In 2018, the kind of strategy advertising planners are pining for might be happening in a branding agency.
When I was just starting out in advertising strategy, I saw a job spec for a brand strategy position in a branding agency. It spoke about the ability to shape a brand, to give it purpose and meaning and to ensure that those were not just words on paper but behaviours that one could sense in everything the company did. That, I felt, was the ultimate strategy for a planner.
I loved it but ended up not applying. I was worried that my ad/comms planning background would be an obstacle. Looking back, I realise that could have been a career-defining move, the kind of shift that seems lateral but actually makes a lot of sense in the long run. I later had the chance to meet and work with Stefan and Adriana, the people who founded and run Storience, and I realised that what I did was not that different from what they did.
So when they told me they were hiring, I said they should look for ad planners too.
Why would a planner in an ad agency consider joining a branding agency? First and foremost, because you’ll have the chance to lay the foundation of brands. To be there when it all starts. And to create something more lasting than a campaign. With some luck, 10-15 years from now you’ll be able to walk on the street, point to a logo or product on the shelf and say, “We branded that.”
Then, there’s the “mission thing.” As strategists in 2018, we’re finding that what you say is trumped by what you stand for and how you show it. The obsession with a brand’s mission and Dove-like comms is real and as a brand strategist working in a branding agency that would be your bread and butter. Because what we call a brand’s mission, branding agencies have called purpose and worked on for a very long time. What I also love about Storience is they are not shy to qualify what type of purpose they’re looking to develop. The agency prides itself on doing #BrandingforGood, a strategic framing of brand purpose which emphasizes a brand’s positive impact on the world.
If you’re like me, another strong reason to join a branding agency is their consumer-centricity and their preoccupation with best defining what makes people tick. Having chatted to Adriana (Storience Managing Partner), I’ve found they do over 200 hours of research per new client. That is time clients are happy to allow for and pay for. You also don’t miss out on working with creative folk as branding strategy is developed in tandem with designers and creative directors. And, in the case of Storience, the ideation process is done in partnership with the executive functions of the client so you will have access to the right people all the time.
Finally, while this is a career shift for an ad planner, it’s not a radical one at all. Your skills are transferable. Ad agencies have brand planners and branding agencies have brand strategists. Traditionally, brand planners decide what brands say and brand strategists craft the brand’s purpose and behaviours. Both specialisms work, clearly, within the same space.
Brand planners may be concerned that branding is a more “subdued” manifestation of strategy. After all, brand planning in an ad agency tends to be more “visible” (if one can call planning visible at all). It feels external facing, concerned with what consumers should hear. Brand strategists sometimes feel more inwardly focused, concerned with developing frameworks which drive business decisions, internal structures, sourcing and partnership strategies, product packaging etc. Some people might think this is lacking in “pizzazz” (again if one thinks ad planning is all that full of pizzazz). But Adriana tells me that at Storience, strategists develop comms frameworks as well for the brands they create. And the extra is that they get to touch some of the stuff planners only dream of: operations, HR decisions, supply chain decisions and CSR/sponsorship opportunities. With all that power, comms might feel like “just one brief.”
If any of the above rings a familiar bell to you, have a look at the job spec here and do NOT be like me. Don’t second guess your chances of being called for an interview if you come from an ad agency. It may be, for you, that lateral, career-defining moment.
Bogdana is Head of Strategy at Poke, a London digital agency part of the Publicis Groupe. Bogdana came to Poke by way of Google and McCann, having led strategy work for various clients in the telco, FMCG and tech industries.