havas Content printed form Havas - The Download - http://download.havas.com/posts/time-to-strategize/
Agency Life

Time to Strategize

Time to Strategize

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

April 2, 2018

Some tips on how to create a strategy that connects with buyers.

"Sharing something that feels real, not just something that sounds smart."

Anna Parker, chief strategy officer at Havas Chicago, talks about when strategy becomes effective—and profitable.

 

So, how’d you get started?

I grew up in Indiana, and started my career as a producer for a video production company. We were based in the RV (recreational vehicle) Capital of the World and produced marketing content for Jayco, Coachmen, Forest River, and others.

My first business trip was to Minnesota, to film at a manufacturing company that made slightly smaller-than-normal kitchen cabinets for RVs. But I was in love with marketing and storytelling, and I so wanted to get out of Indiana.

So, I earned my master’s in advertising from the University of Florida, got my first agency job at BBDO, and I’ve been moving boxes around on PowerPoint slides ever since (laughs).

Define strategy for us.

Essentially, strategy is about identifying an opportunity and deciding how to best take advantage of it. In Chicago, we call this “unfair advantage.” Our strategy department is constantly in search of consumer needs that aren’t met, data that others wouldn’t think to look for, and intel that you’ll only get if you have an inside connection—all to create work that’s culturally relevant and that resonates with consumers.

To sell great work, a strategic idea or POV should feel new and necessary. It’s almost like unlocking a door in someone’s mind so a new idea can get through. Our natural tendency is to rely on what we know and why something won’t work, so strategic thinking has to be both disarming and inspiring.

 

What are the keys to an effective strategy?

Simple and honest language—we’re not here to hold court or teach class.

Understanding the cultural codes and personal context of the people who you’re selling to. How is life changing for them? What are they conflicted about? We prioritize real-time research, observed data, social listening, and analytics to answer these questions.

Sharing something that feels real, not just something that sounds smart. Memes are a good example. They’re kind of like mini strategies. They recognize something honest and real that the world isn’t having a conversation around quite yet, and start that conversation.

Knowing how to leverage a competitive weakness, a brand advantage, a cultural tension, a consumer insight that begs action.

But in the context of marketing and advertising, strategy is really only as effective as the next opportunity that it affords us (i.e., the new work or thinking that comes out of it).

"Everyone has stories to tell, and that’s what makes this job interesting."

And so, give us some insight into your responsibilities as chief strategy officer?

In a nutshell, my job is to craft the vision for the department in support of our agency mission, and make sure we have the best people and resources to achieve it.

I work very closely with our creative, account, and media leads to operationalize our mission of invigorating great American brands through cultural relevance. And I work with my team on how we create an unfair advantage for our clients (and our agency) on every project and every pitch.

I also work to build strong connections with colleagues in other offices, both in North America and globally. We can accomplish infinitely more together by centralizing certain practices and sharing knowledge.

How do you explain your job to someone who is not in the industry?  

My goal is to make the work we do for our clients work even harder. We’re always looking to make the consumer more fascinating, the ideas even more resonant, amplify our reach for less money, and think of exciting ways to make ideas participatory.

Tell us about an epiphany in your career that you can share.

There’s an experience I remember vividly that reminded me to check my assumptions at the door—especially about consumers, and gave me some words that I still think about today as it relates to my job.

I was doing in-home ethnographies for a big retailer. I interviewed a woman at her home in LA about shopping, her family, and so on. But the conversation stayed surface level.

When I got up to leave, I saw a small plaque on her dresser and asked her about it. She said “Oh, I got that when I graduated from Pepperdine University,” and then launched into all of these amazing stories about being the first in her family to go to college, her professional experiences, and her hopes for her kids.

Looking back, I think I had assumed she didn’t have interesting stories to tell. That’s one of the worst assumptions you can make in this job—about consumers, clients, colleagues. I just wasn’t asking the right questions. Everyone has stories to tell, and that’s what makes this job interesting. There’s no such thing as normal people.

The plaque said: “Enjoy. Assume nothing. Stand for something.” I’ve always felt those were good words to live by in this career.

What do you hope will change in the ad industry?

The ad industry isn’t evolving fast enough to keep up with how people think, live, and consume content. At Havas, I hope we continue to wreak havoc on agency models, convention, stereotypes, barriers, and standards.

What do you hope will never change?

The frenzy. Making things that make people say: “I can’t believe they made that.”

"Sharing something that feels real, not just something that sounds smart."

Anna Parker, chief strategy officer at Havas Chicago, talks about when strategy becomes effective—and profitable.

 

So, how’d you get started?

I grew up in Indiana, and started my career as a producer for a video production company. We were based in the RV (recreational vehicle) Capital of the World and produced marketing content for Jayco, Coachmen, Forest River, and others.

My first business trip was to Minnesota, to film at a manufacturing company that made slightly smaller-than-normal kitchen cabinets for RVs. But I was in love with marketing and storytelling, and I so wanted to get out of Indiana.

So, I earned my master’s in advertising from the University of Florida, got my first agency job at BBDO, and I’ve been moving boxes around on PowerPoint slides ever since (laughs).

Define strategy for us.

Essentially, strategy is about identifying an opportunity and deciding how to best take advantage of it. In Chicago, we call this “unfair advantage.” Our strategy department is constantly in search of consumer needs that aren’t met, data that others wouldn’t think to look for, and intel that you’ll only get if you have an inside connection—all to create work that’s culturally relevant and that resonates with consumers.

To sell great work, a strategic idea or POV should feel new and necessary. It’s almost like unlocking a door in someone’s mind so a new idea can get through. Our natural tendency is to rely on what we know and why something won’t work, so strategic thinking has to be both disarming and inspiring.

 

What are the keys to an effective strategy?

Simple and honest language—we’re not here to hold court or teach class.

Understanding the cultural codes and personal context of the people who you’re selling to. How is life changing for them? What are they conflicted about? We prioritize real-time research, observed data, social listening, and analytics to answer these questions.

Sharing something that feels real, not just something that sounds smart. Memes are a good example. They’re kind of like mini strategies. They recognize something honest and real that the world isn’t having a conversation around quite yet, and start that conversation.

Knowing how to leverage a competitive weakness, a brand advantage, a cultural tension, a consumer insight that begs action.

But in the context of marketing and advertising, strategy is really only as effective as the next opportunity that it affords us (i.e., the new work or thinking that comes out of it).

"Everyone has stories to tell, and that’s what makes this job interesting."

And so, give us some insight into your responsibilities as chief strategy officer?

In a nutshell, my job is to craft the vision for the department in support of our agency mission, and make sure we have the best people and resources to achieve it.

I work very closely with our creative, account, and media leads to operationalize our mission of invigorating great American brands through cultural relevance. And I work with my team on how we create an unfair advantage for our clients (and our agency) on every project and every pitch.

I also work to build strong connections with colleagues in other offices, both in North America and globally. We can accomplish infinitely more together by centralizing certain practices and sharing knowledge.

How do you explain your job to someone who is not in the industry?  

My goal is to make the work we do for our clients work even harder. We’re always looking to make the consumer more fascinating, the ideas even more resonant, amplify our reach for less money, and think of exciting ways to make ideas participatory.

Tell us about an epiphany in your career that you can share.

There’s an experience I remember vividly that reminded me to check my assumptions at the door—especially about consumers, and gave me some words that I still think about today as it relates to my job.

I was doing in-home ethnographies for a big retailer. I interviewed a woman at her home in LA about shopping, her family, and so on. But the conversation stayed surface level.

When I got up to leave, I saw a small plaque on her dresser and asked her about it. She said “Oh, I got that when I graduated from Pepperdine University,” and then launched into all of these amazing stories about being the first in her family to go to college, her professional experiences, and her hopes for her kids.

Looking back, I think I had assumed she didn’t have interesting stories to tell. That’s one of the worst assumptions you can make in this job—about consumers, clients, colleagues. I just wasn’t asking the right questions. Everyone has stories to tell, and that’s what makes this job interesting. There’s no such thing as normal people.

The plaque said: “Enjoy. Assume nothing. Stand for something.” I’ve always felt those were good words to live by in this career.

What do you hope will change in the ad industry?

The ad industry isn’t evolving fast enough to keep up with how people think, live, and consume content. At Havas, I hope we continue to wreak havoc on agency models, convention, stereotypes, barriers, and standards.

What do you hope will never change?

The frenzy. Making things that make people say: “I can’t believe they made that.”

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

contact our office

Call:

Stop by:

Connect: