From Barns to Brands

“Your job description is just a loose suggestion."

 

Janina Lagemann-Doné
Associate Director of Strategy Giant Spoon

Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do?

I’m a brand strategist at Giant Spoon. So, naturally, my answer to “what do you do” is: a bit of everything. Mostly I ponder what it means to be alive today and why people make certain decisions – then I make it my job to breathe meaning into those choices through this crazy artform we call “brands.” That’s fancy-sounding, sure – but essentially my job requires just three skills.

1) The ability to have a ton of bad ideas and a couple of really good ones.

2) Knowing how to tell the difference.

3) Writing the great ideas down in such a way that makes others obsessed with making them happen.

 

What did you do before your current role and what led you to where you are now?

It’s a series of fortunate events (and hard work, always hard work). My first job, a million (millennial) years ago, was scooping horse droppings at a barn. It’s a true show-of-character kind of story, but it taught me little about brand strategy. Then, I went to college and fell in love with a class called “Critical Theories in Popular Culture” which had a whole chapter on the culture of the American Prom. I wondered what kind of profession would pay me to observe people in intriguing predicaments. Then, a mentor of mine, whom I coincidentally met at the aforementioned stables, offered me an internship in marketing and the rest followed.

 

How would you define the role of a strategist in your agency?

Right before I joined Giant Spoon in 2017, co-founder Trevor Guthrie said to me: “Your job description is just a loose suggestion.” He didn’t elaborate much on what this meant at the time, but I now know that this lack of definition is the definition of a strategist at Giant Spoon. It means that strategists know how to build effective brand stories, and they know how to empathize with the hundredth person on the standby line at our next experiential activation (and a strategist will also find a way to get that hundredth person into the event). It means that strategists can write a great insight and collect insight on every single co-worker’s passions, side-projects, and full diversity of experiences. It means that no matter what your job description is at Giant Spoon, it’s your job to make it strategic, and make it your own. 

 

How have you seen the role of a strategist evolve since you first began?

Strategy is a school of thought that has been taught for many generations of strategists; there’s a known philosophy, set of frameworks, and defined role in the creative process. But, I personally prefer the challenge of taking a traditional discipline and doing it in untraditional ways. I don’t believe in templated briefs. I don’t worship the Venn diagram. I don’t think strategists should hand off briefs to creatives, but, rather, co-own them instead. This creation of new traditions is what I’m here for.

 

In your opinion, what are the greatest barriers an aspiring planner/strategist encounters when trying to start their career?

The impostor syndrome is the harmful self-perception that one is a “fraudster” who doesn’t merit a voice or opinion. It’s the most problematic barrier to the best brains out there, especially when it comes to young talent, but even more importantly: female and diverse talent. I’m no master in overcoming it because I’m not sure I’ve kicked it myself. But I do predict that a more inclusive industry is the cure.

 

In your time, what have you noticed are the key skills and traits that separate great strategists from the mediocre?

Excuse me if my answer here is a bit sappy, but I like to think that a great strategist knows when to put people before PowerPoints (or kindness before Keynote, for the Mac people out there). Our industry brings with it an expectation of perfection and high-stress competition; in that mental mode, I’ve seen too many strategists lose sight of how important it is to take care of oneself and how crucial it is to be kind to others. A great strategist is a genuine, generous strategist.

 

How do you avoid getting stuck in a cultural bubble and stay informed on the needs and desires of everyday consumers?

 I love the thought of people getting informed through news and newsletters, but I do worry about a world where every strategist wakes up in the morning to the same inbox. I’ve chosen to seek unconventional sources of inspiration by reading hundreds of different independent magazines. Lucky for me, Giant Spoon covered these through our Culture Fund. I have stacks of indie mags all over my apartment – the discovery excites me, the format calms me, and the insight I gain from such an “alternative” source differentiates me.