What Does It Take to Make a Great Strategist?
Making the leap to a new ad agency can be daunting. For Ashley Connors, Group Strategy Director at StrawberryFrog, it's all about the people and the challenge. That's been her guiding force through a noteworthy career that brought her to Arnold, Mechanica and TAXI. She's worked on some of the world's most iconic brands, and led cultural campaigns such as TRUTH, New Balance, Capitol One and Applegate. She left her position at Narrative when she received a call from Scott Goodson, founder of StrawberryFrog with an approach to strategy that immediately touched a nerve. So much so that she decided to join the Cultural Movement agency.
Q> How did you get into advertising? Was it more of an accident or something you always wanted to do?
AC> Definitely more of an accident. I actually went to college for Economics and Policy studies. I had dreams of working for the government. Like many bright eyed and bushy tailed college students I wanted a job where I could help “change the world.” Then, when I was a junior in college I studied abroad in Madrid and had the opportunity to travel to other countries and see things on a more global level. It was there that I had an epiphany that in the U.S, media was becoming as influential (if not more influential) than the government. I knew my heart wasn’t in it and from a payphone in Madrid I called my University and politely declined my internship opportunity with the State Department and took a marketing internship with GE. I’ve never looked back since.
Q> Do you think you had any childhood traits which might have signaled you’d grow up to work in strategy and creative?
AC> Yes. My parents actually joke that I should have been a lawyer. They always said I could make an argument for or against anything. Even when I was wrong, I had conviction. I think advertising is very much about believing in something and finding a way to connect with someone to get them to see what you see. The two jobs I wanted as a kid were… 1. neon sign maker. I was obsessed with neon signs as a kid. no idea why! They’re coming back in style which I’m really happy about. 2. a sock maker. Ironically, I actually am a sock maker! I have an apparel business I started with a friend from college. We actually started out making mittens, but now socks are our top selling product! They’re really fun, they’re called Pals Socks and they are all about reminding kids (and adults) that the coolest way to be is to be yourself, and despite our differences, we can all be friends.
Q> Where did your career take you prior to working at StrawberryFrog
AC> My first official job in communications was at a PR agency called PAN Communications in Boston. It was a really fun place to work, with great people. From there I went on to a small but mighty agency called Mechanica that was founded by some amazing talents from Mullen Boston. That is where I discovered my knack and love for strategy, and was lucky enough to have two great mentors, Ted Nelson and Scott Karambis who took me under their wings. Mechanica is to this day one of my favourite places I have ever worked. It was a real family. They do incredible, and meaningful work as well. Then I moved on to Arnold in Boston. I loved it there. I was lucky enough to work with great people on some of the most iconic brands and campaigns like the Truth Campaign, Progressive Insurance, New Balance. Then I moved on to TAXI New York, which was another agency that felt like family. Paul Lavoie and Rob Guenette have built a one of a kind advertising agency. I got to work under the infamous Caroline Krediet and Frank Sanni there. I’m not name dropping by the way, I just have to pay homage to all of these leaders who taught me everything I know. From TAXI I moved on to Narrative, which is an innovation and creative agency owned by Russell Simmons and Tricia Clarke-Stone. Narrative is without a doubt one of the most interesting and powerful agencies in the U.S. right now. Tricia is one of my favourite people in the world, she’s a genius and she’s also one of the funniest people I have ever met. And alas, here I am now at StrawberryFrog. I came here to work with Scott Goodson. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and truly believe in the idea of cultural movement marketing that he started 20 years ago. It feels full circle really… it’s here at StrawberryFrog with Scott and this amazing team that I feel like I can help change the world.
Q> What are the most memorable projects you’ve worked on since being at the agency?
AC> StrawberryFrog helped SunTrust bank launch their most recent campaign, which isn’t actually an advertising campaign at all but a cultural movement. It’s called “onUP” and it’s all about helping people move from financial stress to financial confidence. I’ve worked on a number of financial services clients, and SunTrust is the first one that is less concerned with selling checking accounts, and more concerned with really getting to the root of people’s financial issues and well being. Did you know that 80% of Americans say that worrying about money has kept them awake at night? Financial stress is the number one source of stress in our country. It’s high time banks and other institutions work to becoming part of the solution, not part of the problem. I am absolutely die hard about this campaign and the power it has to actually make a difference in people’s lives. No one likes banks. They’re like telecom companies and insurance companies. It shouldn’t be that way. SunTrust is brave enough to stand up for people and I’m really excited about what’s to come here.
Q> And how do you feel the role of strategists is evolving?
AC> In my eyes, a great strategist is someone who can take something complex, obscure, disparate and put it together in a way that everyone can understand. If you can do this, you’re a strategist. I think the future of this discipline will involve people from all sorts of backgrounds, many of whom will have never stepped foot in an advertising agency. I’d love to see mathematicians and scientists and even actors and musicians get involved in strategy. We’re problem solvers, and I believe it takes a variety of people and brains to truly solve problems and change the world :).