Amanda Peters grew up around advertising. Her mother was the president of a media agency so, as she jokes, her career in the industry began at the age of eight. That said, it took a little more time and a stint working in social media during its earliest days to find her true calling in strategy.
These days, Amanda is head of strategy at DDB New York, which she joined at the beginning of 2023. Previously she was managing director, strategy and insights at VMLY&R and has spent time in the planning departments of Wunderman (prior to its merger with J. Walter Thompson) and Grey.
Amanda believes that a good strategist needs to be somewhat of a rebel. She speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about why.
LBB> What sort of kid were you and did you have any strong opinions about advertising growing up?
Amanda> Advertising played a huge role in my childhood; my mom was the founder and president of a media buying agency in Columbus, Ohio, and I started ‘working’ for her when I was eight. I spent time after school and during the summers at her office answering phones, faxing, filing and just observing her work. Being in that environment at such a young age required me to act a bit more grown up, so perhaps I was a little more serious as a kid, but I was also very creative. I spent a lot of time reading, writing little plays, and choreographing dance numbers. Looking back, it was all adding up to where I am today.
LBB> How did you become a strategist? And what were the key decisions along that route?
Amanda> I knew I wanted to work in advertising, but the role of strategist wasn’t on my radar. When I landed at my first agency, iCrossing, I was part of the newly formed social team and wore many different hats - from community manager to writer to editor to what I later realised was strategy. I ended up reporting into our SVP of strategy and started to see what strategists did and how they thought and worked with creatives, and I fell in love.
While I fell into the discipline, after that role I was quite intentional in terms of the roles I took and how I built my strategic chops. I would constantly ask myself, ‘What do I know?’, ‘What am I missing?’, and ‘Where can I get the opportunity to learn it?’. I sought out roles and clients where I could develop my understanding of brands, data, CX, social and more.
LBB> You recently joined DDB New York - congratulations! What are some of your key ambitions and responsibilities for the agency in the near future?
Amanda> Thank you! It’s so wonderful to be part of such an iconic agency that is truly filled with people who aren’t just talented, but also extremely nice.
I have huge ambitions for what we’ll achieve and genuinely want this to be THE best strategy team in all the land. I see our role as instigators, rebels, people who challenge the status quo, who are the spark of inspiration, and who always deliver a strong point of view on our clients’ businesses, on people, and on the world.
We will know we are successful through the creative work that goes out into the world. It doesn’t matter how great of a deck or framework or POV we put together if it doesn’t translate to work that moves people and moves our client’s businesses forward.
LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, what do you find the most useful resource to draw on?
Amanda> I don’t think there is a single most useful resource I could point to. I’ve found inspiration from a poem, from an observation in a focus group, from a piece of content on TikTok. When I’m thinking about a new brief, I start to experience what’s happening around me through the lens of that brief and eventually something sparks.
LBB> What's the knottiest strategic problem you've ever had to find an answer to and how did you work through it?
Amanda> I’ve had the privilege of working on some of the best brands in the world and they all come with their own meaty challenges.
Whether I’m launching a new brand, developing a new brand architecture, or working on a new campaign, my process is always the same. I start by asking myself three questions:
- What is the (real) problem we’re trying to solve?
- Who is our audience and what do they need?
- How can the brand credibly deliver on that need?
Then it’s all about knowing what information we have, what we need, and who are the right people to surround the problem.
LBB> What was the transition like from being a planner to leading a team of planners?
Amanda> I remind myself that what made me a good planner isn’t what will make me a good leader. I will be successful if my team is successful. I try to knock down any barriers they face, be a sounding board and give them space to shine. The hardest part is letting go of some control in terms of doing things the way I would do them if I were the planner. But, by doing so, I am also finding that I’m learning just as much from my team as they are hopefully learning from me.
LBB> Data is obviously a huge driver in strategy these days - but what are your thoughts on the more human and qualitative side of research in 2023? How do you ensure that's still relevant and present?
Amanda> Data is, of course, critical to what we do and a huge enabler of our work. We need to make decisions based on factual information, not assumptions or guesswork.
But it’s not either-or. We need both data and qualitative to craft the best strategies. Our job is to understand people and brands, and we can’t just do that from our laptops. It is essential to get out, experience our brands, talk to people, observe, listen to what people are saying, and sometimes just as importantly, what they aren’t saying… we simply can’t get that insight from a dashboard.
LBB> How do you keep up to date with new insights and trends that could inform your work?
Amanda> I surround myself with as many different people, perspectives, and sources of inspiration as possible. I read, I watch, I listen, and I ask a lot of questions! And of course, I scroll through TikTok.
LBB> 2023 is looking like it will be a challenging year economically - and during difficult times it may be understandable that people’s knee-jerk reaction might be to shy away from something they perceive as risky. What would you say to those people?
Amanda> The most cliché thought popped in my head, which is ‘fortune favours the bold’, but clichés are often true. In moments where others take a step back, there is more room to experiment, to play, and to make an impact.
LBB> Outside of work, what do you like to get up to?
Amanda> I have two young children, so I tend to get up to a lot of tea parties, playdates, and playground time. I do still find time for regular trips up to the Catskills, date nights in the city with my husband, and even squeezing in some hours for my passion project: writing a pilot for a new series.