Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?
AJ - Hello I’m AJ and I’m currently a Junior Strategist at MullenLowe London with an MSc in the Criminology field. I’d been looking for a way to incorporate writing and a creative environment into my every day and slowly migrated from publishing through to start-up marketing, finally landing in advertising where I want to stay, if ‘adland’ will have me. I’m glad that I can constantly develop my research skills and exercise my interest in people with a practical output. It’s constant food for thought. I’m also a creative writer and in the middle of a hellish revision of a slightly dystopian short story.
How did you get your start as a strategist? What led you to pursue it as a career?
RF – Initially I applied for a production apprenticeship at MullenLowe London, because I have a podcast which I had been co-producing for about 18 months which I enjoyed doing so much. I also had been on set for a few campaigns as talent, and always found myself attached to the producer, asking them a lot of questions and often stayed longer than I was meant to! I wanted to be involved in making an ad brief come to life with a more hands on approach, and I guess was the only role I knew much about in advertising, so I went for it.
After my first interview, the interviewer asked if I had thought about Account Management or Strategy. I hadn’t, so I asked for some more information on both roles. Strategy stood out just a bit more to me, because I felt my skills and personality would be more suited to that role. I then did some research and saw how varied strategy was, meaning I could possibly have a long-lasting career in this role. As a strategist no day would be the same, as no brief is the same. I would learn a lot about brands, trends, behaviours etc and I loved that. So, I decided I wanted to go for a career as a Strategist, tried my absolute best even though I had so many nerves and I am happy to be here today as a Junior Strategist.
What set of skills do you believe it takes for a strategist to thrive in the current advertising landscape?
AJ - Ability to think laterally: We probably all know this but thinking beyond the obvious in practice is harder than it looks. My manager told me, “First, think as broadly as possible and then work your way in to something specific.” Start with the world’s first digital calendar that senses your mood when you wake up and get to an interactive quiz that generates a personalised calendar for you.
Curiosity: Embrace your inner child and always ask ‘why?’
Empathy: There’s a world beyond our echo chamber and if we can tell people that we’re thinking about them, that we know what they’re feeling, they might not feel so alone.
Being authentic: People will always remember how you made them feel, good or bad, and if they know it comes from an honest place, there’s no room for misconception or miscommunication.
What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? What helps keep the work interesting for you?
AJ - The hardest aspect of the role is choosing what to cut out of the research I find, and only focusing on what is important. Information and data are broad, but insights are tight, so it’s finding that sweet spot of tension, like the final kinks of a muscle knot in your back.
It’ll sound nerdy but this work isn’t dull for me. There are a variety of things I get to research and talk about, and people never stop being fascinating. There’s a strange joy in constantly asking ‘why do you do that?’ It may be because I enjoy the accounts I work on, but once I gather all of the interesting stuff into a deck and have a read through, I feel satisfied with what I’ve done found.
Is there a part of the role that you feel is often misunderstood?
RF - Yes. So far, I think people may underestimate the creativity of a strategist. In order to know what do with the information given and conduct research, create decks, present findings and briefs, there is a level of creativity it requires to do all these things. So far, I have mainly been asked to create competitor reviews and although it would be easy just to collate all the information and essentially have an information dump, it may not be that useful for the client. I have found I need to think out of the box to find unique angles and present a review that paints a picture. Which takes some creativity to do.
Do you have any advice for those looking to work in a similar role?
AJ - Always listen to people: I have notes in my phone and hundreds of starred messages of things my friends have said and it’s always good to go back to them, have a read through, maybe a giggle and remember the context of the conversation. While you might think it’s an echo chamber, you’ve got a springboard to think about what opposes that thing someone said, or if there’s an insight you can tap into.
Make note of anything you find interesting: I have a OneNote page of “Miscellaneous Insights” of things I find in articles that I think might be useful to me at some point. Though this may be setting a dangerous hoarding precedent…
Stay and play with curiosity: I mentioned curiosity being a good skill to have earlier, but really stay with something once it’s gotten your attention and see where that takes you.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions: I’ve learned that people are more giving than we assume and will happily answer questions you have about a project of theirs.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of culture? Where do you look for inspiration?
RF - I am big on social media. As a content creator, it is important for me to stay on top of trends and see what’s going on in the world in which I create content. I think this is the same for advertising. It’s important to follow all the right channels to see how consumers are behaving and what changes are being made to products. The news should also not be underestimated. I usually type keywords in the search bars and just read! Lastly, my favourite one is asking questions. It helps to be nosey sometimes. Finding people/businesses who are the leaders in whatever culture it is I am interested in knowing more about is important to me. I can watch and see what they’re up to and ask them questions directly, a more in-depth insight and a real feel for what the culture is really about.