Interview with Jonathan Tatlow

Join me as I have a conversation with Jonathan Tatlow, Chief Strategy Officer: Brand Marketing Leader & Consumer Experience Innovator at Digitas North America in Boston.  As he shares his 3 pieces of advice for a strategist, his strategy journey, and what he found most helpful in joining The Planning Dirty Academy.

So we’re here with Jonathan Tatlo who is the CSO of Digitas North America. Thanks so much for coming along. My first question to you is what is your three pieces of advice for strategists? Three pieces of advice? Um, I guess, you know, advice I’d give my younger self or if I was doing this all again, The first one for me.

And I have modeled myself on this a little bit, um, is defined definition. I think that our industry that have strategists, like we love a good bit of Naval gazing. Like we love naming ourselves what the craft is, how is it changing? And there’s a lot of good combo about account planning versus strategy.

And like, that’s interesting, but it’s never really conclusive. And I think what does matter is particularly when marketing is just getting more and more complex and these are, you know, shiny objects and distractions. So I think advice I’d given myself is. How can I collect more experiences so I can learn different aspects of our discipline or different, different disciplines, I should say, within our, within our space.

And, um, you know, I’d say like put yourself in a position, go seek out agencies or brands or. Roles that just allow you to truly go deep into all the different types of strategy. And don’t worry so much about whether one title is worthy or not just find great work that helps you learn. They expose you to great thinkers and, uh, and be a sponge.

Love you, second pace. Um, This is one that I probably would only come up with. Ben. I know I’m very fortunate to be in the place I’m at right now at this time of my career. So this bit of advice is for those of you starting out, but particularly in the mid levels of your career, like stay in the work, um, have big ideas.

Yes. Have bold ambition. But what you’ll find is the more you move up in organization. The more, it’s harder to scale what you do. So you find yourself making things to help other people figure it out and you make frameworks or you make different org structures. But what happens is that that gets you further away from the real hands-on doing.

So I would say, find any way you can to balance those. Organizational and structural responsibilities with practical hands on responsibilities. Like do the work, keep writing strategies, keep doing it and research and have fun with it because that’s the only way I feel like you can stay sharp and stay excited.

And, and honestly like continue to really understand how to get to great ideas. I love it. I feel like I had a bit in my career where I definitely went away from the work and it probably hampered my chances or my opportunities to grow, which we’ll have to hear your final piece as well. Last one, say this ironically like is, is borrowed, but hopefully you’ll see why.

Um, my last, my last tip would be steal like an artist. That’s the name of a book? Uh, there’s a guy called Austin Kleon that I was fortunate to see present, uh, this kind of mode of thinking. And he really advocates for this point of like, steal like an artist. And it’s mainly for creatives, but I think it applies more so to strategists and he talks about how artists are just field by.

Other artists around them. And he recognizes that ideas are rarely original and you kind of get educated at, by learning from those who have gone before and learning from your contemporaries. And I feel like that’s what I’m always about. Like, we are so fortunate to live in a world where everyone like yourself, Julian, a publishing, what they think, and they’re putting things out into the world and seeing how it gets received.

So still like an artist, which I take to mean learn from others, like be inspired by others, but, but don’t stop with what people give you. Like I think the last tip I’d give is don’t just steal that banana feel graph, and think that that’s going to be the first part of your presentation. You’ve got to go further.

So land from other experts and be inspired, but add yourself. At the context that your client is in or the brand you work with. Um, but, but do steal because there’s so much great stuff out there. Um, and just. Do so with abandon and do so with credit. I love it. Yeah, it definitely, um, I love that you even stole the title of that for the last one.

It’s perfect. Uh, you’re one of the probably, uh, look after one of the biggest strategy departments in America in the world, probably I would love to hear, how did you get to this position? Oh gosh. Yeah. I’d never thought of it like that. Um, so I started really more like my formative years at Digitas, uh, where I am again today.

Um, and to be honest, I didn’t know a ton about agencies, but I knew it sounded pretty cool. And so when I began my career, we had a department then called marketing. And I think that was probably the biggest moment of fortune, which is I didn’t start as a strategist. I started as someone who was responsible for helping and partnering with clients to think about how they conducted their marketing.

So, you know, my first years were all about acquisition and engagement and retention of customers and developing things like contact maps, and. Designing experience flows and how are we going to connect with people? And I’ve kind of taken that throughout my whole career and gone back to it. Cause I feel like that’s such a familiar, foundational and fundamental way of thinking about how do you help brands grow and how do you think about marketing?

It’s an entire city. Um, but what’s been interesting is I feel like I, I always kind of resisted a little bit, actually be in. That account planner or that strategist, um, you know, at Digitas, like we did have, uh, at that time, a small kind of nascent team and they were phenomenal, like really smart minds. And they were always like, yeah, like we do this and it sounded cool, but I’m like, I’ll be such a cliche, like the Brit, you know, pontificating.

So I kind of carried on my way in my career. And I, I went from Digitas, um, to an agency at the time called Euro RSCG. Largely, I think it’s kind of now have ass or been absorbed into Hevesi. And that was such an eye opening experience to me because there I met and got to work with some really fantastic classically trained account planners.

And what I took away from that is how much. Power. There is in true brand stewardship and how much it really matters to like understand culture and the role brands can play in culture. And then. Old colleagues from Digitas picked up the phone and were like, Hey, we’d really love to see you back. And what do you say?

And I just felt like I could take what I’d learned from this at true advertising world and that sensibility of stewardship and bring that back into an environment where I could now help think, not just what a brand should say, but give as much gravitas to what a brand should do. And so that’s what I feel like I’ve always endeavored to help partner with my creative colleagues, my media teams, and anybody is like, how do we help think about what a brand should do and how it can connect with people.

And over the course of time, Finding ways to kind of bring that sensibility to a digital experience. Well, so we’re not just talking about websites, we’re talking about, well, how do people arrive here? What did we educate them on about our brand before they come, you know, compel them to visit our experience and where do we want them to go next?

And again, tapping into that foundational idea of. Kind of marketing and customer life cycle management. And so I feel like I’ve, I’ve been fortunate to learn from just some phenomenal people over the course of time. And taken a little bit of their brain power and their ethos to make my own. Um, and yeah, now I feel like just super fortunate to have some fantastic talent and, and a lot of people that, um, I learned from every day on my team.

Um, as we think about, of this blended unified idea of strategy that blends these disciplines together. Um, and I think it’s helping our clients and helping them think about modern marketing. Um, and as we say, like helping brands make better connections with people. Excellent. I love it. What, what a, what a journey?

Uh, I appreciate you taking the time, Jonathan. Thanks so much. Thanks so much for having me. It’s a real pleasure.


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