How I Got Here
Brand Strategist Chloe Jensen wasn’t looking for strategy, but after a stint feeling deflated at a Graphic Design internship in New Zealand, she landed an unexpected position as a Researcher at Designworks. Here, she looks back on her journey so far to tell us how her degree impacted the way she thinks, why you should broaden your role title search, and why our industry needs to create space for new thoughts and opinions.
Who are you?
Chloe Jensen, just another Kiwi living in London
What do you do?
I’m a Brand Strategist
Where are you based?
London. Shoreditch when in the studio – but WFH in Peckham these days.
Where can we find your work?
Currently strategising at Moving Brands
Where did your journey in the creative industry begin?
I always knew I wanted to do something creative, but it took me a while to figure out exactly what that would be. It probably wasn’t until I was 15 or 16 when I found out about design as a possible career path. At high school, careers in the creative industry were always portrayed as the ‘risky option’. I vividly remember my mum going to bat for me when the careers advisor at school said I was limiting myself by not taking any sciences or mathematics subjects in my final year. To that my mum said, ‘why should she take classes she doesn’t enjoy, or won’t excel in?’ Thanks Mum! Creative subjects seemed to have served me alright in the end. 😉
I vividly remember my mum going to bat for me when the careers advisor at school said I was limiting myself by not taking any sciences or mathematics subjects in my final year. To that my mum said, ‘why should she take classes she doesn’t enjoy, or won’t excel in?’ Thanks Mum!
What’s your education background and did it help you get to where you are now?
I studied a Bachelor of Design, majoring in Visual Communication Design back home in New Zealand and had every intention of being a graphic designer, and I mean I was (briefly). Looking back I think the structure of my degree was really valuable. At the time, I was miffed that our first year involved compulsory papers in fine arts, industrial design and spatial design – why was that valuable when all I wanted to do was design for print? But actually, thinking about how a product works, how a space should function and feel, and what human needs it solved were crucial in shaping my somewhat unexpected path into strategy.
How did you bag your first role working as a Strategist?
About 6 months after finishing university I was feeling a bit deflated and uninspired at an internship, I (and my bank account) really needed something more permanent. As I was applying for more design roles, hoping it might be better elsewhere — an email came through from Designworks (one of the agencies every grad back home wanted to work at). But it wasn’t quite what I expected… Basically, it said, we’ve got an exciting entry level position available in our strategy team, which we would love you to come in for a chat about. Meanwhile... Googling ‘What is strategy?’ ‘What is a Strategist?’
I went into that interview pretty blind, only informed by my buzzword Googling – but very intrigued. To me, this was a foot in the door at an agency I had always wanted to work at. Maybe I could worm my way into the design team? Maybe I could do both? Maybe I would fall in love with strategy? I had no idea – which was both exciting and terrifying. After a series of interviews and a ‘test brief’, I got offered the entry-level position of Researcher (for context I would compare that here in the UK to a Junior Strategist in terms of role/responsibilities) and that was basically that – I was hooked, and ended up staying 4 years before making the move to London. So I guess I really do have Designworks to thank for seeing something in my portfolio and introducing me to the world of brand strategy. Without the nudge, it’s interesting to wonder where I would have ended up...
Why did you think it might be right for you?
I mean if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I necessarily thought it was right for me. But I thought it was worth a shot. It sounded like I would get to be involved in the parts of projects I enjoyed the most. At university I loved the initial stages of a project – the researching, ideating, conceptualising, writing copy, rationalising my ideas and decisions. Where I lost interest (and where I got marked down ha), was when it got to the crafting…
How did you feel about starting this journey? Did you ever doubt your abilities?
HELL YEAH! Soo many doubts. I was a designer, who landed this job doing something I hadn’t even heard of. Finding my voice and place was definitely not a walk in the park, it had its ups and downs — and certainly some tears. There was a lot to navigate. It was a fast-paced environment, lots of jumping around different personalities and working styles – I was very much thrown straight in it. But each day also brought with it validation that I had made the right decision, and that actually I think I might really enjoy this (and might be quite good at it).
I was a designer, who landed this job doing something I hadn’t even heard of. Finding my voice and place was definitely not a walk in the park...
At Moving Brands you are known as a Consultant, how does that vary from a Strategist, if at all?
For me personally, it doesn’t. I do admit, it’s pretty ambiguous and requires some explaining – but so is the title Strategist to many outside of the industry (and even some people in it). I think it’s all really in the detail, or more specifically the job description. I’m definitely doing the same sort of work from my previous role. The role/ responsibilities were also not too dissimilar to what I was seeing in other agencies I was applying for as well. So I guess that’s a useful tip, broaden your title search when on the hunt for roles, it might be packaged up slightly differently elsewhere!
How would you describe the role of strategy to a stranger down the pub? What do you do?
Such a good question! I still don’t think my parents quite understand what I do… This is an answer I’m also constantly changing. But generally, I would say as a Brand Strategist I (in partnership with other team members, it’s not a solo endeavour) define who a brand is for, why they exist, what they stand for, and how they’re different from their competitors. Ultimately, it’s all about helping find opportunities for success for brands where others have not, which is pretty exciting.
What are the top tools in your strategy toolkit?
Strategy in particular is something that can vary a lot from agency to agency – which is something I personally like. Every Strategist has a different way of doing things, there is no magic formula or set of strict rules so you’re constantly able to pick up new tips and tricks from the people you work with. Some Strategists are a lot more detailed, methodical and rigorous from the get-go, some make more intuitive leaps to the answer first which then they go back and validate. As a junior, I think the ability to flex between both styles is really useful as you find your own way and feet. Being a sponge and soaking up as much as you can from those around you really is the best way to learn.
Every Strategist has a different way of doing things, there is no magic formula or set of strict rules.
In terms of tools, I don’t want to give away my secret sources… but I’ll admit, like many, I do love a Venn diagram and plotting the competitive landscape on a positioning axis – where that sweet of opportunity is always top right!
When do you feel like you truly “became” a Strategist?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment, but I think for me it was when I was starting to make the leap from simply capturing observations to turning it into real insight and opportunities. That’s when it felt like it all started to click into place, and fuelled a drive to get my hands on more strategy work — positioning, purpose development, brand architecture, come at me!
In one line, tell us why you do this role.
I love that no day is the exact same, I’m constantly learning new things – working across a broad range of industries and projects certainly keeps things interesting and my general knowledge specialties niche.
What have you been most proud of in your role?
I think I’ve been privileged in my role at Moving Brands in particular has allowed me to work on brands that align with my own values and beliefs. The fact that potential clients are assessed, approved, and also denied through the Perfect Portfolio scorecard is something that really resonated for me. We’re not just looking for the options that will keep our ‘hands completely clean’ but projects where we can also do important heavy lifting. For me, knowing when to say no is an important choice, and the fact that this choice is often embraced in a healthy all-agency debate, where we hear all sides is something I feel lucky to be a part of.
We’re not just looking for the options that will keep our ‘hands completely clean’ but projects where we can also do important heavy lifting.
What do you find most challenging about your role?
As my role has progressed, I think the ability to context shift more frequently has been an adjustment — being across multiple projects definitely has its pits and peaks. Especially in the WFH context of endless zooms, teams and hangouts.
I also think forming great relationships with clients is something that takes time and experience to really find your own way in, and something I personally feel is a constant source of struggle, learning and growth.
How has the current climate affected how you work?
While it’s certainly had its ups and downs I feel really lucky that for the most part, it’s been an easy(ish) transition to WFH. At Moving Brands, we work as ‘One Studio’ so prior to lockdown I was already in the swing of working with teammates in NY or SF. Now it’s just even more faces in little rectangles. I’m certainly looking forward to getting back in the studio though for some IRL working sessions (and some pints after work!)
What’s next for you?
I don’t see any big shifts for me anytime soon. I feel quite content living and working in London. After moving to the other side of the world and navigating the chaotic, messy unknown that has become 2020... I think when it comes to any big life-altering decisions, I’m good (for now).
The next generation
What is the one thing you wish you had known before starting out as a Strategist?
Challenge your own thoughts. It’s ok to ask for help. Seek out and listen to other points of view that are different to your own – that’s where you’ll find the magic.
I’m a Graphic Design graduate who’s interested in strategy, where do I start?
I don’t particularly think there is really a way you can train to be a Brand Strategist although, it’s been a little while now since I was at university! But I do think you ultimately need to be comfortable with logic and creativity. A left and right brainer as they say.
In terms of finding a role, I would first do some research and reach out to some of your favourite agencies with a strategy department, or strategic capabilities and see if there’s any appetite for a junior role – or even a paid internship. Take the opportunity to meet with people, even if there’s not an active role, you never know what might pop up further down the line.
Meet with some recruiters who specialise in strategy roles, it really is useful. But be picky and trust your instincts…You’ll be able to tell the ones who want to get to know you and help you find the right fit.
What advice would you want to share with someone embarking on their strategy journey?
- Be curious.
- Ask questions.
- Share your opinions. Your point of view matters.
- Ask lots more questions.
- Be patient.
- Be persistent.
- Know your worth.
- Don’t settle.
- The squeaky wheel gets the grease!
What would you like to see change for young people starting out in the industry?
I would love to see more diverse voices in strategy roles. Which I think comes with a need to expose young people, even prior to university, to the broad range of career options available in the creative industry. We work in an industry that plays a huge role in shaping culture, and with that comes a huge responsibility to equally represent the people within it. It means acting with humility, creating the space to see things differently, and valuing other cultures as much as the white worldview our industry was built on. Ultimately, the work and brands we see in the world will be better for it.
We work in an industry that plays a huge role in shaping culture, and with that comes a huge responsibility to equally represent the people within it.
Imagine being in a high school class where 16-year-olds are sharing their career aspirations for the future – and you had wannabe Journalists, Electricians, Doctors, Accountants – and Strategists. That to me would be pretty cool.
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