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Planning for the Best: Being Able to Understand Others with Jourdan Gooden

Advertising Agency
Boston, United States
Allen & Gerritsen strategist on the challenges of the pandemic, combatting underrepresentation and problem solving

Jourdan Gooden is a strategist at Allen & Gerritsen, where he leads audience research, conducts workshops and analyses competitive activity across a range of industries including education, clean energy, non-profit, food and beverage, consumer goods and more. Prior to joining A&G, Jourdan interned at Brownstein, an independent advertising agency and public relations agency based in Philadelphia, on the brand strategy team. He is also an accomplished athlete, having competed from 2012 to 2016 as an NCAA D1 soccer player and winning two conference championships before continuing his playing career in Portugal. Jourdan is an alum of Mercer University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. 

LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one? 

Jourdan> I do think there's a difference between strategists and planners; not because I created the distinction myself but from what I’ve learned and experienced from colleagues I’ve met along my journey. The first agency that I was a part of had a strategy department that consisted of account planners and strategists alike. So for me, there's always been a difference that existed because it was evident in my workplace. I don't know if I would really be so aware of it if that wasn’t my experience. 

Even when you partition strategists and planners, there are still different subtypes. There are account planners and media planners, communications strategists, content strategists and more. The general discipline of brand strategy encompasses the responsibilities held by planners, but it also focuses more on things like building brand architecture and conducting workshops. Being involved in more than just product launches and campaigns, but seeing it through execution and maybe even a little bit further. 

LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best? 

Jourdan> I consider myself a brand strategist. As far as my trajectory, I’ve probably developed into a creative strategist thus far. I think a lot of being a brand strategist in a fast-paced agency environment is being able to enjoy, if not withstand, variety.

LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy? 

Jourdan> I really enjoyed the Crayola Colors of the World campaign. Crayola’s strategic idea was to help every child create a place in the world by giving them the power to colour themselves into it. It began with them questioning the importance of equality and representation and it boiled down to controlling the narrative and creating a sense of belonging. They wanted to be able to reflect the breadth of diversity among children in America today. I really appreciated their collaboration with Victor Casale to understand the process of creating skin tone coloured crayons and then the plan that they created. I love collaboration and I love big thinking. In all of this, I think the campaign was challenged by the pandemic, because they had hit the ground running beforehand. They looked at kids, and the thought was – you want power? Here's a crayon. That felt actionable and empowering. I think children, even if they don't realise it themselves, now have access to a tangible tool, or even a weapon, that they can use to combat underrepresentation. 

LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most? 

Jourdan> I most enjoy being able to understand others. In my line of work, there's likely a problem that someone's going to bring to me that requires resolve, and it takes a lot of work to bring about the strategy that can provide a solution. I think my best foot forward is typically in the direction of understanding others. Sometimes it's my client, sometimes it's the stakeholders and sometimes it’s the audience. The process that I undertake usually provides opportunities for me to be a good listener, and that is something that I take pride in. 

LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round? 

Jourdan> We don't really validate creative ideas, per se. We work to inspire them. We might support the fostering of them, but strategy doesn't serve as a validator. While that stereotype is unfortunate, we believe in concept testing. I'm proud that I'm involved with the likes of folks who do. Campaign ideas certainly require evaluation. As a strategist, I objectively practise ensuring that our ideas track with client-approved reach while serving as a partner to our creative team. 

LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? 

Jourdan> Strategy is one of the disciplines that can be a bit of a sleeper. Sometimes people just stumble upon it, and they don't quite know what the discipline is all about. Nonetheless, I think the first thing is to stop making excuses for recruitment or talent acquisition challenges – there’s talent out there. At A&G, we’re offering a real appreciation for that talent. Especially with a discipline like strategy that young people aren't really aware of for such a long time. I think it's important to provide solid experiences for that talent. When they're brought into agencies and firms, they need real structure from day one. No exceptions on that. I think it's crucial for talent to have access to the right kind of mentorship. 

LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, what do you find the most useful resource to draw on? 

Jourdan> Probably my creative team and my strategic partners. I believe the sharpest strategy is achieved through a collaborative effort. 

LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?

Jourdan> Keep your mind open and embrace different perspectives. Always be willing to allow the outside in, stay curious and don’t be ashamed of your curiosity. The going is probably gonna get tough, and you'll probably feel off and unsure at times, but I wouldn't suggest that that would be grounds to give up on a career as a strategist. Sometimes you just have to lean into the uncertainty.

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