Subscribe?

Opinion

May 14, 2024

Strategic Thinking: An interview with a Strategy Director

Continuous Strategy Director, Caroline Whittaker, sits in the hot seat for a seven-question interview

Caroline Whittaker

Strategy Director

“You need to be able to look beyond the obvious, observe, and question.”

Sign up

GMT

Register

From historic campaigns to strategic principles, our Strategy Director, Caroline Whittaker, shares all in this seven-question interview.

As well as reflecting on her own experiences, she ends the interview with advice for future strategists.

You’ll find resources, recommended training programmes, and organisations dedicated to diversity within the design and strategy world.

Of course, if you’d like to reach out to our team directly, please email enquiries@wearecontinuous.net.

01. What’s your favourite advertising campaign from a strategic perspective?

Caroline: Marmite really stands out.  

A singular insight on the divisiveness of Marmite’s taste that’s lasted more than 25 years.  

Having such a strong clear anchor based on taste has allowed the brand to pivot to meet changing behaviours and needs without breaking the saliency built up.

You either love it or hate it but everyone knows what it is!

02. Which part of the strategic process do you enjoy the most?

Caroline: For me it’s the problem solving aspect.  

You can gather a ton of data but the magic only happens when you get to that insight and can then use this to build your strategy on.  

I like the challenge, that you don’t know where it’s going to take you.

03. Which strategic principles do you find yourself revisiting over and over again?

Caroline: It’s usually determined by the brief but I’m very passionate about demystifying strategy so anything that can help me order my thinking into a really direct and simple output.  

I find myself going back to Mark Pollard’s Four Points strategy time and time again, especially when working on campaign strategies.  

A strategy on a page is so powerful, usually there’s more surrounding it, but when it is distilled into this framework everyone can get it.  

It forces you to really be precious with what you say and how you write it.

It also makes it clear quickly if something really isn’t working.  

If you have to work hard to fit your thinking in this framework it’s simply not right!

04. What’s your opinion on the relationship between strategy and creative? How does one impact the other?

Caroline: Well, something that I find really rewarding and inspiring at Continuous is our one-team approach.  

We embed this into how we all work together which means I’m far more involved in the creative process than in other agency cultures, and the same goes for creatives being involved at the strategy phase.  

Every project starts in strategy, sometimes this means a simple once over of the brief if it’s production-focused, to a large-scale purpose project that’s going to sit with us for months.

We all get together right at the beginning of a project for a kick-off and while we do have the space to work separately, we frequently come together throughout the lifespan of a project.  

This ensures that not only is the strategy fully understood right at the beginning of the process but that as the concepts are created and developed they stay on strategy.

05. What do you look for when recruiting strategic talent?

Caroline: That inherent curiosity and thirst for learning.

To be interested in people, always thinking and asking why? Basically being nosy!  

You need to be able to look beyond the obvious, observe and question.  

Editing skills are also crucial to learn, that ability to distil complex information right down.

In terms of nurturing, it’s protecting thinking time and encouraging your team to develop their own style.

06. Do you have any frustrations with strategy as a discipline?  

Caroline: It’s honestly a great career, every brief is different, you’re constantly learning and exercising your mind.  

One of the frustrations though is how it’s been positioned as very cerebral and intellectual.  

In some respects it is – you have to think – but there is a tendency from some practitioners to overcomplicate what we do, presenting decks that aren’t only long and confusing but don’t give any consideration as to how it can actually be applied!

07. What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in strategy?

Caroline: It’s rare for entry-level strategist roles to come up.  

It’s still a fairly new discipline in many agencies, apart from the big established ones, which means people tend to move into the role from creative or client services (as I did).  

Just try and get your foot in the door by undertaking internships or taking any role; use the opportunity to listen and learn.  

Make yourself useful to the strategy team; can you help them with cultural research? Can you help them in a workshop? Have you read a great article that you can share? Ask questions and be useful. 

Outside of an actual placement, there are now so many free resources for education and advice.

Follow strategists on IG and LinkedIn; by following a few of the most famous, you'll organically discover more.  

The more you read them the more you become familiar with language, frameworks and best practice examples.

My favourites are Sweathead and Baiba Matisone.  

I’ve also been doing some work recently with Agent Academy, a fantastic organisation that helps young people get into the creative industry by offering free vocational training programmes and linking them up with local agencies.  

There are lots of other organisations that have been set up to improve access and break down those elitist barriers, have a look around and reach out to see if they’d be right for you (Kerning the Gap, Common People, Creative Mentors Network, Creative Lives Matter).  

APG is a great source of info and training and has a student membership option.  

There’s also networking – I know it can feel intimidating and icky, but it’s amazing who you’ll meet and what could come out of it.  

Marketing networking events – including The Marketing Meetup which is hosted at our studio every other month – are really friendly, great for an introduction to IRL and online networking.

If you’d like to speak to a member of our team about brand strategy, please send your enquiries to info@wearecontinuous.net.

Download

More news

Never stand still

When uncertainty and shifting expectations are the new normal, brands no longer need radical transformation. What’s needed is long-term thinking and the ability to adapt quickly.

Ready for change?
Let’s talk

Start with an email, and we’ll be in touch within 24 hours to organise a phone call, video chat, or face-to-face coffee – whatever works best for you.