Interview with Abbey Engrav

Join me as I have a conversation with Abbey Engrav, Senior Strategist at Edelman New York. As she shares her 3 pieces of advice for a strategist, her strategy journey, and what she found most helpful in joining The Planning Dirty Academy.

Hello. Welcome back to Starting in Strategy. Today we’ve got Abbey Engrav, who is a Senior Strategist at Edelman in New York. So good to have you on the show, Abbey, my first piece, a question for you is what is your three pieces of advice for strategists?


Okay. Yes. I have been thinking a lot. I feel like my advice changes every year, but recently my, okay. My number one piece is embracing the negative. I feel like maybe this isn’t the most new perspective, but it’s newer to me. When I began strategy, I’d always try to look for positive reviews, data that would support my brand, you know, going into like an Amazon review and trying to find that five-star thing that perfectly exemplifies your product.


And recently I’ve been doing the exact opposite of this. I’ve been looking for those really, really mean reviews, the really detailed ones where people have too much time on their hands and they just go off. It’s so much more stimulating. I think it leads to way more interesting strategy work.


There’s kind of a fine line where you can’t just pick the negative reviews that are a bit too objective. Like you need someone who has biased a little bit baked in because those are the interviews where it starts to break it out and differentiate your brand, your audience from other audiences. So for example, I was looking through, I think it was like, anthropology item.


I forgot what it was, but someone said like, this looks like a piece I’d wear. If I was walking straight out of the seventies, like I would never, so I returned it. To me, that’s great thing. Like, I love that. Look, I would wear those jeans, but to her it wasn’t, and that kind of felt like it connected me to the brand.


I understood what I would be wearing and what that would say about me. Does that make sense? That’s just kind of like a thing I’ve started to bake into my strategy. Like that Alamo draft house ad. If you remember this, that woman who called and left that horrible voicemail after she got kicked out.


Was so pissed. She got kicked out for texting. They played that voicemail at the beginning of every single movie. It just like it became a part of their brand identity. And I think using the negative to say something about who your brand is so much more interesting than just the happy people, the happy customers.


Love it.


Cool. Okay. The second piece is a case for reading more fiction. So I feel like I have a whole story behind each of my pieces of advice, but, I was in another seminar on the art of storytelling. I don’t know how many times you’ve been in those seminars, but it feels like strategists are thrown into those a lot.


And do not get me wrong. They are very, very helpful. It’s good to learn the mechanics of hooking someone and getting someone on board. But I think we’re so obsessed with like how to tell the perfect story. And we’re less talking about the stories that have changed our lives. I feel like fiction is just this gateway into new perspectives.


There’s studies that show that it improves your empathy. Not only after you read the book, but weeks after that empathy level keeps rising. As you start to go out into the world with that new perspective baked into your lifestyle. So I just try to read as much fiction as I can. Granted like work gets in the way nonfiction books are incredible, too, nothing against them, but I think those fiction books just changed my life.


Recently. I read Pachinko, Americana, educated, probably, you know, saying books on many people have read, but they’ve just been game changers for me, especially during quarantine. So that would be number two, just rattling them off here.


Okay. Number three is finding your own version of professional. There’s been this tiktok going around where a girl is talking about the exclamation mark. I’m not sure if you’re as familiar with this. But women, it’s like a huge thing and, you know, women and professionalism do use the exclamation mark. Do you use the smiley face or does that make you look weak? I think I was so obsessed with how I was perceived when I started out in strategy.


I tried so hard to do the Sheryl Sandberg way of like leaning in and trying to carve out opportunities and not waiting for a seat at the table. And those are all great. But it felt kind of awkward. I felt like this awkward version of myself, I didn’t feel like I was being comfortable. And then I started to embrace the fact that I am a little bit sensitive.


I do you get overly excited about new projects and I’m going to stop like shielding that I’m going to keep putting my exclamation marks in my emails, because it shows people I’m pumped. I’m going to put smiley faces in when I’m happy to show people, you know, I’m down to be doing this. This is a great project.


I think, especially when we’re digital, like those things mean a lot from me. And maybe I’m overthinking tiny, tiny things like an exclamation mark, but I don’t know. It just. It just kind of helped me to start to think about what’s my own version of professional instead of what, you know, like women should try to be.


So that was a big learning for me. I’m sure every woman has their own different journey, but finding my own little nook of professionalism has been huge.


Yeah, I love that. Like, I am such an exclamation mark Guy. I was like, I noticed that and I appreciate it. Yeah. And, and you’re right. I did get that whole, you know, don’t, don’t use exclamation marks, like, and it’s, there was someone I think I even watched a tiktok, Ansel, and talking about how cringy exclamation marks are.


And I’m like, Oh my God, that’s me. That’s like who I am. And. I had never heard the flip of like, own your own professor, your own, your own professional, which I love because you’re right. We shouldn’t try to hide that. Yeah. And when you said, when you sent an email to me with an exclamation mark, I was like, cool.


He’s as excited as I am. Like it just, you know, here we are overthinking it, but like it’s, it’s such a good gesture. You don’t have to do it all the time. Sometimes I noticed I’d have like five and one email. I’m like, okay, we toned it down a little bit. Yeah. But it helps. Do you know, the other funny thing is that selling, uh, was trying to like tie up the planning dirty Academy, like was doing a bit of a slot and was like the planning duty academies, like a paint by numbers, version of strategy.


And I’m like, as I try to be rude, cause I’m like, that’s awesome. I’m like, that’s like your one star and me. I’m like, fantastic. I want to be the paint by numbers of strategy. Wait. Yeah. And I know we’re getting to this part, but I will say it, you can cut this out if you need to, but there are so many strategists and when they talk about strategy, it feels so high level and lofty, like any strategy lesson where I am getting tactical information.


And like, these are the steps you can take, especially if you’re a beginner. That’s huge. That doesn’t happen often. So paint by numbers. Look. Yeah. Yeah. I’ll take it. I’ll take it. So, yeah, it’s been great. Um, So I would love to hear Abby, how your journey of how you’ve got to Edelman now, senior strategist.


What was, what was the part. Um, yes. I feel like my path is actually kind of only in a year, which isn’t as glamorous. I feel like so many strategists have these really cool windy journeys. I got lucky that I had a few internships and I, in one of those internships was a strategy intern, fell in love with my like manager boss.


At the time. She’s awesome. And she kind of just took me to the company that she ended up going to momentum worldwide, and that’s experiential for anyone listening, who isn’t familiar, but it was such a good opportunity that she, her name is Abby. Abby bear. I’m going to say her name cause I’m probably gonna talk about her a lot, but she taught me strategy in a very traditional way.


Like, you know, the three CS five CS approach, um, But then there’s this other element of trying to think about the user experience. That’s very physical and going through a space. So you’re not just like filming something and putting out into the world. You have to think about how someone’s going to interact with it.


Also like depending on their mood, where they are, um, if it’s at an NBA game or if it’s at a Coachella music festival, like what’s the atmosphere, there are just these little nuances that. You’re not very used to, there’s a fruit fly, um, that you’re not very used to, uh, in strategy. So it was really interesting.


I loved momentum. I say, I say momentum is like a first boyfriend where they were very sweet. You love them so much. Um, and you don’t fully appreciate what you have because you need to go see what else is out there. So I did leave after like two and a half years because I was like, okay, experientials great.


What else is going on? So I tried my hand at digital. I did a little bit of above the line work. I worked in fashion beauty, financial services, and I loved all the companies I worked for. I loved all the people I worked for. Um, but I just, it was kind of a process of learning what I didn’t like if you know what I mean.


I think I got a little paranoid, I didn’t want to build a millennial resume. I was really worried about like, looking like I had jumped too many places, but. I dunno in the end, it felt like a great thing. I learned so many different disciplines got to work on so many different accounts. I’m really grateful.


And I’m also so happy because it did land me here at Edelman. Love it like this is, I mean, I’m newish, I’m like five months in I think, but this is my jam. The people are so, so cool. It’s this team where, you know, you have all the Edelman resources, but I feel like they have a very scrappy mentality and they’re just trying to do cool new things.


So it’s been a great transition. Happy. I went on a little journey to get here, but. Yeah, I think that’s, that’s kinda my journey. It’s, it’s pretty linear strategy intern to senior strategist. Yeah, that’s it. It’s funny. Cause my, my journey is a little boring too. Like it was, um, you know, the first job I was was like, w I called myself a social media strategist and the community manager slash social media strategist, but it was, it’s always been kind of like strategy.


There was no weird. I was a zookeeper over in here and then, uh, Yeah, it’s it’s, it’s good. But you, it seems like you’ve got that variety through all the different places you’ve gone. And I love that first point about momentum. Thinking about the mindset when someone’s interacting. It really was interesting.


I think experiential is such a unique medium for sure. And I love to go back there eventually one day, but I also think like carrying that into, I totally don’t remember what podcast or who said it, so. Bear with me on this. But I remember I was listening to someone and he was talking about the mood is just as important as the demographics where they are, but like, are they watching it at night when they’re snacking and they’re tired and they’re hungry, or are they watching your ad in the morning when they’re getting ready?


And they’re in a productive mindset, like mood changes, everything. And I think that was something I learned at momentum. And it’s also something I’m trying to take with me into different disciplines as well. Right. Abby, you’ve been a member of the planning Eddy Academy for a while. I would love to hear what you found most valuable from the Academy.


Oh yeah. Huge fan of the Academy. Uh, yes. Okay. I have a few different things I’ve learned. I think you could kind of, you could kind of probably see one of your lessons picking through and one of my first pieces of advice, maybe, which is the reframing. Section that was like music to my ears. I loved it so much when you were going through it.


Obviously I was watching a recorded version, but I like paused it. I had my notepad out and I was trying to like sketch out all the answers. But I think reframing was really interesting. I’ve run into a lot of, um, a lot of issues with some brands who think they have a very innovative product and you do have to level set, you know, um, like it’s a great product.


It’s not. Earth-shattering. It’s not something totally different. So like how can we reframe the scenario to maybe it’s like, you know, this product isn’t completely changing the game, but that’s because it’s been here it’s been consistent. You know, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Like little, little things like that are helping me find new ways in beyond just like smoke and mirrors advertising, but trying to find an angle that’s genuine, sincere, but does kind of flip the script a little bit.


So I think reframing was one of my favorite lessons. Okay. I feel like I might not know I’m not going to do the whole, like, I feel dumb thing, but the, it felt like an obvious lesson when I went through it, but I had never been formally taught this way, but the consumer challenge, like looking at a challenge through a consumer’s perspective, That was not drilled into me when I started strategy.


Almost every single brief. When I started writing strategy, I would write it through the business problem. So it was, you know, like we’re not selling enough. People think of us as this, whatever it is, but I wasn’t really getting into why the consumer might not think of the brand that may like, what about their life?


What about their experiences is making them feel like that was. No, as I’m saying, like, it felt so obvious when I realized it, but I had just, I kept going back to business problem and it did make my narratives very stressful and confusing because oftentimes the product solves the business problem.


So when I started to think about it through a consumer perspective, it just unlocked so much for me and I, yeah, that was like my favorite moment. I used that all the time and I actually feel like. A lot of strategist I work with still don’t have that down. Totally. And so I get to kind of quote you. So I don’t sound like I’m telling them, but I’ve learned.


And I think that was really helpful and sorry, I’m blend that as well. So don’t feel like you’re, don’t feel like you’re alone because there was a lot of my career, like about four years where I didn’t know that either. And I was using the client comes to you. And the client brief is often like, this is the problem, what you’ve got to fix.


So, and their confidence is like, Oh, okay. I guess that’s what I’m doing. And you just don’t know. So I was in that camp as well. Don’t feel like I had that. And it’s like coming out. Yeah, no, that’s actually so true. It really isn’t the client brief. They do map out the problem as a business problem.


And I think my last boss did a good job of drilling into me that you need to take that, but then add that consumer layer on top of it. So. Yeah, that was, that was great. And I think my biggest takeaway from all of your Les, my biggest thing with planning dirty just in general actually is kind of what we were talking about earlier.


I think a lot of advice for strategists is really high level and it’s great. It’s, you know, like don’t be afraid to ask the questions, seek inspiration, you know, have a hobby and bake that into your work. It’s all true. It’s all incredible. But I think Planning Dirty kind of gave me that those tactical tools that I could use it gave me a little bit of a blueprint in a space where there is really no blueprint.


And having that was a huge confidence boost, especially when I was in between jobs. I like sat and I worked through planning dirty, and I kind of just. Gave myself that confidence boost by just training and practicing and rewriting strategies. And I know you’re a big advocate of going back and retrofitting strategy into great creative work.


So. In between jobs, I’d go to ad age and just pick some ads and, you know, do the, get who to buys. And it just, it kind of showed me that, okay. Yeah. You have like a general sense of this, you know what you’re doing? And I could go back and check it through the, get to who get two buys that you wrote in. It felt like I was on the right path sometimes.


So I just, it was so helpful. Excellent. Thank you. Thank you so much, Abby, for sharing. You story and, it’s great to hear and excited to hear how you go and kind of bring that PR and experiential world together. It’s great to have you on. Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the people you bring on the show.





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