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Strategic Formula

Strategic Formula

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

April 26, 2018

Imagination, cleverness, and clarity can lead to some pretty effective strategy, says Jon Schultz, strategy director at Havas Chicago.

"Real disruptive change comes from someone trying to answer the big questions."

Jon Schultz says that the people he admires are those who are able to convey complex ideas in really easy-to-understand and clever ways. In this lucid Q&A, he talks about clear, creative communication. And he shares some of his savvy with credit cards and rewards programs that have resulted in several free trips across the country.

 

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I’ve been chasing the chance to work on brands ever since I abandoned a firefighter training program that I joined out of high school. I was hungry to study something more academic. After that, I spent a few years at the University of Illinois studying advertising and a few more here at Havas.

Define strategy.

In its simplest form, strategy is the practice of choosing the best possible way to move from one position to another—and that’s bigger than just advertising. Sometimes that means choosing what an entire brand needs to become; other times, it’s choosing what the brand should say, or what interacting with the brand should feel like. Strategy is important in an industry so caught up in execution, because real disruptive change comes from someone trying to answer the big questions and looking at where our work is leading us as a whole.

What are the keys to an effective strategy?

Understanding where you are now, where you want to go, and what stands in your way are all essential to creating a strategy that’s going to get you there. In advertising, the most essential factor is understanding what your brand’s relationship is to the buyer, because an effective strategy tries to change that relationship. Everything else is secondary.

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

As a strategy director, I’m responsible for working with our account and brand client leads to set a strategic vision for what we want our work to accomplish for the client’s business.

In that mix, I’m most responsible for representing the voice of the consumer: What audience should we be pursuing? How do they think about us now? What does our communication need to do to change how they think about us? As a director, I’m also responsible for making that mission feel possible for those on my team who are helping bring that strategy to life in their creative work, and to steer what we’re doing toward that vision through research, planning, measuring success, and more.

"That the thing I most care about in the world is unlocking people’s potential for doing better."

How do you explain your job to someone who is not in the industry?
I come from a blue-collar family, so I usually use Kenmore to explain what I do because my parents get it. Our Kenmore clients come to us knowing they want to sell a certain line of kitchen appliances this year. They trust their agency to help them figure out who could be interested in buying those appliances, why they aren’t buying from us now, and how Kenmore can talk about its appliances so they stand out in a crowded category. That’s what I do; I take what someone wants to sell and design the way we’re going to talk about it in order to change a consumer’s mind and behavior.

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

Most of what I learn about this job comes from studying people who are doing it well. Mentorship is huge for me; it’s how you grow faster. One thing that’s recently affected how I work in a big way is an idea I learned from another planner: “Creatives need clarity even more than they need inspiration.”

It feels more important to me than ever to champion understanding our clients’ brands in the eyes of the consumer and to be a relentless force of reduction and focus for whatever problem we’re trying to solve.

What do you hope will change in the ad industry?

As more businesses grow skeptical of the role of advertising agencies (I see fewer and fewer AOR relationships these days), I hope that the agencies I work for can find a way to build their model around what we can do better than anyone—building the voice of the consumer and culture into the DNA of a brand.

What do you hope will never change?

The chance to work with really interesting people from an insanely diverse set of disciplines. Our diversity of perspective is one of our greatest assets.  

What’s your passion project outside of work?

I’m a pretty nerdy dude, so what draws me to a job like strategic planning is thinking about people in a deep, anthropological way. I intentionally don’t commodify it, but my most involved passion project outside of work is traveling throughout the United States to study how its culture changes in different geographies. About two-and-a-half years ago, I started traveling the country with a film camera, and since then have documented what I’ve seen pretty religiously on Instagram and my own site.

What do you wish that everyone knew about you?

That the thing I most care about in the world is unlocking people’s potential for doing better. I personally help coordinate some humble, socially minded programs with several nonprofits and on behalf of Havas Chicago. If you’ve got a social challenge you’re working on, and you think I can help, hit me up.

What’s the worst piece of career advice you’ve ever gotten?

Different sources of advice say the most important aspect of your career is how people think about you. That leads to a career of creating the impression of work—not creating real work.

The best advice?

Your career is defined by your skills and how you’ve used them, not by any external measure of your progress.

Tell us everything you know about credit cards and rewards programs.

Sheesh. We could do a whole other blog post just about this. Credit card companies intentionally make credit cards scary and confusing, because they win when their customers are ignorant. They know that most people are lured into programs by the prospect of free travel and that they will mess up and lose more than they get. What you need to know is this: If you know where every dollar you spend goes and can use a credit card like a debit card, you can travel the world for free pretty regularly. That’s as much advice as I’ll give for free.

"Real disruptive change comes from someone trying to answer the big questions."

Jon Schultz says that the people he admires are those who are able to convey complex ideas in really easy-to-understand and clever ways. In this lucid Q&A, he talks about clear, creative communication. And he shares some of his savvy with credit cards and rewards programs that have resulted in several free trips across the country.

 

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I’ve been chasing the chance to work on brands ever since I abandoned a firefighter training program that I joined out of high school. I was hungry to study something more academic. After that, I spent a few years at the University of Illinois studying advertising and a few more here at Havas.

Define strategy.

In its simplest form, strategy is the practice of choosing the best possible way to move from one position to another—and that’s bigger than just advertising. Sometimes that means choosing what an entire brand needs to become; other times, it’s choosing what the brand should say, or what interacting with the brand should feel like. Strategy is important in an industry so caught up in execution, because real disruptive change comes from someone trying to answer the big questions and looking at where our work is leading us as a whole.

What are the keys to an effective strategy?

Understanding where you are now, where you want to go, and what stands in your way are all essential to creating a strategy that’s going to get you there. In advertising, the most essential factor is understanding what your brand’s relationship is to the buyer, because an effective strategy tries to change that relationship. Everything else is secondary.

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

As a strategy director, I’m responsible for working with our account and brand client leads to set a strategic vision for what we want our work to accomplish for the client’s business.

In that mix, I’m most responsible for representing the voice of the consumer: What audience should we be pursuing? How do they think about us now? What does our communication need to do to change how they think about us? As a director, I’m also responsible for making that mission feel possible for those on my team who are helping bring that strategy to life in their creative work, and to steer what we’re doing toward that vision through research, planning, measuring success, and more.

"That the thing I most care about in the world is unlocking people’s potential for doing better."

How do you explain your job to someone who is not in the industry?
I come from a blue-collar family, so I usually use Kenmore to explain what I do because my parents get it. Our Kenmore clients come to us knowing they want to sell a certain line of kitchen appliances this year. They trust their agency to help them figure out who could be interested in buying those appliances, why they aren’t buying from us now, and how Kenmore can talk about its appliances so they stand out in a crowded category. That’s what I do; I take what someone wants to sell and design the way we’re going to talk about it in order to change a consumer’s mind and behavior.

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

Most of what I learn about this job comes from studying people who are doing it well. Mentorship is huge for me; it’s how you grow faster. One thing that’s recently affected how I work in a big way is an idea I learned from another planner: “Creatives need clarity even more than they need inspiration.”

It feels more important to me than ever to champion understanding our clients’ brands in the eyes of the consumer and to be a relentless force of reduction and focus for whatever problem we’re trying to solve.

What do you hope will change in the ad industry?

As more businesses grow skeptical of the role of advertising agencies (I see fewer and fewer AOR relationships these days), I hope that the agencies I work for can find a way to build their model around what we can do better than anyone—building the voice of the consumer and culture into the DNA of a brand.

What do you hope will never change?

The chance to work with really interesting people from an insanely diverse set of disciplines. Our diversity of perspective is one of our greatest assets.  

What’s your passion project outside of work?

I’m a pretty nerdy dude, so what draws me to a job like strategic planning is thinking about people in a deep, anthropological way. I intentionally don’t commodify it, but my most involved passion project outside of work is traveling throughout the United States to study how its culture changes in different geographies. About two-and-a-half years ago, I started traveling the country with a film camera, and since then have documented what I’ve seen pretty religiously on Instagram and my own site.

What do you wish that everyone knew about you?

That the thing I most care about in the world is unlocking people’s potential for doing better. I personally help coordinate some humble, socially minded programs with several nonprofits and on behalf of Havas Chicago. If you’ve got a social challenge you’re working on, and you think I can help, hit me up.

What’s the worst piece of career advice you’ve ever gotten?

Different sources of advice say the most important aspect of your career is how people think about you. That leads to a career of creating the impression of work—not creating real work.

The best advice?

Your career is defined by your skills and how you’ve used them, not by any external measure of your progress.

Tell us everything you know about credit cards and rewards programs.

Sheesh. We could do a whole other blog post just about this. Credit card companies intentionally make credit cards scary and confusing, because they win when their customers are ignorant. They know that most people are lured into programs by the prospect of free travel and that they will mess up and lose more than they get. What you need to know is this: If you know where every dollar you spend goes and can use a credit card like a debit card, you can travel the world for free pretty regularly. That’s as much advice as I’ll give for free.

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

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