How to get into advertising: be a Strategist, from Wieden + Kennedy

It’s getting nearer and nearer to “Uni kicking out time”  and lots of lovely folk in adland have been offering to help me with my “break into the ad industry” series, to help anyone who is thinking of getting into the advertising industry and would perhaps like some helpful tips. This week I spoke to Matt Simpson, Strategist for Wieden + Kennedy London about how to be a Strategist.

Wieden + Kennedy are one of my favourite ad agencies, so I was incredibly excited to get someone from there on board with these interviews. W+K are known for their great work for Honda – the Honda Cog and The Impossible Dream, whilst in America, everyone loves them for the work they produced for Old Spice. Located in one of the most creative parts of London (Shoreditch), Wieden + Kennedy are one of the best ad agencies around. I spoke to Matt Simpson, Strategist at W+K about how to be a Strategist, how he got to where he is today and what advice would he give to those looking to follow in his footsteps.

1. What’s your day to day role consist of?

Be a StrategistAs a Digital Strategist, I work with the Creative and Planning teams to ensure a brand and its digital output, is fully optimised for success online. This means understanding online behaviour and ensuring the creative work coming out of the agency fits into how people naturally consume internet culture. It’s about finding the right time, place, audience and method to launch branded content online and then maintaining it long term.Internal education and client education is also a big part of the job. What’s new? What’s next? How does it work? How can we use it to help the brands we work with?

Essentially I worked hard, found my niche and played to my strengths.

2. How did you get to where you are now?

Coming out of Uni, straight into the recession wasn’t ideal and I didn’t have a clue what I really wanted to do. I got offered a few jobs in different sectors and turned them down as they didn’t feel right for me. I couldn’t visualise myself doing them long term. My friends and family thought I was mad, but I look back now and see it as one of the smartest decisions I ever made.

I canvassed all the areas around the media industry and luckily got an internship at a research agency called Face. I worked hard and let my love for all things online do my talking for me. By growing up with the internet I realised I had an advantage over people who had been working 10/20 years. I played to this and after a year interning I was offered a job. By the end of the three years at Face I was heading up the community management team. It was at this point W+K came calling.

Essentially I worked hard, found my niche and played to my strengths.

3. What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting to where you are now?

After my first six months at W+K, we lost our biggest client, Nokia. Half the agency was let go and I was one of the unlucky ones. I took it personally and it hurt. It was during this point that I learned a lot about work life and managed to come to terms with reality. W+K didn’t not want me, or the other 50+ people that had to let go, it was just business. It taught me that no matter how much you like a place of work, or how much they like you, you can never be too comfortable, things change quickly. You have to stay on your toes, keep your head up and not take things to heart.

Wieden’s kept me on for three months, during which time I found a couple of new jobs and was just about to accept one when W+K told me they wanted to reverse their decision and keep me on. I had mixed feelings about it, but decided that I wanted to prove myself and make sure I didn’t have any regrets for leaving one of the best agencies around. A year and a half on and that decision is looking like a good one!

Be a Strategist

4. What does W+K look for from future Strategists?

I’ll speak generally here, as digital strategy is a really new career path and there are only two of us in the building! I’d say that Wieden + Kennedy’s digital department, as a whole, look for understanding and passion in people. An understanding of how digital devices, the internet and technology works and an understanding of how they fit into peoples lives.

Be passionate about everything new. Technology doesn’t stop moving forward, so we look for people with a thirst and hunger for the unknown, people who love discovering new things, playing with them and using them to innovate even further.

If someone has knowledge of audience behaviour, understanding of platforms and a passion for doing new / innovative things, then they’ll be interesting to us.

Be a Strategist

5. What advice would you give to future budding Strategists?

Never stop going on the internet. That extra hour you spend pointlessly surfing the net matters. What you find yourself in the dark depths of YouTube, or the back-end of Reddit at 4am, see it as research for the role.

Remember you are part of a new generation. You know and understand a culture that some seasoned professionals don’t. Don’t underestimate the role of culture in the ad industry. If you understand internet culture, truly understand it (which isn’t easy), then you’ll give yourself a great head start in the world of digital strategy.

“Work hard, make an impression and don’t turn your nose up at any opportunity. Your attitude to work can take you far.”

6. What steps would you recommend to getting into a strategy role?

You don’t need to start in advertising to be a Strategist, so use your first working years to further your online education, get to grips with working life and understand the industry you want to get into.

Don’t be afraid to start somewhere else. Digital strategy is still a niche, it’s still new and it’s still a small world. Get yourself some experience anyway you can, establish yourself in a role that has online at its core and then make the right moves. Don’t set your heart on a digital strategy role straight away, as it probably won’t happen.

I started as an intern, saw that Community Management interested me and worked towards that, the experience gained in Community Management opened up Strategy as an option for me.

Look at other routes that will help you get there too, start-ups always need help, as do blogs and smaller agencies. Find the people who are interesting things and contact them, see if they need a hand. Riding the wave of a small business is equally as rewarding as working for one of the big agencies; you learn a lot in a short space of time. Also, whatever you do, make yourself indispensable. Do the things other people don’t want to do and do them well. Work hard, make an impression and don’t turn your nose up at any opportunity. Your attitude to work can take you far.

7. What’s your career highlight so far?

Nothing specific, I’m just happy that I’ve worked for two great agencies… that and W+K have free toast.

Be a Strategist image sources:
W+K London Office
W+K roof terrace