Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?
My name is Kim Uong and I’m originally from Portland, Oregon. As a brand strategist at Virtue, I think about how brands ~ behave ~ in the world. One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on here is the Urban Decay rebrand.
How did you get your start as a strategist? What led you to pursue it as a career?
I originally wanted to be a magazine writer- LOL. When that didn’t work out, I discovered strategy at University of Oregon through the Journalism school. It turned out that some of the fundamentals of strategy- curiosity, an interest in people, an interest in culture- happened to align with who I am. I also had great professors who showed me the way and was on an advertising team. (How nerdy!) We even won nationals one year- I still talk about it.
What set of skills do you believe it takes for a strategist to thrive in the current advertising landscape?
Networking is crucial for any role. It’s a great way to learn from people and hear a variety of experiences and advice. It’s also super important to have an opinion that’s truly yours- especially in an era of hot takes.
Lastly, having an open mind about what strategy is- the definition is constantly evolving, especially beyond the agency world. Some “old heads” may try to box you into certain rules and while knowing the fundamentals are really important, so is leaving room for new ways of thinking.
What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? What helps keep the work interesting for you?
Making sure your thoughts and insights are original while bringing a fresh point of view to the table. All the facts are out there, it’s just a matter of how you look at it. And sometimes it might get tempting to recycle the insights. Selfishly, I love when I have a personal passion for the brand or the category, but a difficult problem to solve will definitely keep things interesting.
Is there a part of the role that you feel is often misunderstood?
I think a lot of people don’t understand what strategy does, even at agencies! Strategists weren’t always around in advertising and things still got made (see Mad Men.) While the creative brief is a fundamental part of the creative work, the key is to add value and inspiration for the team, not noise. If you do add noise, it leaves room for the role to become undermined.
Do you have any advice for those looking to work in a similar role?
Inspiration and learning can come from anywhere, so chat with people that you look up to, whether they work in advertising, strategy, or something completely different. Also, read a lot! Doesn’t have to be books, doesn’t have to be articles, definitely doesn’t have to be ad-related. Could be tweets. (Should be tweets.) Also, all advice is relative, so do what’s best for you.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of culture? Where do you look for inspiration?
Reading articles and non-ad books, observing people, having conversations with colleagues and friends, getting outside and trying new things, and Twitter.