When it Comes to Strategic Planning, the Right Mentors Can Make All the Difference

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Danielle McKinley on lessons from two stellar mentors during the past three weeks of the Boot Camp for Strategic Planning.

L to R: Danielle McKinley, Rebecca McAfee, mentor Vanessa Toro from DigitasLBi_US, David Ligon, Steven Coulombe and Kriselda Sanchez.

L to R: Danielle McKinley, Rebecca McAfee, mentor Vanessa Toro from DigitasLBi_US, David Ligon, Steven Coulombe and Kriselda Sanchez.

It is now week six of the Boot Camp for Strategic Planning. Are we really halfway there already? I guess it’s safe to say that things have been intense, in the best of ways.

Our third weekend brought intimate insights from mentor Vanessa Toro, Associate Director, Creative Strategy for DigitasLBi_US. One part creative maven, one part social justice warrior, and one part iconic red lip (no seriously, it’s iconic in Atlanta. Just pick up the latest issue of Atlanta Magazine if you don’t believe me), Vanessa incites passion for a living. After sharing how her personal journey and unique skills led to a career in planning, she confessed that, “…planning is the place where you can be most eclectic—outside of being a professional artist. You’re hired specifically for your point of view in the world.”

One thing that Miami Ad School mentors are great at is nimble, inclusive learning. While they come to campus each weekend with a topic in mind, they always first ask, “What have you learned?” and, “What do you still need help on?” So when our group of six planners-in-training said that we needed more work in the art of briefing creatives, Vanessa’s eyes grew three times larger, “I am the high priestess of briefing.”

Strategist Vanessa Toro, brings the boot campers up to speed on the finer points of creative briefing.

Strategist Vanessa Toro, brings the boot campers up to speed on the finer points of creative briefing.

So, she taught us how to worship. Or rather—how to turn briefing into a poignant production. Abandoning our note-taking, we were out of our seats, split into groups and given 30 minutes to build a boss-level briefing out of new cases.

The weekend ended with many “a-ha” moments about how to both dramatize tension and inspire with “language like diamonds”—simple, clear, and rock solid. What will especially stick out to me from the weekend with Vanessa? “You want to get to the point in your career that when you’re not in the room, people are making noise.”

Weekends four and five were special, as we got to spend twice as much time with a new mentor!  Brian Miller is the Senior Director, Global Lead Consumer Intelligence at SapientRazorfish or, as I like to call him—Senior Question-Asker.

Brian Miller and his students continue their workshop in a more laid-back setting.

Brian Miller and his students continue their workshop in a more laid-back setting.

Brian dove into the ins and outs of qualitative and quantitative research, and how clear research leads to undeniable truths over and over (and over!) again.

Brian’s teaching style is all anecdotal. His lessons are filled with examples of how, time and time again, data and insights ignored have led to the downfall of global corporate giants, and how social outcasts (such as a woman with a 50 Shades of Grey-esque love dungeon) have contributed to mainstream insights that elevate both a company’s brand and its balance sheet.

To wrap up our final class, Brian put on his researcher’s hat and solicited feedback about what we’d learned over our two weekends together. But, after we finished, I turned the question back on him.

“Brian, what did you learn over these weekends?” His four-part answer:

  • You all navigate the changing world much more adeptly than the people currently navigating companies. You all will radically change the way that business is done.
  • Because all of you have very disparate perspectives received throughout life, this will determine the environments and companies where you end up. You have a good grasp of who you are, be sure to get a grasp of a company’s culture before you’re there.
  • I’ve learned more from you guys than you learn from me. Keeping a finger on the pulse of what people think—people like you who are going into this industry—is very important. I like being able to go and report back to people who are shaping the business. And, lastly…
  • After spending time with the six of you, I know that the future is bright.

Danielle McKinley is a student at the Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center Boot Camp for Strategic Planning. She comes to the program with a diverse collection of experiences including marketing, content strategy and development, education, and motivational speaking. You can read her previous posts here and here.

Prepare for a strategic career of your own this spring in New York City. Apply Now! or Learn how to apply.

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