How to become an advertising Strategist at AKQA

Sadly, this is one of my last interviews in my series of “how to get into advertising“, but it’s also one of the best. Packed full of advice and insight, I spoke to Oliver Feldwick from AKQA about how to become an advertising Strategist.

After studying Philosophy at uni, Oliver started his career in advertising as a Junior Researcher, where the then moved to The Red Brick Road for 3 years, before moving on to AKQA for almost a-year-and-a-half. Since conducting this interview, Oliver has moved to BBH. With such an impressive list of agency names under his belt, Oliver is full of useful advice and insider insight about how to become an advertising Strategist and some of the best routes into the industry.

become an advertising strategist1. What is your day to day role?

My job title is a Senior Strategic Planner. This generally means that I do a mix of strategy projects and planning projects for a range of clients – mostly EDF Energy.

This can involve developing a social media strategy and playbook (exploring what and how we do social), developing eMarketing or eCommerce strategies (plans for how we reach our audiences and convert them into customers), running ideation and innovation sessions for digital products and services (inventing new stuff), conducting and analysing research – both quantitive and qualitative (looking at what our users do) and developing and presenting digital, mobile and social trends (predicting what users and businesses may do).

2. How did you become an advertising Strategist?

I grew up with a familiarity of research and advertising – both my parents worked in similar areas, so I guess I was somewhat more immersed in it than most people. Growing up watching ad reels rather than Postman Pat probably had a profound impact on me at some level.

My actual route though to become an advertising Strategist was somewhat indirect through university – I firmly believe that you don’t need vocational degrees in planning / strategy (at least that’s what I tell myself). My degree was in Philosophy, elements of the content have had an impact on my thinking, but far more important than that was the critical thinking tools that came with it.

become an advertising strategist

After uni, I did a placement at a qualitative research company. Again, I feel this is a very strong route to go down to become an advertising strategist / planner (but by no means the only one). This turned into a full-time role as a Junior Researcher. I spent a lot of time immersed in understanding consumers and analysing what they said (and trying to understand what they really meant). But I was also exposed to a wide range of markets and thrown in at the deep end, presenting debriefs to clients. From this I realised that I wanted to have the continuity and depth of working on one account, so I moved to a role as an Account Planner.

3. What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out?

The biggest challenge for me when wanting to become an advertising Strategist was that it’s quite a poorly defined role, which requires a bit of a magpie collection of skills. As an industry, we don’t do especially well at making it easy to understand for those who are new to it. So simply getting your head around the jargon, roles and expectations is quite a feat to get over.

AKQA look for entrepreneurship, passion, innovative thinking and an understanding of consumers

4. What do AKQA look for from future Strategists?

Entrepreneurship, passion, innovative thinking and an initiative / sympathetic understanding of consumers. We look less for specific knowledge and more for skills and enthusiasm.

5. What steps would you recommend for getting into an agency?

Doing work experience and placements can be a great route in, but I think the role of Junior Planner is a tricky one. There aren’t that many roles going around and it can be quite difficult to get the rounded, wide reaching experience to do it well. To do this, I’d start immersing yourself in the general conversations and literature of the industry and start doing your own proactive projects and placements and making contacts within the industry – although I’m sure that’s all common sense stuff you would be doing anyway.

For me, going into qualitative research was a good entry point, as it allows you to get a deep expertise in at least one area before you need to branch out into others. Other routes that could work include going via Account Management (although this can be tough for various reasons), going client side at a place with an interesting marketing department (especially somewhere innovative and fast moving like fashion / retail, which will upskill you pretty rapidly, or even going via brand management / consultancy). I would say however, only pursue these routes if you think they are interesting in themselves, rather than seeing them as a means to an end.

6. What has been your career highlight so far?

Answering these questions.