I recently sat down and chatted with Nina Bressau, Brand Strategist at GSW Advertising. Nina had a lot of great insight into what it means to be a brand strategist, as well as an interesting personal story of her career shift as she switched industries and roles to get to where she is today. This interview, and this article, is meant for anyone considering a transition or interested in brand strategy, and needing a little advice on the best way to get there.
Tell us a little bit about what you do now.
I’m a brand strategist at GSW, a healthcare communication agency in Columbus. I spend most of my time on research and making sense of data to inform and inspire the team, but there are many other sides to brand strategy: brand development, representing the voice of the target audience, market intelligence, solving problems, the list goes on. I love the constant change of work, because I’m always learning.
How did you start your career?
I had several internships in college, which included marketing at a retirement community and reporting for a newspaper in India. My favorite one was at a branding agency called Landor, and I worked there for almost a year total – twice at their Cincinnati office during school breaks and then 6 months post-graduation at their German office. I particularly enjoyed the research part of consumer behavior – understanding why people behave/shop/consume the way they do– and decided I wanted to go into market research. After applying all over the states, I accepted my first“real”job in market research and analytics for a non-profit in North Carolina. It was a newly created position, and I was able to help define it –I really loved it.
What invoked the switch in roles from account management to brand strategy?
I enjoyed working as an account manager at a small agency, because it allowed me to expand it to many different responsibilities. I don’t think you get that same opportunity at some of the larger agencies. The owner of the agency, Nate Riggs, wanted to make sure that we incorporate strategic thinking in our work and client presentations. So that was part of the introduction to strategy, and then I did my own research and talked to some people who worked in such positions.
How did you handle the transition when learning a new role?
Well, it was a new role, but also a new industry – working in pharma is very different than consumer goods. GSW and inVentiv Health have nice training program to address the healthcare side. I learned most about brand strategy from my team. I am very thankful to have several great mentors at work.
What made you realize that you wanted to go into brand strategy?
Strategy sounded like something I like based on my previous experience: I enjoyed analytics and consumer behavior, but also team collaboration and interacting with clients. When I graduated college, one of my mentors suggested I make a list of companies that I would like to work for and research them. I was interested in healthcare and had heard good things about GSW, so I made that top of my list. I actually reached out to my previous boss, Rupert, via LinkedIn and was pretty persistent about wanting to join his team.
What are your favorite parts about what you do?
I’m constantly learning. Working in digital requires you to be constantly learning to stay up to date on new technologies and continual changes of existing platforms.
What parts are the most challenging?
Probably the same as my favorite parts – the constant change of technology and algorithms – whether it’s SEO, web analytics, or a certain marketing channel – it makes it challenging to stay up to date and become an expert in all of them.
What types of clients do you work with?
GSW is focused on healthcare, so our clients are all in the pharmaceutical and medical device space. We work with Fortune 500 and some mid-sized companies. I have also worked on some pro-bono campaigns with non-profit organizations in the past.
What brands inspire you?
Oh, there are so many! Some of the classic consumer brands– Amazon, Nike, Starbucks, Sephora, Airbnb, and then brands that I personally like and believe in. To be honest, I would say that I take most of my inspiration from people and their personal brands – it’s all about making connections now, so it’s interesting to study how people behave and maintain relationships. Why do I want to be someone’s friend? What makes someone trustable or honorable? Why do I like a certain actress? You can ask all these questions about brands as well.
Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in becoming a brand strategist?
It always helps to talk to others in the path, but also keep in mind that every company and every strategist works differently. My colleagues on the brand strategy team at GSW all have different background and unique skills. It helps to be curious, open-minded and resourceful.
There is a great, simple book that I found helpful when starting in brand strategy: The Practical Pocket Guide to Account Planning by Chris Kocek. My coworker suggested it a couple years ago, and I still refer to it.