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Planning for the Best: Sonny Hovsepian on Why Strategy is the Cog That Turns the Wheel

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Cheil Australia's digital strategist on observing patterns, trends and general chatter

Planning for the Best: Sonny Hovsepian on Why Strategy is the Cog That Turns the Wheel

Cheil Australia’s Sonny Hovsepian is a digital native and sales-focused strategist, who has spent the majority of his career client side driving high quality traffic and chasing aspirational sales targets. Sonny spent his formative years understanding internet marketing through his time at MyShopping where he oversaw on average 115% yearly revenue growth over six years. During his time at Optus soon afterwards, he oversaw the digital sales portfolio, which achieved its aggressive yearly sales targets five years in a row; a first for the telco. Looking for a new challenge, Sonny joined Cheil Australia and went agency side. Equipped with extensive client-side experience, he holds a significant edge over other strategists in the space, driving clients further towards their business goals and aspirations.


LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?

Sonny> A planner strategises in order to achieve an outcome in the most efficient way, whereas a strategist plans out the research and data required to achieve the same outcome. As you can see, while slightly nuanced, in many ways they’re one and the same thing.


LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best?

Sonny> I would class myself as a strategist with a sales revenue focused outcome. That is, I seek out logical, irrefutable data and statistics to inform my strategies in order to increase sales revenue for clients.


LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?

Sonny> While not a specific creative advertising campaign, my favourite strategy of late is Gucci targeting Millennials/Gen Z as their main customer avatar. They achieved this via significant digital advertising spend, while being very targeted with their audience profile. Traditionally, luxury brands target an older demographic with more disposable income; so as you can imagine, this would have been ill-advised without adequate market planning. Their strategy to speak to this younger audience has paid off in a significant way - achieving mainstream popularity, while maintaining their luxury branding and exclusivity. More importantly, with the increase in demand, Gucci were able to raise their prices and sales revenue peaked at $11.7B USD just before the pandemic (was $7.5B USD two years earlier). This was a very deliberate plan formulated by their strategy team and executed to perfection. Sounds like an amazing outcome to me!


LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, do you find the most useful resource to draw on?

Sonny> What I’ve learned is people are visual, and so if you can visualise what you’re trying to say, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get your points across better. I’m also very good at observing patterns, trends and general chatter. I’m one of those people who will skip the content I’m consuming and go straight to the comments section. I love getting an inside track on what the end consumer is thinking and then finding the data that supports this hypothesis. I think this is my edge when it comes to informing an inspiring creative campaign.


LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?

Sonny> I enjoy solving business problems via the strategic data driven process, which taps into my entrepreneurial nature. In addition to this, there are multiple projects across different clients, so it’s always fun trying to shift my own mindset and outcomes for each, as they come with their own unique challenges.


LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful? 

Sonny> I’ve learned that if you keep things simple and to the point, it goes a very long way with the client. Time is our most valuable resource and by creating presentations that don’t get our message across in a timely manner, we aren’t doing right by ourselves and disrespect our clients time. The real magic happens during post presentation discussions, where we get to talk through creative ideas and direction. This is quite useful because we get even deeper into the mind of the client to achieve exactly what they’re looking for.


LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?

Sonny> I like to work with anyone who’s easy going, flexible, intelligent and likes to have fun! My favourite part of the process is when my team and I have delivered a sound data-driven strategy, then depending on the brief, get to see creatives take the information and create something beautiful, with creative effectiveness. In simple terms, I want them to create something that will make a customer want to purchase the product/service our client is providing.


LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?

Sonny> Implementing creative first, then strategy to validate ideas, creates a disjointed experience that isn’t steeped in relevant, clear market data and insights and strategic thinking. For this reason, we always make sure the creative is informed by data and strategy, but most importantly, it gives the creative a very clear set of parameters to work within and most often, results in desired outcomes for the client.


LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?

Sonny> From my perspective, the most important consideration is finding talent that goes that extra step in all they do, commanding excellence from themselves. When someone adopts this mindset, it really shows in the work they produce, not just in strategy but all aspects of life! A well thought out, excellent strategic framework lends itself to work that absolutely nails the client brief and it all stems back from the mindset of the strategic talent. Covid has only amplified the need to stay flexible with ways of working and ensuring our talent has the best chance to succeed in any environment.


LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?

Sonny> I personally love the extra attention for obvious reasons! It’s nice to know that data and strategy has such a large place in the grand scheme of things. If anything, this extra focus ensures we can’t hide behind creative work, but rather need to lead from the front so everything else flows well. Strategists are seen as the cog that turns the wheel, and can be key to unlocking amazing work that can win awards and achieve incredible business outcomes.


LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?

Sonny> I love leveraging case studies and other real life examples when building out a strategy. It helps the client visualise how their brief or problem may be solved. Finding these case studies and insights are probably the hardest part of the job. As a discipline, you need to be able to tell a good story and sometimes it’s very obvious when a piece of the story is missing, or the case study you refer to doesn’t hit the mark with the client. This is where we as strategists need to think on our feet and improvise to get our points across while still achieving the outcomes we seek.


LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?

Sonny> If you want to be on the forefront of figuring out what makes consumer markets tick, trends that are shaping the world today and creating data backed strategies that help solve business problems, this is the career choice! Having a finger on the pulse of all things latest and greatest will help you get you very far and as a result, you get to work on some awesome stuff because you dictate the strategy! If you also have a knack of telling stories and presenting, this is another way for you to cultivate that gift and eventually get yourself in front of a crowd. Highly recommended!

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Cheil Australia, Thu, 10 Jun 2021 09:12:00 GMT