Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?
I’m Sheida Karami. Born and raised in Dallas, got my advertising chops in Portland, and am now based in Los Angeles. I’m currently a Senior Brand Strategist at MullenLowe LA leading strategy on the Corona business.
How did you get your start as a strategist? What led you to pursue it as a career?
Well, my original plan was to become an actor and director, yet my first job out of college was media planning at Wieden + Kennedy – so there’s that.
While doing media planning, I knew early on that I wanted to do something that was more integrated in the creative process and let me flex the parts of my brain that I just wasn’t tapping into. I made the leap into social strategy for a couple years and have now branched out to broader brand and social strategy.
In my formative years, I never knew a job like this existed that would naturally deliver on everything I wanted to do. So, once I was in this discipline, I knew it was the right fit fairly quickly.
What set of skills do you believe it takes for a strategist to thrive in the current advertising landscape?
Honestly, all it takes is a sharp set of eyes and an intuitive gut.
Everyone else on your team will cover off on the other details but a great strategist is one who sees things in multiple perspectives and has an instinct to know whether something will work or not. Yes, knowing best practices and mastering the art of charts is great but that can be taught, the things that make strategists stand out from one another are more intuitive than that.
What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? What helps keep the work interesting for you?
The most challenging part of the job is that you have no idea what your day will entail. On any given day you’re handed a stack of new briefs, doing a roulette of creative reviews, or presenting to groups upwards of 40 people. No matter how my schedule may look in the morning, I know my day will take many twists and turns which honestly keeps me refreshed and interested every day.
Is there a part of the role that you feel is often misunderstood?
Internally, people tend to use the phrase “strategy do this” and “you write the words” interchangeably. The nature of my role is to either lead or consult via critical thinking. Anyone can write a point of view or recommendation if they have one, that’s not always the strategist’s role.
Externally, my involvement in the creative process is often misunderstood. Because people have no idea what the inner workings of advertising looks like (beyond context from Mad Men), I tend to explain what I do by reminding people that their favorite ads had to start somewhere and that “somewhere” is me. It doesn’t start and end with creative – no matter what creatives tell you.
Do you have any advice for those looking to work in a similar role?
Always, always, always read job descriptions as part of your research and applications. Strategy roles often look dramatically different between agencies, brands, and companies. So, I encourage everyone to read the job description and get a firm understanding of the role because sometimes the title won’t paint the most accurate picture.
Aside from that, just own your thought process and know how to sell it – and sell it well.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of culture? Where do you look for inspiration?
More often than not, culture truly moves too fast for me, so I have to rely on my friends. Whether it’s breaking news or the latest meme, I’ve got my various streams of communication (aka group chats) to get the latest.
I always get my inspiration from the leading fashion brands. High fashion is always 1-2 years out, so I think they’re the best place to get inspiration to help make my work future-proof.