Ashley Knight, Brand Experience

I'm Ash and I'm a creative strategist

Describe your job

I am a senior creative strategist at a brand experience agency.

Essentially my role is to find creative solutions to clients’ problems. Solutions that allow the clients I work with to better market themselves to consumers, in exciting, innovative and valuable ways.

As a creative strategist, I prefer working closely with ‘Creatives’ (conceptors, designers etc.) in agencies - supporting them in generating ideas for clients. I often work on branding, creative campaigns and communications projects.

At a brand experience agency, a lot of my work focuses on finding new and exciting ways for brands to be culturally relevant, and connect with consumers. Naturally, that now involves working with technology, including AR, VR, but also more commonly used digital mediums like websites and social media.

What are the most important skills you need to do your job?

Research - speaking to consumers, running focus groups and workshops, conducting desk research into trends, behaviour patterns, changes in industries.

Critical thinking, synthesising information - as a strategist I provide most value to my clients by taking information from multiple sources, and through my own thought-process, spotting patterns and opportunities that lead to unique insights.

Creative ideating - coming up with creative ideas that address the client problems and insights i’ve identified through research.

Business / Marketing knowledge - helpful in personal experience, but not essential by any means. Some of the best strategists I know do not have a business educational background.

Presenting - I love interacting with clients, and spend a lot of time packaging up ideas into presentations and communicating these back to client teams.

Storytelling - the best strategists are those which can convincingly convey an idea or an opportunity to anyone - client, creative teams, colleagues.

Relationships building - your network is so important when working at agencies. As are your relationships with clients. Someone once told me - be the smartest person in the room, but make the client think that they are the smartest person in the room. That way of thinking stuck with me!

I left school and...

studied BSc Business Administration at University of Bath. I knew I wanted to go into ‘Marketing’ losely, and was drawn to the course due to it’s MBA structure, creative business modules, and 2 placement years in industry.

In my 2nd year I worked in marketing at a fashion brand in London. I wanted to work for an advertising agency, so in my 3rd year arranged a placement at one, also in London.

I started in a different role - ‘client services’. While I liked working with clients directly, I didn’t enjoy the account management side of things. Someone suggested I’d be good at strategy because ‘I was creative, and good at spotting trends’. I moved into the strategy team and never looked back.

I worked there for 5 years, from a graduate scheme to a senior level. Then in February this year, I made the leap to a new agency and a new country. I now work in a new agency in Amsterdam!

I’m most proud of...

Defining the campaign and communication strategy for international talent competition ‘Elton John: The Cut’. In partnership with Elton John and YouTube, to find music video directors for three of Elton’s most iconic songs, that were released before the era of MTV and music videos. The winner of the competition for ‘Rocket Man’ was Majid - an Iranian refugee who managed to escape refugee camps to live in the UK, and based his entry on his personal experience being away from his family. I cry every time.

Before I started my career, I wish I knew…

That strategy exists as a role within creative agencies! I had no idea when I first started out. Or that it was such a varied role. There are so many nuanced, different roles available in ‘advertising’. For someone looking to marry business & creativity, it’s provided the perfect opportunity to develop what I'm good at and what I love, into a role that suits me.

Also, that in the right environment you can shape a role to suit you! I was fortunate enough to be able to carve out my own way of working and ‘doing strategy’, and the types of clients and projects that inspired me.

A job is for you as much as it is for your employer, so make sure you’re getting what you want out of it too!

A mistake I made which you can avoid repeating is...

Not a mistake, but a learning. Things that look fun on the outside aren’t always fun on the inside.

What I mean by that is, I thought I wanted to work in ‘Marketing’ for a ‘cool brand’ - but through my experience I found working client-side quite repetitive and not very creative in the way I was hoping for, particularly in a junior role. I was drawn to agency life because pace, variety and creative ideation were a very real part of everyday working life. Those are things I really valued. It’s not all glamorous by any means, but it’s lots of fun.

So, what’s next?

I’m part of a very small team building our company's Amsterdam arm from the ground up. So in the next couple of years I’d love to see that grow and deliver some amazing work for existing and new clients. I love travelling as part of my job - so I’m also hoping to build my international network and visit new places in the world (if Covid-19 allows!)

Long term I see myself running my own business. I wanted a role now that allowed me to work creatively and flexibly, and which took me steps closer to being able to do that in the future. We’ll have to wait and see!

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