Interview with Amy Ratcliffe

Join me as I have a conversation with Amy Ratcliffe, Planning Director at CHS Agency in England. 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.

Welcome back to another starting in strategy. I’m Julian Cole. And today we’ve got Amy Ratcliffe, who is the strategy planning at CHS Agency. So, Amy, my first question to you is what are your three pieces of advice for a strategist?

Thanks, Jullian. Yeah, I think when I was, when I was thinking about answering this question, what I wanted to do is really think about not necessarily the mistakes, but things that I wish I knew when I first started out.

And there is going to be a bit of a common theme, which keeps coming back to this idea of confidence and believing in the work that you’re doing. And almost having that validation as well.

The first piece of advice would be to not hold onto your work and not really precious about your work. I know when I first started out, I would, you know, not share my slides until I thought they were finished and I would spend hours and hours polishing them, you know, get into propositions that probably had the same amount of time that a strapline words. And now I know actually the value of sharing your work as you go.

You know, getting people’s thoughts, whether it’s the creative team, even the accounts team, bringing people on board, bringing people on that journey along the way, because at the end of the day, we it’s our job, isn’t it to gather human insight and human truth. So the more you share with other people the strongly your work’s going to be.

So I think, yeah. First piece of advice, don’t sit on your work. Don’t hold on your work. Don’t be scared to share it. Um, because it’s only going to be better if you bring people on the same journey as you, as soon as possible. So, yeah. And then I think the second piece of advice, it’s, it’s really similar, but it’s about not having to put pressure on yourself to get to.

Well, I call the kind of creative wow moment. And I mentioned it before, but I would literally obsess over trying to get the most inspiring propositions say, or, you know, really crafted insights that would just make people think, wow, that’s so creative. Um, and it was an immense pressure that I put on myself.

But at the end of the day, you’re in an agency, you’re part of a creative team. Um, and you should lean on those people, just like other creatives lean on each other. Um, I should have used those resources more and I would remember honestly, feeling put out if a creative would articulate my proposition in a better way or take it in a better direction.

I’d feel like I didn’t do the job properly. Um, but that’s not the case. That’s absolutely not the case. You’re a team you need to lean on each other, um, to get to that wow moment. Um, and yeah, I just wish that I wasn’t so hard on myself back in the day. Um, but yeah. And then, uh, advice number three, and I noticed this is something that you talk quite a lot about Julian, but the importance of the edit.

I don’t look back on some of the kind of presentations I put together a few years ago, but I’m sure my toes would curl if I did with how long they would be. I would include all of my workings, all of my research, all throughout the deck. So. You know, I just, I wanted to show everything. I wanted to prove that I’d done my research, that everything was steeped in truth.

And oh my goodness. They must’ve been so dull. You know, it makes adult creative briefing. It makes adult client presentation. Um, but I never used an appendix. So now I just. The importance of the edit, you know, and it does take time, but that’s absolutely fine. You know, once you’ve, you’ve got, you know, a presentation or a deck in place, sometimes I will go through it, you know, 10 times and each time taking more and more away because at the end of the day, I think a lot of what we do is storytelling.

You know, we need to be able to craft a really exciting narrative. We’re trying to convince the client. Yeah. Asserting position or reframe and really set up the creative and exciting way. You know, a really long story full of filtered research is going to make a pretty dull story at the end of the day.

So yeah, the importance of the edit really be critical when you look back on your work and especially if you’re presenting to a client, get it as tight and punchy as possible. Um, and to quote you Julian. Yeah. The appendix is going to be your best friend. I’m a big, big fan of the. Because I think it like plays two important roles because I’ve been actually, um, in a bit of a YouTube hole at the moment on, um, management consultants.

And there’s like all this learning coming out from management consultants at the moment and how they put yeah. Yeah, that, and I saw a great video, which talked about three different types, lots of dicks. They still have the Steve jobs, keynote presentation. There’s the informal deck for brainstorm. And then this is how a management consultant sees it.

And then the third is like the decks they make, which are very hip-heavy in all the information because they realize that, um, most of their decks never get presented. They’re always just kind of putting them off, you know, they’re handpicking them off. And I think that was one of the things that I realized is it is important to have the appendix and all that information still, but you just throw it towards the back and you have it in a different section.

So I really love yeah. Big fan of the year. And I will say love to your point about, um, that, that idea where you, I think in your head going into strap strategy, sorry for everyone listening as well. I’ve got the hiccups. So they’re kind of coming through. It’s not your audio cutting out, but it’s me with the hiccups, but the idea of.

Of, um, not having to have the right answer is held me, held me back as well. So I’d love, I’d love to hear Amy. What’s your journey into strategy vain? I know I always love hearing people’s origin stories because it’s why I think it’s probably rare that people grow up and say, oh, I want to be a planner. Um, so it’s always really interesting that for me, um, I studied advertising at university.

At forma from the south coast of England. Um, and it was, it was an amazing course, it, but it’s really, really broad. So we cover covered all aspects from media planning, account planning, creative thinking, business, all sorts. So it was there. I first came across it, um, and I loved it. Just fell in love with it straight away.

It felt like that was how my brain works. Um, so I knew that’s what I really wanted to pursue. And then, um, upon graduating, it was just a case of get into Atlanta as soon as I can. Um, and it just so happened that I found CHS down here on the south coast. Um, and I applied for an account role at junior account exec at the time.

Joel, which is great. Um, and started, started my world in client services. Um, and I knew that was never the end game. It wasn’t my dream. I enjoyed it. I loved it. But, um, I, I always knew that I wanted to be a planner and do more of the kind of creative thinking. Um, at the time when I joined CHS. Oh, it was amazing.

So where not many people have heard of us, but we’re a fairly, fairly big, medium to big size agency outside of London. Um, we have an amazing, amazing client base. So really, really big brands. But at the time I joined, I think it’s fair to say it was mostly a production agency. We were always kind of the support to the bigger leads.

We never did the above the line campaigns. We never did the big ideas, but we were the support in bringing them to life across all the different channels. So we didn’t at that time, have an in-house strategy department. It wasn’t something that was woven into the work that we did. And if we ever did do it with B working freelance upon a client request.

So when I joined, I thought, ah, okay, we’re missing a big opportunity here. You know, we could really be elevating the work that you do if we had this in place. And so it was amazing when, as in, when we worked with freelance resource, Absorb everything that they were doing, look at all of their decks. And of course having the opportunity to work with some amazing big London agencies as well.

Anytime I could get my hands on their decks that they were presenting and I would study those. And then I got to a place where I would see creative going through the studio and. At nighttime, I’d go home and reverse engineer it and think, okay, what would I have done if I’d put a crate, a stretch in place, would that have changed the angle or reframed it, or put more focus on the creative?

And then very shyly I’d come in the next morning and show the accounts teams. You know, I think we should have done it this way, maybe next time round. Um, and I just kept doing that. Yeah. Accounts by day planning by night. Um, And then it got to the point where we started to share my work with clients and they’re really receptive and it just, it just snowballed from there.

And now we have a department I’m heading that up and it’s amazing how it’s really helped to pivot the agency as well. We are now doing these big campaigns. We’re now doing above the line, work with some incredible household name brands. Which, you know, just go straight, how important strategy is, and it is now completely woven into all of the work that we do.

We’re now very insight led. Um, and yeah, so that’s, that’s probably my, my story in a nutshell. It’s so exciting, um, to be a part of that story as well. Like the fact that you’ve gone from account director and you’ve been able to take and build that agency, this strategy department in that agency is just such a exciting, exciting kind of step up.

I mentioned for you to kind of have been through that and, and kind of have your fingerprints on the agency and say, Hey, there was, there was where I was involved too. So that’s super exciting. And, and you’re a member of the planning dirty academy. Um, how did that help with any of the journey or where, where did, where did, when did you come across the academy and, uh, yeah.

So I came across the academy last year. I think I take full advantage of your black Friday sale, which was amazing. So yeah, I’ve been a member since before Christmas. Um, and it’s just, it’s fantastic. It’s one of those things where I just didn’t. Oh my, oh my goodness. If, if Amy six years ago had this, um, it would have been just brilliant.

I think the, the, wow. The first thing that I just want to say is thank you so much for talking so openly about imposter syndrome, the academy as well. That’s just been incredibly reassuring for me, especially how I’ve come into this role where it’s not like I’ve had a senior strategy team pulling me up.

I’ve kind of landed on my feet, land the ropes as I go. Like I said, I’ve been gaining what I can from external talent. Um, but it, it’s hard not to on the daily thing. They’re gonna find me out any day now I shouldn’t be here. Um, so it’s, it’s amazing how openly you talk about that. And like I said, it’s, it’s really reassuring to hear you talk about that.

And the amazing thing about the academy is the tools that it gives you to make feel more reassured it’s, it’s having a system in place. Um, I think especially with the career that we have. We are in a craft that we never get taught how to do. And that means that every time we’re certainly, for me, every time I start a project, it’s honestly a bit terrifying because you don’t know how you’re going to approach it.

You never know where you’re going to end up. You’ve just got to do it and hope for the best and cross your fingers that you’re going to get to an answer, let learn the right answer or not so that the client’s gonna. And it’s really, really overwhelming. Every time you start a project in that way, where there isn’t a set method and that’s really what the academy gives you, that system, that method, whether it’s, you know, the, the techniques that you provide or the templates for presentations to help you start thinking in the right way and what I’ve gained from it is yeah.

Just having that process in place. It’s not that I didn’t think in the right way beforehand, it’s, it’s, you’re thinking in the right way, but it’s putting a process behind it so that you can feel more confident going into that process and more reassured that you will get to an answer because it can be terrifying, starting a project and thinking, I don’t even know how I’m going to tackle this.

And I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but I hope it’s gonna work out. But I think that’s probably the best thing about the academy is that yeah. That system in place, just to reassure. I love it. Thank you so much, Amy. And it’s so great to hear you your journey, and I can’t wait to continue seeing where you go on this journey as well.

So thank you so much that spent the time today. Thank you.


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