The co-heads of strategy at Austin agency Preacher on uncovering truths, the role of ‘Making Believers’, and challenging the agency’s strategists to be makers on top of presenters
Jasmine Clark and Marika Wiggan are both recently appointed co-heads of strategy at Austin agency Preacher. Marika joined Preacher as a senior strategist in 2016 after time at ARGONAUT and Goodby Silverstein & Partners and has worked on accounts such as Fanta, WeTransfer, Saint Archer and Bumble. Jasmine joined the agency in late 2019 after seven years at Mother New York. Prior to that, she was also at Goodby, where she and Marika first worked together. She helped Preacher win the StreetEasy account shortly after joining and also led strategy for Basil Hayden’s, Lucky Brand Jeans, Topgolf and San Antonio Express-News.
We were able to pick the brains of both to get their thoughts on the role of the strategist in 2021.
LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?
Jasmine & Marika> There are great planners and great strategists out there doing the same job with different titles. There are also great strategic thinkers with titles like designer, senior copywriter, brand director. We appreciate the history of planners as the ‘voice of the consumer’, wielding qual and quant research with a deft hand from the get-go. For us, strategists are just as consumer-obsessed, but out to get more than just a deep audience insight - they’re driven to inspire and influence the work, from start to finish.
LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best?
Jasmine & Marika> We at Preacher purposely choose to call ourselves strategists, not planners. We’re about the broadness of the strategy skillset. We hold ourselves accountable to the breadth of other specialisations that breeds stronger work in the end. That could look like great advertising, but could also be great design, technology, experiences, innovation, etc. To be a strategist means reframing a client’s problem in a more exciting way. It means crafting a smarter plan for putting an idea out in the world. It means being an endless support system for creatives when they need all the inspo. Strategists aren’t about the brief-and-bail life - we play the long game for the best output possible.
LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?
Jasmine & Marika> Honestly, both Marika and I typically balk at campaigns where ‘your strategy is showing’. But when a brand can orient around real cultural insight it often becomes the springboard to rich creative ideas and expressions. An iconic, historical campaign that’s struck that magical cultural chord? Red Bull comes to mind, from Flugtag to Stratos to more. They found their tribe at the cultural edges of making, convening and doing. So they showed up not only with a message, but a series of behaviours people wanted to be a part of. They created a campaign that not only contributed conversation, but catalysed its own culture (and boosted its business). It goes to show how a strategy can transcend from beyond just talk to actually walking the walk with your tribe.
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?
Jasmine & Marika> At the core, our role is all about uncovering truths. Truths around consumer, category and culture. That’s not unique to Preacher, but we believe the special sauce comes from identifying, serving, and feeding the source of your strongest conviction. That could mean bringing personal associations, or others’ colourful anecdotes to the table. Things get interesting and people become interested. At the end of the day, we see our job as Making Believers - so, we’ve got to start with finding our own belief.
LBB> What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Jasmine & Marika> We’re both driven by putting great creative work out into the world that solves our clients’ business problems. That all starts with whip smart strategy, so the best part of the gig is digging into our clients’ businesses, connecting with the people we need to make believe (and buy), and then crafting the most compelling strategic approach that brings those two together. Also, selling the work. There’s no better high then building the strategic runway that lands the creative clients can’t wait to put out into the world.
LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?
Jasmine & Marika> Here's the thing - the frameworks strategists use today are pretty much the same ones Stanley Pollitt and Stephen King created back in the day. But none remain as important and present as the Creative Brief. Forgive us - this isn't the big hot take you're probably after, but it's where we devote a whole lot of TLC. The brief is where we unite clients and creatives around the challenge. It's where we connect the dots and land the plane. All too often, briefs end up too wide open or agreeable, which in turn creates spin and confusion. So we put it on ourselves to stake real ground and commit to it all around.
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?
Jasmine & Marika> Ones who are collaborative and willing to dive into the sausage making alongside us. Then, after we’ve shared the brief and all our insights/inspiration, I want them to do their own research! Strategy is the launch pad, the best creatives are investigative journalists that pick up where we left off.
LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?
Jasmine & Marika> Everyone’s getting time crunched, but as an industry we need to intentionally create time in the scope and on the calendar to give strategists the space to do thoughtful work. We especially sweat how we define and articulate the problem. Then, we tend to share multiple paths forward and talk about ways we think are wrong, so they don’t come back to bite us. We’re honest when we see what looks like two or three right paths, and talk through how we commit to the rightest for all of us. We do this before briefing, so clients don’t use creative ideas to figure out strategy.
LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?
Jasmine & Marika> We look for curious and critical thinkers who roll with strong beliefs loosely held. That means they’ve got well informed hot takes on lots of topics but are willing to change their minds if/when new information gets presented. Our crew is also tight knit and supportive, so we share our thinking with each other early and often. Preacher strategy is full-contact with high empowerment and accountability, and every strategist is expected to jump into the deep end. So, I guess you could say we nurture by first-hand, rapid-fire, real-time experience.
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?
Jasmine & Marika> We can't say if awards are driving the bent towards effectiveness, but they're certainly reinforcing how fulfilling it is to make an impact and be able to measure it in some way. Sharp insight and stellar creative ideas can be delivered in spades, but effectiveness is more elusive - in particular, proving an idea’s exact contribution to a positive outcome. Preacher has always been heavily invested in the value of the work we produce. As we grow, we’re doubling down on showing how creativity actually pays off.
LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?
Jasmine & Marika> There’s this pervasive misconception that strategy just lives in briefing documents and only really needs to get wheeled out for presentations. So, our Preacher crew is challenging ourselves to be makers of as well. Preacher’s got a new wave of strategists joining that are artists, investigative journalists and photographers, so we want to put their talents to use.
Our newest cultural offering looks at the world of wellness in America. So, our strategic output became a wellness kit, enabling the beholder to not just read about, but actively discover a new take on the world of health as interpreted by us.
Our end game is to make our strategists accountable for creation too. By flexing their creative and strategic minds our research, insights, and strategies become visceral, emotional experiences for our creatives and clients alike.
LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?
Jasmine & Marika> To have a point-of-view. You may feel like you're not ‘trained’ enough to voice a POV. Or even entitled to have one in the first place. But that’s not the case - our roles ultimately rest on unique ways of thinking and communicating. So share a personal experience, chase that gut feeling, and most of all, write and write. Don't be afraid to provoke something new and use the power of fresh eyes. It's the only way we'll dig ourselves out of the same ol’, run-of-the mill advertising.