Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do?
As a Senior Strategist at Critical Mass in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, my bread and butter is understanding what makes customers tick to identify opportunities for brands to make meaningful connections. Leading the strategy on a digital AOR account, I spend my days improving the user experience across the digital purchase journey—from social to site and everything in between. When I’m not scouring the web for the latest trends in branding, digital, and advertising, you can bet I’m taking summit selfies in the Rocky Mountains.
What did you do before your current role and what led you to where you are now?
Before joining the Strategy department at Critical Mass, I was an Account Executive at a boutique agency. Given the size of the agency, the responsibilities of the role were broad—including client services, project management and strategy all rolled into one. But the strategic aspects were by far my favorite parts of the job. I loved poring over research and identifying key opportunities, then distilling them into a brief for the creative team. When I set my sights on a larger agency with dreams of working with major brands, I was overjoyed to learn that there was a whole department dedicated solely to Strategy. All the nerdy, juicy, exciting parts of my previous role without budget discussions and enforcing timelines? Dream. Come. True.
How would you define the role of a strategist in your agency?
Simply speaking, there are three essential pillars behind every great piece of work: achieving business objectives, producing highly considered creative, and making customers’ lives better. Client Services represents the needs and desires of clients—the business aspect. Creative owns the craft of output—the art and tech. And Strategy acts as the voice of the consumer. Strategists are obsessed with learning everything there is to know about the customer—what they like, what they hate, what they do, why they do it. But the real magic of Strategy comes when sifting through all that knowledge of your consumer, ultimately identifying a perfect insight to align with business needs and drive creative output.
How have you seen the role of a strategist evolve since you first began?
As more and more of the customer journey transitions to digital channels with improved tracking and reporting, the amount of metrics available to strategists grows exponentially. It’s just the start, but client expectations have already shifted towards a stronger desire to see data behind each and every insight and a measurement and optimization plan behind every strategy.
In your opinion, what are the greatest barriers an aspiring planner/strategist encounters when trying to start their career?
For those new to the industry, understanding the various disciplines and finding your place can be a challenge. A career in Strategy isn’t a linear path, and you’ll often find people with similar backgrounds scattered across disciplines. Breaking into Strategy—a smaller department compared to other disciplines, and with lower turnover—can be challenging in itself.
In your time, what have you noticed are the key skills and traits that separate great strategists from the mediocre?
Without a doubt, storytelling is the most important trait a Strategist needs to succeed. You can do all the research and analysis in the world, uncover the most glorious consumer insight, develop the most brilliant framework, but if you can’t make people believe in it, it’s all for nothing. A mediocre Strategist checks the boxes: data, insight, opportunity, check, check, check. A great Strategist weaves those checkboxes into a story so compelling it doesn’t seem like a strategy, it’s THE strategy—the absolute truth and the only way forward. A great Strategist gets the entire team on the project shouting the same rallying cry.
How do you avoid getting stuck in a cultural bubble and stay informed on the needs and desires of everyday consumers?
It’s human tendency to gravitate towards like-minded people and information that confirms existing beliefs—life is easier that way. While the internet and social media especially have pushed people deeper into their own cultural bubbles by making it easy to connect with similar groups and recommending content based on past online behaviors, it can also be an amazing resource for escaping your cultural bubble if used correctly. Instead of unfollowing people who share opinions different from my own, I lean in, click the link and enter the rabbit hole. I resist the urge to spend all my time on mashable.com and visit a wide range of news sites covering various countries and topics. It’s amazing what you can learn if you channel anger or confusion into fascination instead. But when it comes to empathizing with the everyday consumer, nothing beats spending time with them in person. Making those connections outside of the advertising industry is key.