Wed, 09 Oct 2013 15:39:58 GMT
Cycling, learning to play the mandolin, cooking Cajun food and just getting out to chat to people; Stephanie Newman may be the Director of Strategy at 72andSunny, but you’re unlikely to find her hiding behind a desk. Having started her career working for Amnesty International, she’s one of those rare adlanders who acknowledges - and even embraces - the fact that there’s a big wide-world outside of advertising. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Stephanie to find out why strategists need to cut the jargon, stop naval gazing and start exploring more.
LBB> What makes 72andSunny Amsterdam such a unique place to be right now?
SN> I hate having to start off sounding like I’m bragging, but here goes.
The culture. Brave & generous is the rule, rather than the exception here, which for me personally was a huge reason to join. People band together to solve problems and share responsibility in a way I’ve never experienced at any other agency. And pride in the work is unparalleled – which of course, can come with its down sides, too.
The people. We’ve got this buzzing hive of incredibly talented and hugely experimental people who are also the kindest bunch I’ve ever worked with. To genuinely look forward to an 18 hour journey from Seoul to Bucharest with your ECD is a beautiful thing.
The brands we work with. Collaborative, creative in their own right, committed to learning from us, as well as letting us learn from them. Every one of them is up for taking big swings.
The future. We’re so young, and where we go as an agency, and a collective of people, is entirely in our hands. It doesn’t get more exciting than that.
LBB> You started off your career at Amnesty International. What did you do there and do you think that experience has in any way influenced your approach to your subsequent career?
SN> I started as a temp, typing for someone in the fundraising team who’d got RSI and couldn’t type herself. Somehow, they let me stay and I just started working my way up. I did everything from editing the Annual Report, to drafting their corporate partnership policy, to running their first coordinated global fundraising effort. I owe a huge amount to my first boss, who just kept throwing me in at the deep end and trusting me. He taught me bravery and balls, which don’t come naturally to me. My time at Amnesty also taught me humility, patience, how to collaborate from the heart, and gave me a grave sense of perspective. I try to lean back on that experience to keep myself grounded in an industry that doesn’t always operate with the same principles.
LBB> As I understand it, you’re originally from Louisiana. What was that like as a place to grow up? And what kind of kid were you?
SN> Louisiana is a really evocative place for me – I was born there, and my family comes from there, but I spent most of my childhood in Texas. So I probably have a romantic view from going back for family reunions and holidays. But it’s true that my favourite things, even as an adult, are the things that matter most to Cajuns: food, music, family and fishing. As for what kind of kid I was, I thought I’d let my family answer that one. My aunt Ellen said "geeky." My mom said "when awake, you rarely stopped talking, unless you were reading." My uncle Ray said, "precocious; sweet, fun."
LBB> How did you end up in advertising – and specifically strategy?
SN> At Amnesty International, we worked with 180 Amsterdam. I was amazed at their ability to take these complex thoughts, this 20-page brief’s that we’d laboured over for months, and turn them into a simple, powerful, beautiful piece of imagery, or language, or film. I started to wonder if I might not enjoy that side of marketing more. I got into strategy for the simple reason that Alex Melvin, who I admired immensely, said that it was the right job for me agency-side.
LBB> As a strategist, do you have any pet approaches or methods for gaining useful insight for a project?
SN> Talk to people. Do things. Explore places other people don’t. Seek out the real over the academic. There’s too much desk planning going on these days.
Avoid jargon: in speech, in presentations; everywhere. Try it, very strictly, for a day and you’ll be surprised how much it creeps in. The problem with jargon is that it’s often imprecise and is rarely human. Our role is to be precise and to be deeply human.
LBB> When looking for new strategy talent – perhaps young people at the beginning of their career – what are the qualities you look for?
SN> Smarts. Kindness. Imagination. An absence of cynicism. An eagerness to learn. People who surprise me. People who challenge me. People I want to spend inordinate amounts of time with… as that’s the way it goes in this business.
LBB> And how is the role of strategist evolving?
SN> This kind of question makes me slightly queasy, so I asked the strategists I work with, who are, anyway, smarter than me. Simon said this, which sums up how I feel entirely: "Strategy seems to be evolving into an endless whirl of trying to define how strategy is evolving. There, are too many conferences and too many slide-share presentations discussing different types of strategy. Too many shared definitions… via bad blogs. Let's just make the work better. We can evolve alongside other humans."
Rachael expressed a similar sentiment, but much more politely: "The most evolved strategists I've ever met are the ones that are doing interesting things beyond advertising, within life."
LBB> Outside of work, what are your big passions?
SN> I’m learning to play mandolin, because my dad made one for me. I’ve started road cycling, because I’m in Holland, which is a country laced with cycling lanes, so it would be rude not to. I love cooking, especially Cajun food, curries, and Thanksgiving dinners. I just got back from a three week road trip which has made me want to do much more back-road, backwater travelling.
LBB> What projects have you been involved in recently that have particularly resonated with you and why?
SN> Building a strategy department. It’s a fascinating thing to ask, “What does a modern strategy department looks like?” and then to build the answer from the ground up. We are still, very much a work-in-progress, so please – any ideas are very welcome!
On the side, I’ve been working with a local restaurant on their re-launch, which has been really challenging and stretching, and is teaching me a lot about things I thought I already knew. I’d like to do more with small businesses.
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Genres: Dialogue72andSunny Amsterdam, Wed, 09 Oct 2013 15:39:58 GMT