I started this blog to look at advertising strategies but am not a strategist myself. Recently though, I had the good fortune to meet and interview a strategist about her job. Read on for my full interview with Morgan Todd and find out more about her career as a strategist.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Morgan and I’m a communications strategist at No Fixed Address Inc. Most people call me Toddy (it’s my last name), it started from people mistaking my email and calling me Mr. Todd, but that’s a long story. I’ve been in strategy for a few years now, but before that, I studied neuropsychology, database marketing, and eventually ended up doing analytics for a PR firm before coming to NFA. It seems like a pretty strange journey to most, but my background is really and has always been rooted in understanding human psychology and behaviour, and now leveraging that information to drive business results for our clients.
What does a strategist do?
I’d say we’re 50% researchers and 50% planners, but on any given day, we could be writers, designers, teachers, students, interviewers, analysts… you get it. That’s what I love most about my job, no one day is ever the same, and the flexibility in what we do makes it exciting. One day we might have to teach ourselves about how Bitcoin works, or what interest rates are doing to the housing market, the next we’ll be interviewing heart surgeons, and the following day we could be planning a gala. It’s always completely different from the day before.
I once heard someone say that the role of the strategist is to represent the target audience or customer, but I think we are the connection point where all stakeholder motivations, needs, and (sometimes) frustrations converge. We make sense of what’s currently going on, what needs to be done to reach business results, and then we work with all our other teams (creative, digital, accounts, project management, etc) to decide how we can reach our goals. It’s super collaborative.
Why did you want to become a strategist?
I didn’t actually want to become a strategist at first, if we’re being honest here. I didn’t know what strategy meant, it’s such a broad term. But working on the research and analytics side was a great place to start, and when I was at a point where I saw actionable opportunities for clients out of the excel spreadsheets I was working on, it was a logical next step. I had an amazing leader (she doesn’t pay me to say this, I swear) who pushed me into the deep end and I’ve never looked back. There’s so much room to grow and evolve in this role, and I’m so happy this is where I ended up.
What does a day in your shoes look like? Does it vary much?
It’s usually a pretty early, intensely caffeinated start to the day in this role, but that’s about the only consistency I can share. Most days will begin by reviewing a presentation or research that’s due later that day, to get the priority items covered before taking on anything new. Because we’re always taking on new business and are a pretty lean team here, there will usually be a few briefings for new projects to start, and sometimes we’ll have a chance to sit in on creative meetings to see how our strategies are coming to life. Those are really fun – being able to see how your Venn diagram leads to a brilliant commercial is the coolest part about this job.
Otherwise, our days are often filled with research, writing new strategic plans, interviewing stakeholders, meeting with clients, and scanning the internet and the world outside for any important trends that could be applicable to our work. We always have to know what’s going on in the world around us, so really our job is part of our life, it never stops when we leave the office.
In your experience, does the strategist role change much from agency to agency?
Not a lot, but it depends on the team you’re working with and their perspectives from their previous work. Every strategist has ideas and opinions on how to approach something, but at our core, we’re always solving the same problems to get to the same results. I’d say that some agencies don’t put as much pressure on incorporating strategy into every project, that’s one thing I’ve been really fortunate to have at NFA and my previous roles. When strategy is seen as a focus and a non-negotiable element in all of your work, your clients get smarter, more efficient, more profitable work.
What is the best part of your job?
This sounds cheesy but it really is the people you get to work with. I don’t sit at a desk, I spend my day in meetings bouncing ideas off of really intelligent and creative minds, and that’s what motivates me and keeps me excited about coming to work every day. I can’t wait to think of, share, and hear really great ideas, it’s extremely inspirational. I also love working in a flexible environment where you can work at your own pace, where and when you want to.
What is the worst/most difficult part of your job?
Being super self-sufficient and knowing when to say no. You have to take care of your own project workload and it can be very tempting to take on more than you can physically produce because you want to work on everything. You have to know when to prioritise certain projects over others, and at the end of the day, you’re accountable for the work you commit to doing. There is no set structure for this, you have to find your own flow, and that can be intimidating for some.
What kinds of resources do you use on the job?
Lots of Googling. Lots and lots of it. But we leverage social listening tools, third party researchers, design tools, previous work we’ve done, and a lot of research that our clients have done previously. The biggest resource is each other, our strategy team is connected all day long and we love to throw ideas off of each other. Your team is your own personal soundboard, and crucial to your success.
Do you have any recommendations for aspiring strategists?
In order to make smart, strategic decisions, you first need to understand what you’re talking about. As soon as you lose touch with what’s going on in the real world around you, whether it be the latest and greatest social media platform or what the weather will be like in Alaska next Wednesday, you absolutely need to be interested in staying “plugged in.” I’d highly recommend starting in research and analytics, because no matter how senior you become in this role, you’re inevitably going to be analyzing some kind of information that requires a “so what?” Learn the back-end before you jump to the front-end, and you’ll have a solid foundation for your craft.
Find out more about Morgan through No Fixed Address.
I hope to do more interviews in the future. Who would you be interested in hearing from? What would you ask them? Let me know in the comments below!