Interview with Jennifer Palais

Join me as I have a conversation with Jennifer Palais, Freelance Creative and Cultural Creative Strategist in Los Angeles. 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, my name’s Julian Cole. And today we’ve got Jennifer Palais. Who’s a freelance, creative and cultural strategist. Thanks for coming, Jennifer. My first question to you is what’s your three pieces of advice for strategists? First thing I would say is to trust your gut. Because a lot of what we do comes from that point.

And it seems maybe in the beginning, like there’s not a lot of support perhaps, you know, in research yet, but if you have a gut feeling about something always investigated, even if people kind of aren’t in super, super supportive, you, look for that internal guidance. That’s definitely the first thing.

And then I would say the second thing would be to. It’s kind of two parts fight for what you believe in once, you know, once you have that gut definitely fight for it, but also learn to gracefully defer to the team as well, because I think those in equal parts will make you a really successful, in a group setting.

Cause we really do have, you know, the group really does. Have a lot of knowledge to offer. And so you’ve got to pick and choose your battles, but it is worth standing up for things when you’re, when you really feel strongly about it. And then if it doesn’t go your way just to be, let it go, you know, not taking it too personally and just defer to the teams.

You know, grace, I think is really important right there. And then I think the third thing is to. Go deep with what you are interested in and what you know, so you can never go too far down that rabbit hole. I feel like with things that you are passionate about and interested in it doesn’t really even matter what it is in your personal life that is going to serve you so much in your professional life, whether it’s golf or tennis or gaming or whatever it is.

And then as a strategist, you know, as you’re going deeply on something, you tend to. Circle around on things and get, get a wider net on a lot of things as you’re going deep. But if you try to learn too much about too many things, then you’re just to have a lot of shallow information. So, Just because I feel like, especially on that cultural side for myself, we’re beholden to know a lot about right.

Or a little about a little bit of, not a lot, but what you really get, that, that knowledge, when you go deep on something, rather than trying to learn everything. I love the idea of not feeling guilty about going down the rabbit hole, because I feel like there is a lot of usually people associate, ah, I’ve wasted all this time or, but embracing that and realizing no part of the job is I have to remind myself about all the time because in the mornings, like, and I’ve always been this way.

And even before I kind of discovered I was a strategist. That’s what I was my calling was, is, just reading and reading and reading about things like first thing in the morning, like, ah, just, oh my God, oh my God. Learning, learning, learning. and when I fall and it seemingly nowhere, you know, and even just, we were just talking about the vaccine I got so involved in.

Doing research about the vaccine on all sides of the story, whether it was like what people were calling so-called conspiracies, you know, or the doctor’s point of view, the health professional, you know, establishment point of view. And then I ended up getting, um, getting a call about that, about that, to do.

To do research for a project, you know, so it would have, it helps me so much that I had all of these different points of view, coming in, but what seemed to before is just like a personal obsession or something. So I love it. I would love to hear a little bit, um, about your journey as well. How, how did you get sure.

I will try to keep it short. I did make a few notes, but I have a winding, um, journey. I started out working in house at a computer distribution companies, creative services department, um, in, in kind of an account slash traffic role. And that is where, you know, with looking back now. So I’ve done so much in tech.

That’s really where I got my foot in with tech because yeah. We were computer distribution. So it was IBM and HP and all SAP, all the networking companies as well. So it was really getting out of general knowledge about how, how the, in those industries work and then also how some of that B2B industry and.

Talking from the point of view of a reseller, how are we selling all of our products to reseller so they can sell to their customers? So an interesting B2B point of view, and then, you know, going straight from there into, From the frying pan to the fires, they say with a to Deutsche, as an account executive working on Mitsubishi national.

So that was my first foray into a huge budget and a huge brand. And actually was, I was super young, but I was, I was able to, I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but in looking back, I was able to see how. How, an agency truly turned a brand around through advertising because it was one of the first, and I’m really dating myself, but it was one of the first kind of, commercials as music, video type things for the eclipse needs to be shaped clips.

And that year they became profitable. Literally that company turned around, they were going off the deep end before that relationship. So that was really exciting to see, and then learning that, you know, that really difficult. I just think account executives are, you know, going straight to that and because it is such a difficult role, but it has been forever to my benefit that I had had that role, because I really understand the kind of pressure they’re under and what they need from strategists and, um, how, how to, how to help them do their job.

So then from. From there. I was in house again at DirecTV in more of a traffic role and working on that regional side of things. So I think that’s also served me really well and understanding how the messaging trickles down. So we don’t always get to see that on a, on a high level brand. And then I really, I went out on my own from there.

I it’s, when social started getting going and I started to see the democratization of media was a reality. Cause I had been very disillusioned actually with, it seemed, you know, people were cry over, missing a period on an out of home billboard because we’re gonna lose the client. It’s a $350 million account.

And it was just so it just digital, wasn’t a thing, but I intuitively felt like this is something’s wrong with this. Like. You know, something is not right. And so to be able to be on the forefront of how now brands and large and small have a voice. And so I really started working with small business at that point in time.

Locally, I lived in Venice, California at that time. And really I started a small women’s business group and really worked with small business for a long time and started creating my own content. And that led me to finding out, um, Running into, uh, someone who worked for campfire New York, which is a really amazing agency.

You’ve probably heard of. So Steve rocks and I started communicating on Twitter and he recommended that I go to a conference called Hollywood selling slash telling the story. And I went, I had no idea what it was, but I was like. Campfire. Steve said go and I’m going. And, the panel, the first panel, there was a gentleman who was getting his Ph.D. in Batman studies and I thought, oh, now it’s okay.

Like now we can tell stories like this, because I had at university college, Dublin in Ireland, I’d done my masters. Thesis on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Ann Rice’s vampire Chronicles. And I got no end of trouble about wanting to do that because it was so low brow. But my thing was, what I was seeing was a mythology that was relevant over a course of a hundred years.

Whereas Bram Stoker was bestseller in 1897 and then 1997. Here’s. Here’s Anne rice. So the best seller and why over a hundred years. So I was under stress. I was so passionate about what is this mythology doing and culture, which is the core of what a strategist does, but it was seen as so low brow. And then all of a sudden, now this is, this is at the forefront of like, how, how are we telling stories across platforms?

And, at a broad level, in, in many different ways, pulling online and offline together, which is what, even in 97, what I was interested in doing, I was looking at not just literature, which was what my degree was in, but science and poetry and chatrooms were new at the time. And I was, I just felt like if I’m going to investigate something in culture, I need to look at all of it.

So that’s the way my brain always worked. So early on, on Mitsubishi that was seen as just. Like a frustration, cause I would beat we’d be on the set of a commercial and I’d be like, what does the email look like? I don’t think they’re mad and everyone would be like, shut her up. We don’t care. You know?

And now it’s like, oh my God, why didn’t anyone bring that up before? You know? So it was really the way my brain worked and it was finally kind of like, I was an idea whose time had come by, like, you know, the mid. Mid aughts, you know, like to 10 to 12 or something. I started getting calls about chance media and to be brought in so directly from working on brands, myself, creating my own experiences around this idea of transmedia.

I got called by media arts lab, um, to work on the third years of mat project for apple, because that was the first time they had ever done a cross-platform storytelling of any kind for apple. And they really wanted somebody, on that. Strategic and production side who understood how to get that done.

So that, that was really the, you know, launching of neat coming back into agency, world, agency, life, taking with taking with me what I had learned out on my own for like the pre the previous 10 years. And I kind of entered back. Yeah. And where I would have probably been in my career had I stayed all the way through in terms of level.

And S and title and that sort of thing. So, you know, it’s, it just encouraged people to follow that idea, like follow your gut. Cause I was sure that I was right about this transmedia thing and cross-platform stealing storytelling and integrating platforms. I was sure I was right about it, even though there was little evidence.

And then all of a sudden now that’s just how we do things, you know? So. From there. I went to, you know, I went to, that was the title of my title was a producer senior digital producer at that time. And then I was working on strategy for the apple project and then went straight to, Greenlight and was able to work on more of these integrated content storytelling experiences, such as we did like, um, destination unknown for Hyundai and with imagine dragons and I heart radio.

And then, kind of like. The biggest project of my career, which was the lady Gaga is David Bowie tribute at the Grammy’s powered by Intel, which was the first time a brand was ever integrated on the Grammy stage. So that was a huge strategic effort. And I was able to do the strategy and all the way through to production.

So. That from there, I just I’ve been able to freelance then it’s all those, a lot of people asked me about how did I get here? Like you were saying, what’s the trajectory to being freelance. And it’s like, it’s just for my experience. It was a lot of time in the industry and connections. And once you’ve, once you’ve established yourself on a number of projects that have been successful, then it’s, it’s relatively easier.

I think, to make a case for freelancing at that point. Yeah, totally. And, and you, right. That experience in trans media planning, it’s interesting. And propagation planning has come up a lot with, you know, students I’ve talked to, it’s such an important part. And I think it was a comms planning was around the same time and they, they talk about the same thing, as you’re saying, it’s like, what’s the email look like when you’re doing the TVs, what comes pining is?

And so it’s just this evolution of that really, smart thinking of thinking of multiple different touch points. So I love it. And you’ve been a member of the planet. Yeah. You’ve, you’ve been a member of the Planning Dirty Academy for, for a while now. I guess the comms planning stuff you probably knew of, but what, what have you found most valuable in there in terms of the content and how do you use it?

Well, I will say the one thing that stands out to me all the time and it was really hard for me, to do, and why I also, I telling other people. To trust your gut and fight your fight, but also to be like, graceful about it. Cause that’s been something that’s hard for me to do because sure. When I’m right and I’m, don’t, I’m not aggressive, but I’m just so sure.

You know, and it feels personal and that sort of thing. And it’s been, it’s taken years to kind of let go and, and you have a whole section on diplomacy, which is genius. Something about strategists, even more than creative people. I don’t know. Take it very personally, it’s like our ideas. And it’s really hard to not do that.

And I’m not saying to anyone to not take things personally, but it’s like take it personally. And. And also not, you know, both because I think you can, if you can pull yourself out a little bit, from it, you can see that it is really just bigger than you and, and sometimes you don’t want to get taken down with the ship.

So I love your section on diplomacy and the thing that stands out most to me, for where I’m at is this idea of getting buy-in early. Because. You know, I can’t tell you how many times before I heard that, that I would kind of just go what happened? I, I was right. I had good points, like what happened and it’s, and it’s really a case of where people just need to hear things like we know this, we’re the ones that do advertising.

People need to hear things a few times. Yeah, before they can take it on, you know, and sometimes especially if you’re dealing with people who are above you, there’s things that this is what I understand now. There’s things you don’t know necessarily that are going on, conversations above your head. So that if you can get in front of those people a little bit in advance, they can save you some.

Sometime they can steer you in a different direction if it needs to, or they can, they can add to what you have. And I used to think, are you really, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s about being so much younger, but I used to really feel like somebody is adding to my idea. It wasn’t good enough. Or why are you trying to fix my idea?

But it is really a group effort. I think that’s a huge part of that diplomacy section, but we’re learning how to communicate to other people. So. Both internally and externally, so yeah. Yeah. It’s and that’s all learnings that I’ve had. Like every, all those lessons, I didn’t know them. They’re the mistakes I made.

So I’m like, don’t make the mistakes I made is the lessons learned from this. But I love the idea for that. Yeah. The idea that, you know, the senior leadership or the people above you can shine a light. Onto the areas. You’re not seeing the, you’re never going to have the full picture, take their lights, take their lights and let them shine it.

So I love that. Let them help you. Yeah. And more and more of looking. I think it’s about looking at it like that, that they can help you, rather than they’re trying to take something from you or take credits or, you know, something like that. So, Excellent. Thank you so much, Jennifer. Really appreciate it.

Loved, loved the journey. Um, so much the similarity fluxing. Yeah.


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