Student FAQs


What is Strategy?

Ideas are easy. Strategy is much harder.
— Debbie Millman, Designer
Strategy is choosing to perform activities differently or to perform distinctly different activities from rivals.
— Michael Porter, Harvard Business School

Southwest Airlines chose to perform activities differently by offering the first no-frills flight service. Sony, on the other hand, chose to perform distinctly different activities by creating portable music with the Walkman. While communications strategy relies heavily on consumer research, it's crucial to note that strategy does not originate with consumers. In fact, when consumers were asked if they would be interested in portable music before it was reality, they overwhelmingly said no. They couldn't envision it. But the Walkman was one of the most successful product introductions ever. 


What's the difference between strategy and insight?

Insight is a building block of strategy. It can be about the consumer, the brand, the competition, category or culture. Insight informs strategy. Strategy is the overall plan to communicate differently or communicate something entirely different. 


HOW DO I KNOW WHEN I'VE FOUND an INSIGHT?

When you stumble on something that makes you think differently about a particular idea, you are on the right track. If it's not widely known or accepted, that's also a good sign. 


how do i know if i've got the right strategy?

A good rule of thumb is that it should feel exciting but slightly scary. Risky, but also speak the truth. Differentiating, but right for the brand. There is a general sense of "all signs point to this." Another way to think about it is to use Chip and Dan Heath's acronym from the book Made To Stick: SUCCESs. Is it Simple? Unexpected? Concrete? Credible? Emotional? Is it ripe for storytelling?


what's the difference between Creative and Strategy?

Creative work is what we see and hear when we see ads. The words. The visuals.

Strategic work is what we don’t see when we look at ads:

  • The research on consumers and brands.
  • Identifying the business problem that needs to be solved.
  • Constructing a connection (between brand and consumer) in an engaging and authentic way.
  • Convincing the client to take risks.

Both tracks require a LOT of creative thinking. Say and show things in an interesting way.

Both tracks require a LOT of strategic thinking. Understanding people and the brand, and connecting them.

Both tracks are at the intersection of commerce, creativity, and culture.


What are some career opportunities for creatives & strategists?

Strategic:

  • Account Executive
  • Advertising/Marketing Director (CMO)
  • Promotions strategist
  • Brand Manager
  • Business Development
  • Market Analyst
  • Market Research
  • UX (user experience) designer
  • Community Manager/Social Media

Creative:

  • Art Director
  • Copywriter
  • Producer
  • Creative Director
  • Graphic Designer
  • Web Designer
  • Video/Film Director
  • Experience Designer
  • Digital Specialist

How do I know which one I am?

The short answer is...you're both. And lots of students choose to study both tracks. In fact, the most successful creatives are highly strategic and the most successful strategists are creative. But typically, you will lean more towards one or the other. One helpful way to think about it is to ask yourself how you want to spend most of your day. Which scenario is more energizing to you--writing words? Coming up with visuals? Or talking to people and thinking?


OK, it's settled. I'm a strategist. What does a typical day look like for a strategic planner in advertising?

Like everything else in advertising, there's a lot of variety. One day you might be talking to consumers. Another day you might be sharing what you learned with your client. Or writing a brief and sharing it with the creative team. You'll think a lot about how to connect with the people your clients are trying to reach. Other days will be spent reading, thinking, taking in pop culture and writing presentations...lots of them. And you'll spend quite a lot of time on a plane and sitting in airports. 


how does the planning department fit within the overall agency structure? and what does the structure within a planning department look like? 

Agency structure can vary quite a lot, but overall, Creative, Planning and Account Management represent the most common triumvirate. Media and Production are two other important areas, but Media is often outsourced to a separate company while Production usually falls under Creative. Digital is usually split up between Planning and Creative.


show me the money!

If you're wondering who makes what, according to this survey from 2016, check out this link: https://www.roberthalf.com/sites/default/files/Media_Root/images/tcg-pdfs/the_creative_group_2016_salary_guide.pdf


Sign me up! How do I get a job?

First you'll need an online portfolio with samples of your work. Lots of people make an online portfolio using Wordpress, Behance, Cargo Collective, Squarespace, Weebly or Wix. Some hosting platforms are free; some are not. But it's worth buying a domain name that is unique to you. It's your own little piece of internet real estate that will showcase your life's work forever. 


What does a strategist's portfolio look like? I don't have any ads.

Good examples can be found here. Yes, these are graduate level, but that's the quality and the type of content you should be striving to produce : http://brandcenter.vcu.edu/people/current-students/strategy/


Right. I don't have anything like that for my portfolio. What do I do? 

You can do several things. Revise work you've already done. Make sure it's ideal for online viewing (i.e., don't post term papers or work that isn't polished). Keep a blog that will show off your creative thinking and writing skills, curiosity and general empathy for human nature. Give yourself projects based on your unique interests. Document your hobbies with video. You should be thinking about your portfolio the minute you enter into the sequence. Virtually everything you do as part of your coursework should be portfolio-worthy.


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