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Sweathead, A Strategy Podcast
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Sweathead, A Strategy Podcast

Author: Mark Pollard

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How do you get good at strategy? Whether you’re into brand strategy, advertising strategy, digital strategy, social media strategy, or you just love doing strategy but you get frustrated at how people use the word, Sweathead will help you delve into the practices and minds of some of the world’s most wonderful strategists. We've just reached 3 years of publishing and 900,000 listens! Hit SUBSCRIBE, tell your friends, and leave a kind rating. Real-time action is @markpollard.

You can find strategy classes and "Strategy Is Your Words" here:
327 Episodes
How do you get the advertising industry and your clients to understand what you bring to the table?  Fabiola Nguembu is an account planner and researcher in Dakar, Senegal. She is one of a handful of planners in sub-Saharan Africa. We discuss what it's like to try to work in an industry that might not want to think too much and in which account planning is relatively new and not yet a major force. You can find Fabiola here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
What if your next presentation wasn't fifty slides of numbers followed by fifty slides of tactics? What if you could present your thinking within a story structure? Victor Pineiro knows stories. He made the documentary "Second Skin" about people who play online in different realities, he's written books, and he's helped to create some of your favorite social media brand presences - think Skittles and YouTube. Oh, and he has taught screenwriting.   In this episode, we discuss the most useful parts of movie structures and try to apply them to a hypothetical presentation.   You can find Vic here ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
How are the insights of outsiders useful and how can outsiders find anything more than a stereotype? Erika Brenner has worked as a planner and insights manager, and now works in marketing for Helly Hansen. Born in Brazil, Erika spent eight years in China after university and is now into her fourth year in Norway. With all this moving around, she has had to explain the value she can bring to local advertising and marketing teams by not being local, something she now captures in her website The Outsights:   We discuss: - Belonging everywhere and nowhere at once - How to work with stereotypes - The reality behind stereotypes about Brazilians, Norwegians, and Australians ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
How much of the research that brands commission ever gets used? And isn't that the point? Gunny Scarfo and Ben Zeidler set up Nonfiction Research in 2018 to do research in an unafraid way, a way that might just open a soul or two.   We discuss: - Having an "unassailable" research methodology - Unusual experts such as bank robbers - Building a research business like Non-Fiction with a clear set of values - Insights they've discovered on their adventures   You can find Nonfiction here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
When you respond to thousands of briefs in a year, how do you not start from scratch every day? Nick Susi is Head of Strategy at Complex Collective, a group that sits in the Complex media organization that is owned by Hearst and Verizon. His team often has 24 to 72 hours to help their sales team pitch ideas capable of winning budget.   We discuss over 7 ingredients that help strategy and creative teams work without much time–from a clear philosophy, understanding common client requests, hiring people connected to the zeitgeist, and more. You can find Nick here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
Side projects don't have to be side hustles - but what's the point of them? Jesse Nicely is a Group Strategy Director at Cashmere in Los Angeles.  After studying psychology and journalism at NYU and editing the subculture magazine Frank 151, Jesse has found a place in the advertising world but he keeps one hand in a side project called Puffington's Golf. Puffington's Golf is a brand for golfers who also play with cannabis.   We discuss: - The benefits of side projects - The struggles of side projects   You can find Jesse here And you can find Puffington's Golf here ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
Why is it so uncomfortable for marketers and agencies to delve into dark emotions? Lindsey Wehking is an Associate Director of Strategy at Nonfiction Research. She recently led research into the way people use music playlists on Spotify to identify and process dark emotions. Nonfiction published this research under the title "America's Secret Playlist Report".   We discuss how the team approached this research and what they found. Hint: dark places aren't bad places.   What I took out of this chat is this: 1. "Negative" emotions are useful and need dealing with; they need labels and names if we're to address them . 2. Vivid language disappears somewhere between what we say and what people tell us and what strategists put in their formal documents. 3. When you're conducting a research project, it helps to have breathing room between an initial qualitative phase and the quantitative phase so you can work out what you're really looking to put numbers to. 4. "The Story That Wasn't Told"–this is what Lindsey focuses on in her research. Do enough strategists ask themselves for the untold story before they write creative briefs? 5. People want to go into dark places with others because our public lives focus the light on heroic acts by heroic people as if those heroic acts are eternal and infinite. You can find Lindsey here: You can find Nonfiction Research here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
Black, indigenous, and racialized minorities are barely visible in the advertising industries in North America, which is where we are going to situate this conversation. We’ll situate it here because Derek Walker (USA) and Gavin Barrett (Canada) are on a mission to help more people become visible to and in the industry and North America is where they’re plying their trade. Gavin Barrett is Chief Creative Officer at Barrett and Welsh in what Canada claims to be the “most multicultural city in the world”, Toronto. He’s also Co-Founder of People of Colour in Advertising and Marketing (POCAM). Gavin is here: Derek Walker is CEO of advertising agency brown and browner. A prolific writer and truth-speaker, Derek has been writing daily profiles about Black American advertising talent for several Black History Months. Derek is here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
Ever been hired to a strategy or account planning job only to arrive in the company and they don't know what it is, they aren't sure they want it, and they make you justify your existence every day? Ilana Bryant was one of two American planners in London in the 1990s. Read that again. It's not the premise of your next Netflix binge-watch but it could be. Ilana finished her postgraduate studies in the UK. She studied law at Oxford. Then she stayed on as an account planner. Not only were there few women in the agencies in which she worked, there were few Americans in the London advertising industry at all, let alone... well, hardly any American women in planning in London at the time. Ilana has worked with some prolific creative leaders. She's worked at BBH, Lowe Lintas, and HHCL. She was the CSO of Strawberry Frog for 5 years in New York.   So we discuss the differences between planning in the UK and the USA and how a planner can prove their value in a country–I mean, "agency"–that isn't sure what they are. You can find Ilana in her company Special Forces here:  P.S. Some of my questions don't quite make sense in the second half of this. It happens. I was excited. ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
Dear advertising agencies, mental wellness is not an initiative you can use to wish away cultures and processes that are not mentally healthy. What makes an agency culture mentally healthy? 1. A sense of meaning 2. Autonomy 3. Psychological safety 4. Reasonable hours 5. Work getting made 6. Small, focused teams 7. Gentle hierarchy Mental health in an agency starts with doing meaningful work in a 
self-directed way. And this episode is a rapid reminder about what actually matters to strategists and their mental health. You can read this episode on Instagram here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
If you hunger to solve toothy problems, where can you even do that work right now? Many agencies talk a good game when it comes to solving problems only to put the brains fiending to do such work on social media calendars and hashtags and into inter-agency meetings gone wild. MJ Alexander-Scott is Group Director at Fjord, which is part of Accenture Interactive. He leads the strategy and insights practice there. In his work, MJ finds himself drawn to problems without a playbook, a siren that has led him from the agency world into the management consulting world.    We discuss: - Why so many people in advertising are wondering, "What else is out there?" - The kinds of problems management consultancies deal with - The different kinds of companies that strategists and account planners who are frustrated might do well to explore You can find MJ Alexander-Scott here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
How does it feel to leave a 5-year-career but then to flare out of the new agency that you join in a matter of months? And what if the flaring out really helps you work out what you want in life? Brinn Phillips is a strategist in Detroit. After a long run in one agency in which she grew in responsibility and in titles, had a mentor she enjoyed, and started to mentor other strategists, she left. She lasted a matter of months in the agency to which she moved, an agency that she hoped would open her to more client variety and a broader range of strategy. This journey will happen to many strategists.  For Brinn, stepping out of a new role, taking a short break, and examining what she wants has led to many doors opening, many new conversations, and a stronger sense of what she wants to pursue. You can find Brinn here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
You're about to interview your first potential hire, how on earth do you feel right now? In this chat with Nicole Rajesky, we discuss the journey from not hiring to hiring. Nicole is a Senior Brand Planner at Rethink in Toronto, Canada. They do good work. Very good work. Nicole is 18 months into hiring and was kind enough to talk about the guilt she feels when interviewing people, feeling like a fraud, and wanting to be desirable while still making an assertive decision. You can find Nicole here and Rethink here ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
If you're a freelancer exchanging time for money, and chasing invoices while trying to explain to people what value you can really bring, how could setting up a company help you? Brandon Williams runs 55 Media Group in Los Angeles. We were going to talk about what it's like to freelance–to go in and out of companies that aren't always functional–but we ended up discussing Brandon's journey from artist to advertising freelancer to business-haver to, now, business-runner. Brandon has such a broad background and works in so many different ways that, as we spoke, I kept trying to put my finger on exactly how he is trying to fit into the world. This is because I speak with a lot of freelancers and consultants who are trying to work it out. And I thank Brandon for letting me basically interview him to understand what exactly he is trying to do. And it's big. His goal is to hire the most people of color in North America while making afro-futurism happen now. You can find Brandon's 55 Media Group here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
Ever worked in a company that fusses with process and organizational charts but never makes good work? Yeah. The question houses the truth, doesn't it? Genevieve Grandsen, Selma Ahmed, and Will Grundy work at one of the world's best agencies (although, now I've interviewed six people from adam&eveDDB, it sounds like "the world's best agency" is the "key message" but this is very un-British so I'll be British on their behalf and say "one of..."). Having spoken with CCO Rick Brim and CSO Martin Beverley, I wanted to find out if their relatively low-fi way of working is real. It seems like it is. And this will disappoint many agencies that are new to creative teams and account planners and spend their days in offsite meetings reviewing all their management things. Apparently, hiring people who know how to do what they need to do, expecting good things from them, and letting them talk is a pretty adequate process. And that's what we discuss. You can find Gen and Selma here and Will, because he's a planner and isn't on somebody else's website, here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
How does one of the world's best agencies–adam&eveDDB-work? The teams of Chief Creative Officer Rick Brim and Chief Strategy Officer Martin Beverley are responsible for some of the UK's most famous advertising. Their John Lewis Christmas campaigns are what all other Christmas campaigns are compared to. So how does the magic happen?   In this interview, we discuss: - How the account planners work with the creative teams at adam&eveDDB - Why simplicity matters, and - What it feels like to be only as good as your next idea   You can find adam&eveDDB here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
Why are you so caught up in being accurate instead of compelling? And that 100-slide deck–can anybody even use it? Rachel Bateast is VP, Strategic Planning, at The Mars Agency in Detroit, Michigan. To the advertising industry on the coasts, the mid-west advertising scene can feel way more conservative so what does it even mean to call B.S. on work in Michigan? In this episode, we discuss and role-play (you're welcome) specific situations to show people how to question themselves to tighter thinking–from research to creative briefs and presentations. You can find Rachel here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
So, you've interviewed over 300 strategists from around the world and spoken with thousands more... what aren't we talking about enough? In this episode published on the third anniversary of the Sweathead podcast, I (Mark) run you through a stream-of-consciousness list of fifteen points that I feel are true but not in a science way. They're true in a "we need to pay more attention to this" way. You can find this podcast episode as a post on Instagram and on LinkedIn if you'd like to share it with colleagues: Thank you for listening to the podcast and for being part of the Sweathead world. ** Favor: If you have enjoyed the pod, could you drop a kind review or rating? I haven't asked many times before but it's time to step up what I'm doing. Thank you. 
Let's say you have one hundred team members spread across the world. They work on thousands of briefs for massive brands every year. Often, they have to reach great ideas within a matter of days. They're doing well but you believe they can do ever better. Where do you start? Aly Baer is a Director at Twitter Next in New York and John Lee is a lead of the Twitter Next lab in San Francisco. Their team helps marketers and agencies create ideas worth talking about on Twitter.  This is an unusual discussion for me because I'm talking with two people with whom I worked on exactly the challenge above. Having spent time with all kinds of companies, I can say that their challenges weren't uncommon in the happening but they can be uncommon in the way companies tackle them. And, because of this, I wanted to talk about the work we did together knowing we'd tread a fine line between what they can feasibly say as representatives of one of the world's most influential companies and not wanting to be too self-indulgent or sycophantic. We discuss: - How thousands of ideas travel through Twitter Next - Giving feedback about work while it happens - The benefits of frequent reviews of work once the work has happened You can find Aly at and John at ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:  
You have reams of research in your head but you need to whittle everything in your head into an insight fast–what do you do? In this episode of Sweathead, I share a few steps I like to use–especially in workshops–to take an observation and land on an insight. These steps–or "stumbles"–can work in customer interviews too.   You can read this episode on Instagram here: ** Find the book "Strategy Is Your Words" and 100 strategy classes at Sweathead here:
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