Interview with Amy Nixon

Join me as I have a conversation with Amy Nixon, SVP, Director of Strategy at 9Rooftops Marketing in Chicago. 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.

Hi, my name’s Julian Cole and today’s guest is Amy Nixon. Who’s the director of strategy at non rooftops in Chicago. So Amy, my first question to you is what is your three pieces of advice for a strategist? Cool. Thank you for having me, Julian, really excited to be here. My three piece of advice, the first one, above all else is to really, really know your client’s business.

I think that we spend so much time really digging into consumer behavior and trends and culture. But there are few strategists who spend that same degree of rigor, understanding how the client’s business works. Like, do you understand the way that they make a profit or what’s going on operationally or what is your client’s biggest, biggest headache outside of marketing?

You know, what is the board breathing down the CMOs neck for? You know, I think if you have that larger context, your ideas start to just click, they start to fit into the organization much better. You start to get more yeses from the client because you’re just more relevant. You have sort of an empathy for the situation that the client’s in, you get it in a way that transforms you really from sort of a vendor to a partner because you really get it.

So I think. Read the annual reports, you know, talk to your clients. A lot of people are happy to talk about this stuff. Your account person should be a great resource. Don’t, you know, don’t be afraid of asking dumb questions. You know, I know we’re out here to sell more of whatever it is we’re selling, but do you really understand how that works?

Where’s the money made? How does it, how does it get from point a to point B? These are great questions to ask and when you know them, you’re better off. I think, you know, thing two is really about data and technology, and I think there’s a need to really embrace these things with, open minds. And I think that in advertising, you know, what we do is a craft.

And so sometimes when you have a field in which people are really, Proud of the work that they do, and there’s a subjective nature to it. We can be a little resistant to change and to data and to analytics. And I think that’s the wrong attitude. I think the more we can be open to analytics and data really informing how we do things and this isn’t just, you know, mined data for insights, which.

You should do anyway. But this is about like really partnering with your analytics, partners, your data science partners, to understand how are they even getting the data, what choices are they making along the way? And can you help understand that so that you start to do your job a little bit differently.

This is going to change all over again in five years. So the more you can be open and nimble and learn and embrace what data can do for you as a strategist, the better off you’re going to be. And I think things three, is really to attempt to not confuse passion and ego and, to try to kind of stay in touch with your emotions because the field that we’re in is sort of a deeply emotional one.

And we don’t talk about that a lot. You know, creativity, requires vulnerability and that. In, and of itself has sort of a, an emotional landmine. And I think that, you know, taking a breath, I’m thinking, am I fighting over this point? Because I deeply believe in it. And because this audience deserves to be represented or are you fighting over it because you just don’t want to be wrong.

And I think that, you know, staying in touch with yourself, not letting your ego get in the way, is going to ultimately lead to the best work and ultimately. No balance for everybody involved. So try, try your best to be mindful of that and to, and, and stay passionate. But, but humble, I feel like there were cases in my career where my ego definitely led me, Australian and, and, and, and the ego more the emotions too.

I think the overflow of emotions. And not taking that breath, was a big mistake, but I crave the breath is really, yeah. I mean, what we do is, is emotionally charged and it’s good. It’s good. The ego comes from a good place, but yeah, it definitely can lead you astray and make you put you in the dog house sometimes.

He, your journey, how did you, how did he get to the director strategy? What was the right. Absolutely. So I am started my career in the account management side. And what I loved so much about that role is, the way in which you really could get involved in every little step of the process. And you understood not only the initial ask and the business challenge and everything that came with it, um, you know, all the way through to production and shipping out in that.

Right. So I loved that part of it. I didn’t. Notice in myself that strategy might be a path. Actually, I was a little bit, I was an overzealous account person, I think, you know, always the one sort of buddying up to the strategist. And Hey, do you want me to take a first stab at that brief and you know, asking a lot of questions and helping with the research and, actually a boss of mine, Pointed it out to me and said, Hey, I think this might be where you belong.

And I give that boss so much credit because once I did make that move, everything clicked and it was totally the right place for me. And, you know, making a change like that in an organization has, you know, ramifications. So I’m super appreciative to have worked in an organization that let me make that change.

And, all the people who helped me learn along the way, I think that, The Planning Dirty Academy was a huge resource to me as I sort of experienced a little bit of imposter syndrome and making the move. But you know, ultimately I’ve realized that account management, I think is a perfect proving ground for, for a strategist because you have to be really diligent about learning and strategy just kind of gives you a little bit of an area to focus And I’ve never been happier.

And what I love about my current role is that I know see the department and I get to make some decisions about what the future looks like for our, for our organization. So, making some changes, like, you know, pulling our data science group into the strategy group and really creating some connections between, um, the planners and the data people has been a really cool experience.

So, Very very happy that my path wound up here. And grateful, grateful for that boss who pointed it out. It’s that’s kind of one of the exciting things I think about strategies that you can take your own path and create, you know, now you’re creating your own narrative of what strategy looks like by connecting the data and strategists together.

I love it. Yeah. Yeah, it is. I think. I think with strategy, especially because at a lot of agencies, especially smaller agencies, the headcount is so small. There’s not that many strategists. So I think sometimes we feel like it’s a little bit of an impossible place to end up. There’s so few spots. But I, do think that as long as you stay focused on, um, doing great work and dedicated to the craft of what strategists do.

You know, it kind of doesn’t matter what your, what your title is. You know, I was being a strategist when I was an account person. I just didn’t really know it. And I think that when you embrace that mindset, it can be a little comforting. If the position you’re looking for is an immediately available, or you’re not, you don’t have the title you wish you had, who focus on the good work of, of, of doing the strategy and being a good resource in your agency.

And I think, that helps the rest fall into place. Of, and you have been a member of the Planning Dirty Academy for a long time. I’d love to hear what, pieces have been most helpful to you in that journey. And how did you find the academy? Yeah, so I, this is a hard question because I have a lot of things spring to mind.

It’s been incredibly helpful to me. I think overarching the most practically helpful thing to me have been a lot of the frameworks. So, and in particular, how simple the frameworks are, so they get to buy the comms plan on a page, you know, Simple is so overwhelmingly difficult. And I think as planners and strategists, we’re always a little paranoid that we’re not doing enough, that we haven’t found enough that we haven’t synthesized enough.

And I think the simplicity of the frameworks, really force you to make hard choices. And I think that’s the beauty of what we do and the hard part about what we do. So I think practically speaking, not that’s for sure the most, most helpful thing. But the other really cool and interesting thing that I didn’t expect to get out of the economy is really, These very specific asks, like I was looking for something so obscure, right.

Somebody w you know, I want to understand that the, this part of the journey and changing health behaviors and, you know, somebody out there had something really useful to share with me. So the sense of community, And this sort of very genuine helpfulness in the community, like everybody on there is looking to help each other and sharing ideas and documents and things that, that really help you get to the answer that you just didn’t really know where else to turn.

So it’s been, it’s been really wonderful. I found the academy, um, through the sweat head Facebook page, um, saw a couple of the initial materials and I knew I was like, that’s for me. That’s what I need. I gotta get in on this. I love it. Well, thank you so much, Amy. I love hearing your story and the advice you’ve given.

Thank you for having me.


Sign up to my fortnightly Strategy Finishing School Newsletter. I share tools, resources and brain bombs for your strategy comms for planners.