The Simplicity of Thought: Deutsch LA's Kelsey Hodgkin

Sometimes the answer lies not in talking but listening, asking the right questions, and then hearing what isn’t being said.

Kelsey Hodgkin
Head of Strategy Deutsch

Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do?

 I lead the strategy department at Deutsch – aka work with a team of wonderful thinkers and try to help nurture their curious ideas into effective strategies for clients.

What did you do before your current role and what led you to where you are now?

Before I came to Deutsch, I worked at agencies in Boston, Buenos Aires and London (where I grew up). I have always loved people watching; spending countless hours drinking coffee and observing life from different perspectives. One of life’s greatest experiences has also been learning to live in other cultures, where you are often an outsider looking in.  


How would you define the role of a strategist in your agency?

A strategist at Deutsch is someone who is perpetually curious, brave and willing to come forward with an idea or insight that makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable. One of the greatest threats to strategy is hiding behind Google. Nothing makes me happier than when someone in the team comes up with an insight or perspective that could never be found via Google search.

How have you seen the role of a strategist been evolving since you first began?

It goes without saying that a strategist has to have a wider range of tools than ever before to understand how to reach and resonate with people in a variety of contexts.  At the same time, strategy at its core is really understanding people –helping to craft ideas they will genuinely relate to. That has remained essentially the same. How you crack that understanding might be different, but the essence of what you are trying to get to is not.

In your opinion, what are the greatest barriers an aspiring planner/strategist encounters when trying to start their career?

Generally, I think we have a problem with diversity of thought – or lack thereof – in the industry. It can be hard to break through if you don’t fit the mold. Often, employers want to hire people who look / sound / think like them. Although the industry has made improvements, I think this can still be a barrier for aspiring planners. But like all things, you have to find the people willing to recognize your ideas and value your thinking precisely because it doesn’t fit the convention.

In your time, what have you noticed are the key skills and traits that separate great strategists from the mediocre?

Brutal simplicity of thought – the constant, relentless art of reductive, insightful thinking.

How do you avoid getting stuck in a cultural bubble and stay informed on the needs and desires of everyday consumers?

At a basic level, I try to read, follow and watch things that aren’t necessarily my personal taste. Social, especially Instagram, is great for getting a little more insight on people from all walks of life. I make the effort to genuinely diversify my feed – and dig into the comments to better understand the various perspectives at play. Also, the old trick of getting out from behind the desk and talking to people. Whether that be in the supermarket, airports or those aforementioned coffee shops; you can tell a lot about people from the way they do things (how they eat their food, shop for groceries, sit across from you on the bus, etc.) Sometimes the answer lies not in talking but listening, asking the right questions, and then hearing what isn’t being said.