Nimble, Brave & Innovative: Jeff Cannata, David&Goliath

by Dasha Ovsyannikova

On behalf of AdForum, we hope you are staying safe during this unprecedented time and its challenges.

Although our world is dominated by virus, we have made a decision to publish interviews we conducted earlier this month. These interviews are virus-unrelated, so we hope they provide some inspiration, relief and rejuvenation! We are in this together and because of this, we are upholding our commitment to our clients, to publish news and insights. 
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Jeff Cannata
Director of Communications Planning David&Goliath

Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?

I lead the Communications Planning Department at David&Goliath (D&G). At D&G, we embrace the challenger mindset and with that we seek out challenger brands to work alongside. Which is great for a comms planner because we have permission to be much more nimble, brave, and innovative with our strategies.


How did you get your start as a strategist? What led you to pursue it as a career?

I’ve always looked at myself as a problem solver. I want to figure out how things work, and what makes them tick. Originally, I thought I wanted to get into logistics and operations but after around a year of constantly putting out fires (sometimes literally) I knew it wasn’t for me. From logistics, I soon joined a small agency as a marketing coordinator with no real plan on what my future held. Luckily, it was right when paid social started taking off (2009-ish) and I was a tech and social nerd so I had a fairly robust knowledge of the social media landscape. My agency at the time actually didn’t touch social, so I put together a pitch deck for our clients and basically pitched them on this new type of marketing. At first, I would be so excited to get budgets like $500 for LinkedIn or $200 for a Facebook ‘likes’ campaigns. And then it grew from there. The thrill of working with creatives, seeing our work out in the world, and it actually helping to solve our client’s business problems is what proved to me that this is what I wanted to be when I “grew up.”


What set of skills do you believe it takes for a strategist to thrive in the current advertising landscape?

Curiosity and the constant need to consume. Articles, social media, studies, books, music, art, food. In communications planning you need to have a deep knowledge of so much to truly make a difference in the work. If you are not learning something every day you’re not going to be successful in this business.  For example, What is a hot, new pop-up restaurant in NYC? Who is the biggest Hypebeast in the NBA? What updates did Instagram come out with this week?


What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? What helps keep the work interesting for you?

Digesting the sheer amount of information that is out there. Everything is moving and changing so quickly. So the challenge is always finding enough time in the day to continuously learn, while actually getting the work done for your clients.

Another challenge we face as comms planners is the huge differences between clients, their business challenges, and the consumers that use their services/products. The ability to switch your mindset from category to category or from a certain consumer to a completely different one is always a challenge.

I love what I do, and don’t feel it’s actually “work,” and that makes it interesting every day.


Is there a part of the role that you feel is often misunderstood?

I think a common misconception with communications planning is that comms and media planners are interchangeable in what we do. 

To put it into the simplest of terms, I think the main differences between our team and the media team is resonance versus reach.

We take our client’s business problem(s) followed by a deep dive into culture and our consumer. Truly, who is this person we are trying to reach? What is their mindset, what do they believe in, and how can we influence them to believe in our product/service? Whereas in the media space it is often more about how can we get our creative in front of them in the most efficient way possible. Comms planners not only influence the type of creative in the right channel but try to influence the mindset of the consumer.



Do you have any advice for those looking to work in a similar role? 

Comms is such a multifaceted discipline, I think the key for success is to continue to add tools to your toolbox. Take a media buying job, learn analytics, read as many case studies as you can. Just continue to build your skill set, and over the years you will be an extremely well-rounded planner.


How do you keep your finger on the pulse of culture? Where do you look for inspiration?

You can’t just read about culture and hope you get a sense of what’s happening in the communities and world around you. You have to truly live it. Go to the sporting events, concerts, festivals, check out the Nike releases, and latest fashion shows. Be in it. It’s the only way to stay connected.

As I write this in self-isolation I’m not able to do the things I would normally do. With how quickly our current situation with COVID-19 is changing it is more important than ever to keep your pulse on what is happening in culture. I’ve been leaning heavily into technology to connect with friends, family, and coworkers. Between us we’ve shared 100’s of articles, live DJ sets, workout streams, social posts, and uplifting content that is coming out of this crisis.

One of the most important qualities of a great strategist is adaptability and right now adjusting to this ever-changing new normal will be crucial for all planning teams around the world.