Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do?
I’m a brand strategist and currently work at the community New York. It’s hard to say “what I do” because it can change daily, but, in essence, my team is responsible for setting a brand’s strategic direction. When you’re working at an agency, great, inspiring creative is important, but it all starts with a sound strategy.
What did you do before your current role and what led you to where you are now?
I’ve always worked in an agency setting. So, before coming to the community New York, I've worked in shops both big and small. The big shops taught me how to work on large pieces of business, really cutting my teeth as a strategic planner, while the small shops showed me the inner-workings of agencies. I came to the community New York for two reasons:
1) The people – they really are the best.
2) They have a great brand-building proposition around cultural-fluidity, which really taps into how people see themselves today – not just in what they consume, but how they live.
How would you define the role of a strategist at your agency?
Nothing happens without strategy. Really. I’m not saying that to inflate the importance of my role, but everyone here – from the creative to account to project management – we all wear strategic hats. This is the first place I’ve worked where I see that happening. So, while the planning department “owns” strategy, there’s no limit to who can contribute to solid strategic thinking.
How have you seen the role of a strategist evolve since you first began?
Foundationally – it’s pretty similar. But two things have evolved:
1) Strategists are not just working on projects where the answer is an ad. I’ve been pulled into all types of assignments from packaging design to PR.
2) When I started there were clear delineations between brand, comms, and data strategy. Everyone had their role. But now, strategists have become more hybridized and must draw on different skill sets. This shift makes the role more challenging, but also a lot more fun.
In your opinion, what are the greatest barriers an aspiring planner/strategist encounters when trying to start their career?
This sounds like a no-brainer, but just getting a job. I’ve met with many aspiring planners from Miami Ad School or other programs who often get overlooked for roles because they don’t have agency experience. I think we should move away from that stigma. Some natural born planners might struggle to get a job because they never worked in an agency. I will say: you can teach someone how to write a deck, but you can’t teach someone to have a planner’s mind.
In your time, what have you noticed are the key skills and traits that separate great strategists from mediocre?
“Curious,” “likes culture,” “interested in what makes people tick” – those are the usual suspects. But, for me, it’s storytelling. I want to know that you can write a compelling narrative and bring it to life in a clever way – that means not just being good with language, but also innately visual.
How do you avoid getting stuck in a cultural bubble and stay informed on the needs and desires of everyday consumers?
What I think is so cool about my job is that it does blur the lines in my life. Things I see, hear, and experience personally serve as inputs to what I do for work. Living in NYC, I’m fortunate to have friends from all walks of life, so I find I am always learning something that will add value in some way. That’s why I love this agency because we believe in cultural fluidity – that at the end of the day, we’re all multicultural. Race, gender, religion, sexual orientation – all of it. That thinking really pushes you to stay honest and see other point of views whenever possible.