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Planning for the Best: Katy Gajewicz on Interrogating the Insight of a Campaign


Chief strategy officer at Laughlin Constable on what makes an inspiring brief and having empathy for the consumer and the client

Planning for the Best: Katy Gajewicz on Interrogating the Insight of a Campaign

Katy Gajewicz, chief strategy officer at Laughlin Constable, leads all strategic initiatives and insights, focused on business, brand and communications strategy and marketing transformation. With over 25 years in Strategy across multiple agencies, she has developed multichannel brand strategies for a range of clients spanning consumer packaged goods and services to retail and healthcare brands. Katy is also a girl mom, marathon runner and former coach of Girls on the Run.

LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one? And which description do you think suits the way you work best?

Katy> I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. I think it’s more about a shift that has taken place over time, where the planner has had to evolve in order to be the best strategic influence. Historically, the planner has been the quintessential consumer advocate – a student of using research and data to uncover consumer insights that connect to brand truths and fuel creative strategy. I love the story of British advertising exec Stanley Pollitt who left a seat empty in every meeting to represent the consumer—this seat was ultimately occupied by the best and brightest planners. Today, we see the shift from planner to multi-dimensional strategist who applies their unique lens to a broader strategic aperture. A strategist today needs to consider how the human insight and brand ethos will be pulled through every multi-channel touchpoint in service of the entire brand experience. It requires integration with the cross-functional teams of social, creative, media, data, connections planning to see the larger vision for the brand, including what success looks like in terms of measurable performance metrics. At Laughlin Constable, we believe that the best strategists have planning sensitivities that are deftly applied to creating personal experience brands for the ultimate growth of our clients’ businesses.

LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?

Katy> Wow it’s really hard to pick one...can I give you two? I like to interrogate the insight of a campaign, and examine how that fueled the strategy. In that respect two that stand out are Dove Real Beauty and Got Milk?. 

Dove’s Real Beauty global campaign tapped into a human insight and cultural truth around female body image, insecurity, and distortion. It placed the brand at the center of a strategy to build self-esteem among women and young girls. The Real Beauty Sketches long-form YouTube video is one of my favorite elements of the campaign because it so authentically leverages the insight through visual storytelling to demonstrate the gap between self-perception and how others truly see us.

In the case of the Got Milk? campaign, the insight around product “pairings” fueled a strategy that is all about eliciting a response to what is at stake when the product is absent. What’s so brilliant about this strategy is that they use deprivation to evoke the feeling of necessity. And they do it in a way that never features the advertised product. So in its absence, the audience feels how essential milk is to the enjoyment, the experience, of other beloved foods. 

LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, what do you find is the most useful resource to draw on?

Katy> An inspiring brief has to have at its center a clear definition of the business problem, so the best resource is our experience, expertise and access to information. Framing up the business problem in a clear, concise way sets up the tension for the creative teams and helps to establish the goal line for the work.

LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?

Katy> It’s not just one thing, but a combination. I love the process of building brands, and uncovering the human, personal connection to the brand story. I love the opportunity to lead a team, and partner with colleagues and clients throughout the journey. And I love the fact that building a brand is like a marathon. To succeed you have to invest and push through the “wall” when it appears. You need to find another gear at opportune times, and in the end you’ll build strength – strength for the brand, the business and for yourself.

LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful? 

Katy> I’m not sure if you would call them universal strategic frameworks but there are three principles that I look to, and try to leverage, every day one way or another: Empathy, Clarity and Truth. 

• Empathy for the consumer and the client – How can we address the problems they each face and help to bridge the gap with creative solutions?

• Clarity in communication – how can we distill complexity into clear, straightforward direction?

• Truth – how can we leverage the human, cultural and brand truths for meaningful, impactful results?

LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?

Katy> I gravitate to the co-creators in the crowd; those who can help me shape and sharpen a strategy and make it as much their own as mine. And then continue to consult as they ideate.  I am happiest when our creative partners are inspired. The sign of a great briefing is when the creative teams are already starting to fire off ideas, or scribble wildly in their notebooks, before the briefing is over. When your strategy has an immediate effect on the energy in the room, in a positive way, that is success.

LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?

Katy> At LC we are a culture that values co-creation and integration, and this includes how we approach creative development. There should never be a mentality of “let’s check your work.” Instead, the work should be a culmination of a collaborative process where any evaluation is always with the objective of optimizing, not eliminating.

LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? 

Katy> It goes back to the shift we’ve seen in strategy: From a mindset focused on a particular subject matter expertise, to one that is grounded in the brand, and the multi-faceted experience we strive to create in service of brand. So in the context of an individual’s area of expertise, we look to recruit and grow strategists who have a shared mindset that makes connections between human behavior and the creation of a personal experience with the brand.

LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?

Katy> This greater attention to effectiveness awards has acutely focused the conversation around developing work that works. Which is a good thing because after all, we are in the business of building our clients’ businesses. I think this has only served to increase the continuity of the strategist’s role throughout the entire process, from brief to creation to activation to evaluation and optimization. It’s not just about inspiring great creative, it’s about being a steward of the strategy from beginning to end to drive results. And it has reinforced the use of data as a muse, in addition to measurement.

LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?

Katy> No frustrations with the discipline, just an occasional frustration with the reality that timelines don’t always enable strategists to leverage all of their superpowers.

LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?

At a very high level, there are three things I would offer:

1. All strategists are not the same, nor should they be. Identify the intersection between what you love and what you’re best at. Then use that as a launching pad for learning.

2. Don’t strive for perfection; strive for inspiration and the rest will follow.

3. Find your mentors. Ask them to push you and feed you.

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Laughlin Constable, Tue, 27 Jun 2023 11:20:00 GMT