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Mark Tungate 2019-08-01

Digital is now firmly at the center of our industry, which can present obstacles for clients, creatives and planners who learned their trade in a more traditional environment. However, a new breed of strategist – who often also handles creative elements – has emerged in the digital field.

We spoke to three of them: including one who works specifically in the intriguing area of esports.

Dedicated to digital transformation

What was your education and how did you reach your current role?

Fabien Gaetan, senior creative strategist, We Are Social: I studied history and philosophy for two years at the Sorbonne, which helped me pass the entry exam for CELSA (the French journalism and communications school), where I studied marketing and advertising. I spent one of my three years there at the University of Texas in Austin. That’s where I really became more immersed in the worlds of digital and social media: Austin is the town where Twitter was launched, after all. Later I worked at BDDP & Fils in Paris, before arriving at We Are Social as a planner and strategist four and half years ago.

Caroline Courtois, strategy director at digital transformation agency Niji: I have a literary education, with a Major in philosophy and foreign languages and two Masters: in multimedia copywriting and editing, and integrated marketing communications. In 2004 I started working as a research scholar in India at the TATA Institute in Bangalore, with researcher Mary Mathew, on issues of intellectual property management and exchange platforms in the software sector.

After graduating from Roosevelt University in Chicago in 2008, I got a US work visa and joined the independent innovation agency Maddock Douglas. From 2010 I started working as an international strategic planner at Publicis, then Ogilvy and more recently FF – Fred & Farid. I’m currently head of strategy at Niji, a company dedicated to digital transformation, covering the entire value chain of digital strategy consulting for brands. It's a change from advertising and it’s fascinating.

Hadrien Dublanc, strategic planner at esports agency Hurrah: I actually started working in art: assistant play director in a small theater to be precise. I drifted towards advertising when I realized that what I was doing was pretty much a French-only thing and wouldn’t give me the possibility to travel or live in various places. I started as a junior planner in L.A. and moved to branding, then helping out at start-ups and finally some entertainment. Applying all that to something I'm passionate about was the obvious next step, hence Hurrah and strategic planning in esports. 

How much has your job evolved since you started out? 

Fabien: At first digital was purely seen as a medium, not as a creative tool. But that has definitely changed, and the skills it requires might make it less accessible for more traditional art directors and copywriters. That’s why I’ve become involved in creativity and well as strategy, because the two are now intrinsically linked. In work for Renault Sport and the WWF – the “No Build Challenge” on Fortnite – I handled the strategy and the creative. 

Caroline: Strategy is still all about defining a direction, backing it up with data, then bringing it to life via emotional storytelling. But some things have changed. The speed at which the tech world moves is even faster than advertising, and agile and sprint methods are legion. There are new interlocutors such as UX/UI designers, who are parallel to creatives and strategic planners in advertising agencies, but have much more hybrid profiles that combine an understanding of digital, consumer insights and technology.

Formats are different too: Rather than films for TV I work on experiential design and high added value services, as well as marketplace creation, mobile apps and loyalty programs. 

Hadrien: The biggest difference was realizing that data in esports is in a sad state. Claims don't always reflect reality. Don't get me wrong: esports has an extremely passionate audience and fans won't stop wanting to watch competitive play anytime soon; esports is here to stay. It's just that there is a lack of accurate tools for properly measuring audiences. Planning for me has become less data-focused as verifiable studies and numbers are scarce. 

There's also an interesting educational dimension while interacting with clients. Not only do we need to find the best strategic entry into the space for them, but breaking down why it’s strategically sound and proving that it actually matches their brand's DNA is also part of the job. Wanting to be part of a booming cultural phenomenon that could help them reach younger audiences often clashes with concerns that they might not be able to fully grasp what they're getting into or how their brand will be showcased. 

The last difference that comes to mind is how many important actors need to be considered when a brand wants to do something in esports. Developers, tournament organizers, web TVs...Third parties own or control large chunks of the competitive gaming and esports space. Everyone needs to align in order for good campaigns to see the light of day. Thinking with the complete system in mind is an added mental gymnastic. 

Everyone needs to align in order for good campaigns to see the light of day
Listen harder to progress further

What skills are needed for your job?

Fabien: One of the advantages of studying history and philosophy was that it gave me the methodology for researching and analyzing subjects. It’s a vital skill to be able to look into a problem and then synthesize the results. Additionally I would say an open mind is important. You also need to have a certain pedagogical spirit: when you’re using data, you need to be able to explain why it’s important and why your idea will work.

Caroline: The ability to prioritize when confronted with a wide number of subjects, to think fast and well, to adapt and integrate new things rapidly. You’ll also need humility: going from advertising to tech requires re-learning a lot of things, so you’ll have to admit when you don’t know something. Listen harder to progress further: the tech industry moves fast, so production and delivery move fast too. In those moments when you feel everything is going too quickly, just breathe and listen, combining respiration with inspiration.

Hadrien: Innate curiosity coupled with an ability to cut through the clutter of information and see what really matters for the bigger picture or the objectives at hand.  Sure, you also need the usual advertising package; but the above is what I wouldn't see someone being able to do without. 

What is the most challenging aspect?

Fabien: Obviously there is the usual challenge of managing client relationships and expectations. But for me the most difficult thing is time management and structuring your day. How much time should you spend on a certain task? As we’re dealing with social media, it’s very easy to get ensnared. When I was working on the Renault Sport project, I’d find myself following relevant Twitter accounts at one in the morning. Your work life often bleeds into your personal life.

Caroline: Everything is going faster, faster, always faster. You have to know how to think on the go.

Hadrien: Remaining, excuse my French, “bullshit free”. Sometimes it would be easy to make data say what you want it to say. Personal bias, small sampled experiences and so on – they can all steer you away from what could actually be efficient. Especially in esports when interacting with passionate individuals, one could easily be tempted to forego sound advertising and just go with what they want to see in the space themselves, not as an audience but as an individual.

Everything is going faster, faster, always faster
I made the decision to reinvent myself

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to work in a similar role?  

Fabien: Really work on honing your research and analysis skills.

Caroline: I'm transitioning from the world of advertising to the tech world, which is not the case with many planners. In general after 15 years working with brands in advertising agencies, they either go in-house with clients or take senior roles in the agency. I felt that in advertising I was becoming redundant and my skills obsolete, so I made the decision to reinvent myself.

My advice for strategic planners in advertising who are wondering about their future is to ask themselves three questions: What motivates me the most in my work? Am I still learning new things? If I stay in agencies, what type of agency will help me stay relevant? If a change is required, I advise talking to a competent coach!

Hadrien: Don't wait to get hired to start working on the "inquisitive mind" part of the job. There's nothing more depressing than interviewing someone who barely follows advertising or the relevant industries for the task at hand. 

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