Alyssa joined RPA in 2010 after graduating Summa Cum Laude from the Advertising program at University of Texas Austin. At RPA she serves as VP/strategic planning director. With her blend of analytical and creative thinking, she currently leads communications and brand planning on La-Z-Boy and she led the first major advertising push for Pocky in the U.S."
LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?
Alyssa> Semantically there is likely a slight difference – but in practice it’s hard to do one without the other. Strategies and insights are useless without an actionable plan to deliver on them in a way that the rest of the world sees and can understand. And I see our job as making sure both happen, not just creatively but throughout the entire process of how we reach people.
LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, do you find the most useful resource to draw on?
Alyssa> I love delving through the depths of online reviews and social media profiles. While there are a lot of people just looking for a place to complain – the emotion that comes out when people feel anonymous behind a keyboard can be a lot more honest than what they are willing to admit to our faces in research. And even the negative reviews are insightful in uncovering unique pain points we can address in creative ways.
LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?
Alyssa> Diving into new categories and figuring out the unique ways they work. Especially categories that seem boring on the outside typically have fascinating journeys and ways that people relate to them in their minds that are more interesting to uncover. Understanding the intricacies of our clients’ business helps planners act as true business partners throughout the entire marketing practice.
LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?
Alyssa> I like working with creatives who aren’t afraid to involve us in the early stages of their process. Some creatives can be very precious about their work or are scarred from early-stage reviews with people who can’t see past what’s still missing – but being able to help mould ideas (and oftentimes save ideas that are veering strategy-adjacent) helps make the work better and easier to sell-in. And doing it early helps avoid the last-minute rush and late-night edits we’d all like to dodge.
LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?
Alyssa> A focus on effectiveness has helped do away with the tunnel vision that leads to creating work that only speaks to other agency people and helped re-focus on speaking to real people to make an impact on results, not just creative awards. This has elevated the role of planning in the agency – as well as data, analytics, and insights.
LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?
Alyssa> With so much data and research available now – sometimes we now forget that our instincts are powerful tools as well. What does well in research isn’t always what will break through or what we need to accomplish specific, nuanced goals. Sometimes the best work doesn’t come out of overly-optimised iterations but from starting over with something fresh and brand new. And by optimizing to specific unit KPIs or what “The Algorithm” is leaning towards this quarter, campaigns can start to feel fragmented or overly tactical very quickly.
LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?
Alyssa> Learn how to listen. And not to just what people are saying but by really paying attention and figuring out how to read between the lines. Listening helps us understand other people’s points of view – even if we don’t agree with them – to get to the deeper motivations of why people think and behave like they do, which is essential to planning in all forms. So learn to listen to opposing viewpoints, to what people (and eventually clients) are really looking for when they ask for something, and to how people evaluate the world around them because it’s easy to tell when a planner is just looking to talk and isn’t really listening.