Jessica Navas, Chief Planning Officer for Erwin Penland is a polymath who studied communications, French and psychology in college. Her career in advertising started as a receptionist at Chiat Day. “I began my career in advertising not knowing which area I wanted to go into. It wasn’t until I started working with planners that I truly understood what they did – and I realized I’d actually been a planner my entire life,” she confided.
Luckily she was taken under the wing of her idol, Jane Newman, known at the time as “the mother of account planning.” From there, she launched into an illustrious agency career moving from Merkley, Newman, and Harty to Cliff Freeman & Partners to J. Walter Thompson and now as Chief Planning Officer of Erwin Penland.
Charlene Weisler: Jessica, describe your planning and marketing journey.
Jessica Navas: I learned the rigors of strategic planning from Jane Newman in a very pure way. And while it’s fascinating to see how planning’s application has evolved, the essential core of the discipline still holds true: identifying the real business challenges and creating an authentic and compelling brand platform – and have course, communications - that can help to take on those challenges. Though Account Planning was pioneered in the UK, I’m also an impatient, pragmatic American – so I was well-trained in hunting, gathering and analyzing insights while also very much in the camp of uncovering news I can use. Ultimately my training at Merkley Newman Harty was terrific, and the work I helped create was solid, but after a few years I was looking for new challenges.
My next stop was Cliff Freeman & Partners. In the late 90’s, early 2000’s, the agency was a hotbed of creativity and served as a finishing school for me. Here, take your strategic chops and now here’s how to refine and put them into action. There I worked with some of the smartest creative brains in the business – they truly challenged my strategic thinking and we all arrived at a better place because of it. Plus, I think Cliff Freeman the man is one of the unsung heroes of our business. Eventually, at that point in my career, having been at small agencies, I wanted to experience a larger agency with big brands and global impact, so I went to JWT, where I worked on JetBlue, Lean Cuisine, Rolex, T.Rowe Price and Puma. Around us, the media landscape was exploding and many of our clients had several agencies on their roster, each with their own lane
responsibility. And while we created work in a variety of channels for our
brands, I was often envious of the opportunities smaller agencies were given. Shops
that were kind of reinventing themselves intrigued me, defying expectations of
being a traditional ‘agency.’ A former co-worker had moved to Erwin Penland,
which I’d never heard of, but then when I checked them out, I was blown
away. Yes, they are an up-and-coming
agency but more like this ninja brand that came out of nowhere, doing all sorts
of interesting things - clever brand communications and experiences in every
channel – not to mention social media dynamos.
What I really love about EP is that we aren’t focused on just marketing or advertising; we’re helping our clients define – and even re-imagine – their categories in actual behaviors and experiences. But it all begins with a meaningful, confident brand story. Clearly the media landscape has evolved, and that’s where my role has stayed true, in uncovering the brand story and ensuring it comes to life in acts, gestures and demonstrations. Some of our clients may arrive with a brand story, but we make it work harder. This is how we build trust with the consumer, based on delivering on the brand promise and then growing the relationship.
Charlene Weisler: How do you do that?
Jessica Navas: True brand missions have to be felt and embodied internally and externally. Denny’s is America’s Diner. Califia Farms is all about plant-powered innovation. Whether we come up with or we inherit it, the brand story must be felt inside and out to be believable. Certainly there is so much more opportunity to connect with people nowadays but that doesn’t mean that a brand should be doing absolutely everything just because they can. It comes back to being rooted in a brand story that inspires the RIGHT brand behaviors. You now have amazing test-and-learn opportunities, but there is also a sense of pollution – if actions aren’t meaningful then there is the risk of tune-out.
Charlene Weisler: Do you use data for analytics and if so how?
Jessica Navas: We’re constantly gathering data – of course we always have, but now there’s so much more, with so much based on real world behavior, rather than ‘reported’, so it’s more truthful. And of course, there’s data about everything: consumer behavior, media usage, brand perceptions. We have never had more tools and inputs, and everything happens simultaneously. Today we need to find ways to connect the dots, to uncover stories that serve not just our brands, but also our consumers, helping to bring them closer to how they view and ultimately brand themselves. There is a great quote our Social Media Director always uses: “People don’t buy your product because they like the product. They buy the product because they like themselves.” It’s true! We are humble and explore how our brands can be in service of what consumers want for themselves.
Charlene Weisler: How do you achieve work / life balance?
Jessica Navas: I think the word balance is overused and not necessarily at the core of what makes people happy, so I don’t really hold it up as a goal. Do what makes you feel good and excited and alive, which could be ‘unbalanced’ living, but who cares? I don’t have children but we all have our own juggling to do. I have strong relationships, friendships; I get involved in charity and volunteering. How much energy do we have to give? Certainly like everyone, there are times when I feel out of balance and need to take a breath. If you don’t feel good and centered, you won’t have much to offer. I feel grateful that my female and male co-workers are very supportive of balance, meaning the pursuit of whatever makes me feel most energized.
Charlene Weisler: What are your views of mentorship?
Jessica Navas: I feel very lucky that I’ve had great mentors throughout my career – both female and male role models who have always been great supporters and champions. I love that they help me feel confident and I try to pass that on to my team – I want to help them shine by supporting them and pushing them forward. I also believe that we learn from the next generation. Certainly I have 20+ years of experience, but I also learn from the kids every day. It is important to learn both up and down. There is a favorite Malcolm Gladwell quote I love: “Change your mind about something important every day” – for me, staying open minded is everything.
Charlene Weisler: What advice would you give a college student interested in a career in media?
Jessica Navas: Know yourself. Of course I look for someone who is studied - but also open and receptive to the world. The most critical thing is curiosity. I always want to know what they read, listen to, and watch – what intrigues them. I want someone who understands where we’ve been and is fascinated how that impacts what is happening now and how it may impact us in the future. Curiosity is key.
This article first appeared in www.MediaBizBloggers.com