Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do?
I’m the Senior Director of Strategy at Eventive Marketing where I head up both the Strategy and Marketing departments.
What did you do before your current role and what led you to where you are now?
Over the past 15+ years, I’ve focused on different areas of marketing, and that was done by design. Nowadays, consumers view marketing in such a holistic way, expecting seamless integration between brand channels. By having worked across specialties such as brand strategy (Brand Union), social media (BuzzMetrics), analytics (Nielsen), retail (Envirosell, Target Corporation) and experiential (Eventive), I’m able to offer a more knowledgeable and integrated perspective to my clients and colleagues.
Part of what drew me to Eventive four years ago was the ability to create the Strategy department from the ground up, transitioning it from a function of the Account teams to a distinct department. Eventive offered me the entrepreneurial environment and the flexibility that I craved to not only develop customized processes and methodologies but to also create an inclusive culture of strategy and innovation throughout the agency.
How would you define the role of a strategist in your agency?
As anyone who’s worked at a smaller, boutique agency knows, you have to wear multiple hats. This is particularly true for the Strategy team at Eventive, because we work across all clients, new business development, staff training, and external marketing. Depending on the day, we serve as the consumer whisperer, brand steward, research expert, culture maven or data analyst, to name a few.
At our core, we work with our clients to fully understand their purpose, needs, situation, and objectives. Then we place the situation within the broader context of customer, category, and culture. From there, we collaborate with our Creative and Account teams to make sure the strategy moves forward as powerfully as possible.
How have you seen the role of a strategist evolve since you first began?
The essence of what a strategist does hasn’t really changed, but there’s been an explosion in the breadth and depth of tools and types of data at our disposal. We’re closer to the consumer than ever before. I’m a researcher at heart so this data shift is very exciting, but a lot of vigilance is needed, not only in ensuring the data is valid but also that it’s being used properly. There’s a tendency to provide data for data’s sake, and it’s our job to pull back sometimes and curate the information, gleaning true insights and weaving it together into a relevant, impactful story. Easier said than done, I know!
In your opinion, what are the greatest barriers an aspiring planner/strategist encounters when trying to start their career?
Most strategists are naturally curious, deeply analytical and attuned to the world around them. Beyond these table stakes are three qualities that I think differentiate great strategists.
- Ability to deal with ambiguity and the drive to figure it out: Most of the problems that we encounter are messy and not well-defined. Great strategists are those who are able to step into a new situation easily and roll up their sleeves to dig deeper.
- Ability to translate data into a story: Good planning creates clarity in the face of information overload. A successful strategist weaves a story, making the complex easy enough to understand and compelling enough to embrace.
- Big picture perspective: Most people spend their days with their heads down dealing with daily fires, which can lead to tunnel vision. Strategy’s role is to help them see the 30,000 ft. view, particularly where they are and where they’re going more clearly.
In your time, what have you noticed are the key skills and traits that separate great strategists from the mediocre?
The problem is two-fold. When you’re starting out, strategy can seem intimidating, especially if you don’t have traditional training in brand planning and strategy or a strong quantitative skillset. For potential planners, it’s important to realize that it’s not about knowing all the answers, but rather about how to find the answers. During interviews, I'm much more focused on learning how applicants tackle a problem, what resources they used, how they organized the information they found and what insights they gleaned from it.
On the other end, agencies need to broaden their applicant pool, embracing diversity in background and perspective. Some of the most talented strategists I’ve known have come from unconventional backgrounds, and those different experiences are what enrich an agency and ensure maximum insight and creativity.
How do you avoid getting stuck in a cultural bubble and stay informed on the needs and desires of everyday consumers?
It's easy to default to a focus group of one, basing your recommendations on your own personal experiences. It's habit. The beauty of strategy and planning is that it opens up your bubble and gives greater context and multiple perspectives to what's happening. That's why I always try to do gut-checks by extending beyond my “go-to” websites, blogs, white papers, magazines and newspapers to gain objectivity.
I'm also a big believer in going directly to the source by utilizing primary research, whenever possible. Thanks to technology, there are fewer barriers between brands and their audience. It's easier than ever to field a quick survey or social media poll or even conduct a focus group. Hearing directly from the audience that you're trying to reach is invaluable and should never be underestimated.