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I am a strategy director with experience in all stages of brand strategy and execution. I work with CEO's on the future of their business, and I bring brands to life through tailored content. Whatever you need. I am based in London, but can work wherever you and your clients are.

 

 

The Blog of Camilla Grey Petty

 

Filtering by Tag: strategists

How to get a job as a brand strategist

Camilla Grey

The thing about strategists is that we’re united by a common personality type, not by a common skill set. Strategists are, generally, introverted, contemplative, analytical and inquisitive. As William Gibson says of his brand strategist protagonist in Pattern Recognition, “She learned it’s largely a matter of being willing to ask the next question”. And we are willing simply because we cannot help but search for patterns and seek order in the chaos.

Unlike other professions, there’s no specific training involved in becoming a strategist. The strategists I know found their way into it via degrees in english, art history, political science, international law, graphic design, sociology, economics and philosophy, or from early jobs doing a bit of everything in small, independent companies. You can see the 20+ responses to my tweet asking other strategists about this here. In my case, I studied American Studies (yup, that’s a thing), before getting my first job as wholesale manager at Rococo Chocolates.

So, there’s no wrong or right way in — strategists seem to be born not made. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it’s somewhat of a calling, which gives one a fantastic sense of purpose. But also a curse because simply self-identifying as a strategist doesn’t give you any hint as to how to get started. So, having spent 8 years in agencies and nearly two years working as an independent consultant for start-ups and established companies, here’s a few hints from me:

Don’t apply for jobs

The sad truth is that it is almost entirely impossible to get a job by emailing jobs@thecompanyyouwanttoworkfor.com. Even more sad, is that those inboxes are either rarely checked, or entirely ignored.

The even sadder truth is that, while hiring protocols are starting to shift in a more egalitarian direction, most companies still recruit according to provenance, privilege, and personality. Especially, it seems, amongst strategists.

In fact, and in my experience, the pecking order, when it comes to work experience, internships and graduate jobs in strategy it often goes:

  • Friends and family of company founders/directors/c-suite
  • Friends and family of the client
  • Graduate scheme superstars
  • Oxbridge graduates and those with MBA’s
  • Those with recognisable surnames
  • Friends and family of existing employees
  • Young, award-winning “influencers” and entrepreneurs
  • Jazz-hands and show offs who send cupcakes with their CV
  • Those in the right-place, at the right-time
  • The politely persistent

So, if the first 7 don’t apply, and cupcakes just aren’t your thing, then finding out how to be in the right place at the right time is critical. Which leads me to…

Go to parties

Events and meet-ups put you at the heart of new ideas and discussions, and gets you in the same room as future employers and colleagues. The creative and tech industries are awash with regular events, many of which are free to attend and often also have free pizza and wine too. When I first started my career I went to everything and anything — many of the people I met at the likes of Glug and Protein Gallery remain friends, colleagues, and peers.

So, go introduce yourself to people, be active on social media, write up the event afterwards — basically do what you can to meet people in real life and show you’re on the inside saying ‘hi’, and not on the outside sending emails to the inbox of doom.

Show your thinking

To get hired, strategists need to demonstrate how they think, look at the world around them, and break down information. The best way to do this is through writing. Writing is a wonderful way to ask and answer the questions that interest you. It forces you to articulate a thought and point of view and, with practise and perseverance, enables you to develop your own style and distinct voice.

I set wannabe strategists a writing brief and offer one round of feedback, with a view that they can use that piece as a calling card along with their CV. All of those who’ve been set and completed the brief, and responded to the feedback, have gone on to get a job within 6 weeks.

Show you’re thinking

Junior strategists are generally tasked with research-related projects. This may be assembling background information on a client and looking into sector trends for a pitch, or it may be finding relevant stats and facts, analysing market research and data, or preparing customer research for an existing project. Or it may be doing background research for marketing and branded content for the company or client.

Line managers (the good ones) want to see young strategists actively thinking about the company or the client, and will nurture and mentor those who go beyond the job description. Juniors who’ve been working on their writing and who stay plugged into things in their own time, often feel more confident and comfortable not only taking on research tasks, but are also more likely to push their work up the value chain into analysis, insight and, ultimately, strategy.

Play by the rules

Spell-check everything that leaves your inbox. Say ‘thank you’ to people who give you their time. Take notes. Take feedback. Take set-backs. Be punctual. Be patient. Be nice. And don’t expect anything to be handed to you. Get people cups of tea and hold doors. Basically, behave like your grandparents would want you to and work as hard as they did during the war/down the mines/while waiting for the internet to be invented. And do a side-project on something you really give a shit about and is fun. It creates something else to think about when work is boring and tough, and will probably get you your next job.

Break the rules

Have a go at everything. Focus on the work, not the job title. Chat to the CEO. Say what no-one else is saying. Ask what no-one else has asked. Pay attention to things that don’t fit the pattern. Collaborate with people who aren’t like you. Read widely and weirdly, then save and tag it all on Pinboard. Ask for what you want. Know your value. Don’t work for free (even if they can’t pay you, make sure you get a LinkedIn recommendation, an introduction, or an interview for your next writing piece). If you witness bullying, sexism or any kind of aggression, say something! If you really, really hate a place, leave it behind and try something new. Make sure that side-project is controversial and forces you to be brave. And don’t listen to advice, you’re going to be just fine.

If you would like me to set you a writing brief, please get in touch via my website.

If you want to say ‘hi’ in real life and meet lots of great people working in digital design, come to the next Design Club.

And if you want to join a community of people like you, check out Open Strategy — the ultimate destination and resource for today’s strategists. Join their Slack, and meet them in real life too at one of their School of Planning events.

Full Stack Strategy

Camilla Grey

This post first appeared on Medium

The time to PowerPoint is through. Strategists need to change, adapt or die. Or find their work wanting.

 

In software development, a Full Stack Developer has a good (if not expert) grasp of all the layers that go into a product. They are a Jack Of All Trades from the back end (servers, databases etc) to the front end (HTML etc).

If we see progressive organisations as ‘stacks’, then everything from C-suite, to IT, to marketing, to product development, to customer service is in the stack. Even customers are in the stack. The whole organisation and everything it touches is in the stack. Connecting those layers calls for a strategy that goes from the back room to people’s front rooms. How many brand strategies (or strategists) really do that?

The evolution seems to have developed like this…

Traditional
Brand strategy needs to exist and be understood at the core of the business. This is often called Purpose. Brand strategists love this stuff.

Enlightened
Brand strategy needs to extend all the way from the core of the business in a way that’s actionable to people across the business. This is often called Culture. Brand strategists have to spend time talking to ‘stakeholders’, but otherwise it’s okay.

Progressive
Brand strategy needs to extend all the way from the core of the business to a user or customer and all the way back in again.

This is often called… all kinds of things. Undercurrent and Bud Caddell call it Responsive. IDEO and Frog call it User Centred Design. Wolff Olins calls it Creative Partnership. But it’s here that brand strategists tend to get lost in the mix with organisational, experience and interaction design. The idea of ‘brand’ becomes amorphous. As does the idea of strategy. Oh God.

Let’s call the new practice Full Stack Strategy.

I’ve been knocking around the agency world long enough now to know that the appetite from both agencies and clients is there. And yet, I’ve also been around long enough to see first-hand how difficult it is to shape the right skillsets, define a buyable offer, sell it in successfully, and implement it effectively. It’s down, in part, to both sides of the table looking to the wrong benchmarks for inspiration.

The need for a Full Stack Strategy is relatively new. Digitisation, user-centricity, and a heightened emphasis on company culture has made corporate agility a must. This is easy for organisations born into this context — the Googles, the Apples, the Amazons, and the Netflixs of this world. But for everyone else it’s a massive, monumental ball-ache. ‘Transformation’ — the word so often used in these cases — suggests a sweet caterpillar re-emerging as a gorgeous butterfly. In reality it’s more like gender reassignment surgery — complex, awkward, painful and utterly confusing for everyone around.

Anyway, how to tackle that is probably the subject of another blog post and one I’m not quite ready to write. But assuming the client’s organisation is all metaphorically hormone-d up and ready to take a knife to the parts that matter, here’s what a strategist will need to cover in order to build a Full Stack Strategy that makes a significant difference:

Mastery

  • Business objectives (short and long term)
  • Capabilities
  • Offer
  • Audience

Interest

  • Organisational structure
  • Processes
  • R&D/Innovation
  • HR
  • Big data (let’s just call it data analytics like normal people, yes?) (quant)
  • Customer insight (qual)

Familiarity

  • Service design
  • Experience design
  • Environmental design
  • Marketing, PR, communications, advertising, social
  • …basically every touchpoint you have and haven’t thought of, the strategy should be applicable to and reflected in

I said, I’m not ready to write that “how to do this” post, but I do have a starter for ten and it begins with us — strategists. I suspect that the time has come for brand strategists to re-cast themselves as Full Stack Strategists; strategic counsel that is familiar with the organisation from top to bottom.

Strategists need to expand their curiosity and their skill sets exponentially. They need to adopt (or at the very least understand) the capabilities and insight of their crazy cousins The Marketers, their wayward uncles The Ad Guys, their shy sisters the Business Intelligence folk, and their funky little nieces the Social Media experts. They need to know how to push that strategy right to the very edge of the organisation and tip it out into the world. And they need to be ready to respond effectively to whatever comes back. They need to think very big, and then go in very small. Hands off/Hands on.

Highly-complex and networked organisations are here. They have an ever increasing number of layers that must work together, and in the service of wider goals. There’s just no room or time for a PowerPoint presentation in that context. Full Stack Strategy is our future. So let’s change, adapt and thrive.

If you recognise any of the above in your organisation, your agency or even in yourself, I’d be really interested to hear about it. Please comment, or drop me a tweet.