbang or who Doja Cat is.