VMLY&R North America
Tue, 10 May 2022 16:11:00 GMT
An “annoyingly curious kid” who was big into her imagination from a young age, VMLY&R Miami’s senior strategic planner, Mingthoy Sanjur, admits she entered the ‘Why?’ stage too early and arguably has never left.
As a child, she gravitated towards Disney, anime and video games, but also enjoyed exploring her own creative side - sewing, painting and sculpting, as well as enjoying the great outdoors. “We spent a lot of time on our farm, where I climbed trees, fell off trees, rode horses, fell off horses, fed chickens, ran away from angry chickens… it was a fun childhood. I feel the inner child in me is very much alive thanks to having had such a great time and great experiences. I firmly believe having an inner child and spending time with it is crucial to being part of this industry and loving it.”
Mingthoy says she was exposed to a “mixed cultural reality” from an early age - coining the term “Panacubamerican” to describe her background, being raised in Panama, Cuba and the US. She says that her childhood in Latin America - in her words, a continent of “transit and convergence” - has honed her abilities to relate and empathize with people from all cultures and walks of life. “This is key to being a strategist because we’re the voice of the customer in the room when we’re developing work,” she says. “I also had the fortune of living a year and a half in Milan and there are certain cultural subtleties that sneak out from time to time. Like the hand gestures.”
Prompted by a particularly difficult time for her family - caused by “irresponsible communication” that has served as a significant inspiration for her career - and a desire to chase her dreams of exploring different cultures and becoming trilingual, Mingthoy went to study corporate communications at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. This would lead Minthoy to her first steps in her current vocation, “Thanks to an amazing professor named Germano Calvi, I discovered the magical world of strategic planning. He became my first planning boss and the person I credit for my professional path.” She continues, “I had never felt so excited about a path like this before. I get to nerd out, analyse things, connect with people, explore cultures and subcultures and help shape creativity? If you had told me I could get paid to do that when I was 15, I would’ve laughed out loud.”
Mingthoy also derives inspiration early on from her mother’s own academic journey, which helped her accept a strategic planning internship at 28 - something she would do again, without question. “It’s never too late to shift paths. My mom enrolled in university at 48 to become an engineer, after being a TV producer, and went on to graduate summa cum laude, so I had a really good example at home. Where I come from, you’re generally expected to have everything figured out by the time you’re 25…”
Since her first job in retail, having interesting conversations daily with a variety of strangers - which she now retrospectively refers to as her ‘focus groups’ - the strategist maintains that there is always something to be learned from every interaction. Utilising her trilingual abilities, she also explores global sub-cultures through Reddit, Discord and Twitter, describing social media as a “permanent window into the minds of millions.” Her first project at VMLY&R involved being immersed in the Jamaican market for a Caribbean telecoms client, which unveiled insights into the importance of the product for local people. “That remains to this day my favourite campaign from that client, because it made me realise that beyond just selling a product, we could use our resources to make a difference and coax our client into using its platform for a greater good.”
Whilst she loves to explore new cultures through online rabbit holes and conversations with fresh faces, something she can struggle with is the simplification and brevity of her communication. “I’m a lot better than when I started, but sometimes my mother tongue (Spanish) gets the better of me. We tend to use more words than English to describe different concepts, ideas or things. It doesn’t help that I’m an avid reader and enjoy literature, poetry and fiction. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m writing a brief — it should be, you know, brief.”
Whilst working to keep her briefs concise, Mingthoy also inspires to produce work that has “a tangible, real impact on a vulnerable population” and that helps the industry represent and understand Hispanics better - beyond simple casting decisions. She says, “I believe we’re at the dawn of an interesting era where multiculturalism will be the norm, rather than an afterthought.” Already breaking barriers between existing demographics, she recently utilised her understanding of Italian and American cultures to help build a strategic territory between the two for an upcoming project. This blurring of the lines and increased multiculturalism is something that makes the strategic planner “giddy with anticipation”, not to mention the industry trend of increasing authenticity and the demand for less “senseless fluff”.
On the whole, Mingthoy sees a committed group in the industry who are dedicated to making these positive improvements and that outweigh the bad. However, isolating one frustration, she says, “The US tends to not look outside their borders too much, and that’s reflected in some work I’ve seen. It’s a shame that in a time when we’re all so connected, there’s not more demand to become more familiar with cultures that are different from ours.”
Currently based in Miami, the lockdowns were a rollercoaster experience for her. Returning home for a period of time and being able to wear slippers 24/7 was certainly a bonus, but the isolation of living alone away from family and friends finally got to her. Outside of work she enjoys relaxing with her life-long passions of reading, YouTube, videogames and anime - also escaping to the wilderness with a podcast or audiobook occasionally. She adds, “I also, from time to time, rewatch ‘Betty, La Fea’ in its entirety. The most amazing telenovela ever produced in the history of telenovelas.”
As well as appreciating the storytelling, animation and majestic sound design and scripts of anime - recommending ‘Cowboy Bebop’ and ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’ as entries into the booming genre - Mingthoy also loves an “extremely diverse” selection of music. “My current playlist has: Reagguetón, Italian pop, Japanese rock, some of Shakira’s songs from the ’90s, old Fania salsa from the ’70s, Dominican merengue, a bit of Van Halen and Styx, a bit of Dolly Parton, a lot of Bollywood soundtracks, city pop, lo-fi remixes, movie and video games soundtracks… and that’s my running playlist.”
In both her life and career, the strategist’s admiration inevitably lands on people who are determined to roll their sleeves up and make a change. And despite them not being “industry giants (yet)”, she identifies her Wendy’s account team at VMLY&R as the type of strong-willed unit she admires. “I know a backbone when I see one, and there’s plenty to go around with this team and this client.” A big believer in laughing a lot and “doing good in whatever capacity you can”, Mingthoy shares a quote from American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson that she says echoes her sentiment on finding motivation and purpose in her professional and personal lives:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”