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Strategic Planning and Management Insights

Aligning Your Strategy, Performance and People: Interview with Julie Carbone

[fa icon="calendar"] May 24 / by Anthony Taylor

Julie Carbone, the Associate Director of Strategy at OMD Montreal, joined us to chat about aligning teams with organizational strategy and performance. When working with external clients in the world of advertising and marketing, there are two strategies to consider: both yours and theirs. It is important to work together and communicate with internal teams, as well as client teams. 
GET 15 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR TEAM –– STRATEGIC PLANNING QUESTIONAIRESome great topics Julie chats about include: 

  • Assigning ownership of projects to individual team members to increase accountability
  • Understanding where strategy and performance align in the high speed advertising and marketing industry
  • The importance of challenging your team while maintaining a collaborative environment 
  • Why leaders should model behaviors that support the organization's strategy

Listen to the full podcast below:


 Interview Transcript:

JC: I’m Julie. I’ve been working in the advertising industry for over seven years now. For those who aren’t familiar with agencies, we’re basically helping out marketing clients with their media solutions, going from their insights all the way to strategic alignment, through execution as well as measurement, for all of our clients, whether they be multinational or smaller, local clients.

In my case, I started off at Cosette Media, which is a fairly large advertising agency. I started there as an intern, and then worked my way through, as an assistant planner working on research and everything that was analytical. I would bring insights to the strategic team. Then I transferred on to different agencies, such as Marketel Mcann and PHD, working on very customer centric clients such as RedBull, Tourism Montreal. I also worked on National Bank of Canada, Air Canada, so a lot of different brands.

Now, here at OMD, specifically out of the Montreal office, I lead the planning team for Fido and Rogers Media brand, so all the television, radio stations and publishing brands for Rogers. That’s about it for the workspace. I also am on a board of directors for La Maison Bleue, which is a non-profit helping vulnerable women with their pregnancies and the rest of their approach to life. 

AT: The one thing I love about strategic planning and being able to do what we do, because we give away so many tools, organizations like yours and others around the world, they’re doing so many good things. Having that structure in place makes the difference between stretching their budgets far. I love to see when people volunteer on boards, especially for noble causes. Thank you personally for that.

JC: Well, it’s a lot of fun and they really deserve it.

AT: Can you give me a quick synopsis of what it looks like within the advertising and media world on the development of strategy? How does that get encompassed and created at OMD, and in your experience? 

JC: Strategy is obviously a broad word that a lot of people throw around whether you would be in consulting or in advertising. The way we approach it is to look at three things: insights, ideas and results. Basically, we’ll work with different multi-disciplinary teams internally, whether it be digital teams, research teams, traditional media teams. We try to find an interesting insight that hasn’t been developed yet for our clients, and work our strategic alignment around that, have our media channels that are in line with the objectives that we’re given from the client. A lot of our retail brands especially, because we’re able to with digital to drive so much online, whether it’s e-commerce, sales, or their physical in store traffic that they want to get.

We work on the insights. We develop the actual plan, and how that’s going to come to life, and then we actually execute it concretely through the help of different media partners.

AT: Within that execution and getting everybody aligned on that, what would you say are your best practices for leading strategy?

JC: It comes down to a couple of things. First off, I think you need to have a proper framework, whether it be through specific campaign parameters or client briefings, making sure that you have the right objectives. Evidently, in our case, we work with specific budgets, so that’s super important. To get it from the get go, to have that planning framework, making sure that there’s no hurdles, or finding out what the client concern is straight from the beginning is really important. 

The second thing would be the proper testing. Obviously we have different clients, different needs. The kind of casting that you have for an auto client, or for a retail client might be different. Obviously we have a similar skillset, in a sense that we’re all pretty much strategists, but there is different background experience. You see this also in consulting that different strategists, because of their experience and their background, go towards specific kinds of clients. 

The third one is just, and I know it sounds cheesy, but maintaining that collaborative approach with clients, whether it be to be completely transparent in the sense of what our concerns are, because of the fact that the campaign brief that they sent us is maybe not what we’ve set up to have as a holistic vision for the year. I’m just giving that as an example. Just having that collaborative approach with them makes it so much easier, and it also makes it for the rest of the team internally, to feel that they’re able to share that knowledge and those insights with different levels of clients.

AT: The other thing I find very interesting with your particular role, when you talk about collaboration, you not only collaborate within your organization, but you also collaborate with your client to create something joint.

What would you say has helped you in being able to manage and work with your client partners, your media partners, as well as your team? Is there one sort of uniting force? 

JC: Constant communication I think is key, especially with our clients. Making sure that their needs are listened to. Making sure that the work  schedule that we had set out to meet is still effective. In terms of media partners, it’s all about bringing them in at the right moment, and making sure that people aren’t working around the clock for a specific project that you shouldn’t have that much … Maybe we should be prioritizing something else. I think it comes down to specific organization tools that we help to follow projects ongoing, and then to give ourselves time for anything that can maybe come down the pipe last minute.

Telling them when we’re making the impossible happen, or that it’s impossible to make it happen.

AT: From within your team, how do you create that feeling and the culture to know the difference between we’re going to make the impossible happen versus this is impossible and never going to happen? Where do you draw that line and how do you get people on board to see that before it comes to fruition? 

JC: I think it’s leading by example in the sense of showing through your behaviours and through the different skills that we’ve acquired throughout the years, but showcasing which projects need priority and which projects can wait. I think showcasing that we can make the impossible happen by collaborating all together and saying let’s maximize our time on this specific project. We’re going to be tight, and just being there together and showcasing each step of the way how we’re going to make it happen.

To showcase the ownership that each team member had, and how they were able to make the impossible happen, I think is important to highlight that accomplishment. Internally, it also creates some kind of positive feeling. It’s like a contagious energy that just happens when that happens. In the case of times that we can’t make it happen, it’s just to showcase to people that we’ve done our best. There’s going to be situations that we’ve done a really great job, and other situations where the context just made it impossible, but we’ll definitely bring another solution to the table that is maybe even better than what we initially thought of.

I think it’s about building that culture through freedom and showcasing that they have a responsibility. Each individual has a responsibility to bring their skillset to the table and to help each other out.

AT: Without giving up too much of your secret sauce, can you speak more to some of the ways that you guys give recognition, being positive? What do you do to create the feeling of freedom for your people so they can take on ownership and be responsible.

JC: I consider myself more of a macro-manager versus a micromanager. I’ve always had that in the managers I’ve had. It’s helped me grow. Sometimes you have to feel that stress or that pressure on yourself just to be able to get out of the water. Sometimes in advertising we say, “You either sink or you swim.” I’ll back them up no matter what, but if they can sense that feeling of ownership through different kinds of projects, evidently I’m there to help them and to coach them, but if they take on that ownership, they’re able to present to a specific client and showcase how we were able to come up with really innovative solutions, then I think that’s how you empower people, just by making them feel that purpose, that sense of pride in everything that we do.

If they’re really in the hot water, or they’re getting really, really stressed out, then obviously we step in. I think freedom is one of the best things. It lets them open up the conversation to different kinds of solutions. Maybe something that was out of scope, that we would have maybe not seen on a specific strategic output, will come out because someone will feel the need to add on, or they’ll be open enough to share a different approach to things that we maybe had not looked at before.

AT: Is there anything else that you guys are particularly proud of? Your employees are proud to do the job, and I’m sure it translates into the result, as their name is attached to it at the end of the day. 

JC: Yeah, exactly. Everyone takes pride in working on specific projects. We like to share, internally also, working on different kinds of campaigns that were brought into market and that had really great results. We also have awards in our industry, a little bit like the Oscars for the movies, but we have the  CanLions, or the Neas or the Strategy Awards. When we win awards, there’s another set of pride that kicks in as well. Pride comes also with the feeling of a great team, and we’re working towards a common goal. I think our clients feel that as well.

AT: Did you get recognized for a pretty significant milestone recently?

JC: Yes. I won the 30 under 30 category of game changers in the province of Quebec in our industry.

AT: Way to go. Well, well deserved. Congratulations on that.

JC: Thank you very much.

AT: What are some of the things that a manager or a leader shouldn’t do, and what are some of the risks to avoid in the strategy process?

JC: In teams I think the risk is that, and it happens not necessarily here, but I’ve seen it in the past, that you have some team members who want to outshine the other ones. They’re trying to present their strategic approach, and then you have too many stakeholders at the table trying to change the output or the solution that’s being brought to a client. In those cases, it’s just a matter of setting expectations and clear ownership of who does what. That’s maybe one internally.

Another one would be to avoid not having the proper briefing. In our case, in advertising, we get briefed from clients. Obviously sometimes there can be changes along the way. Especially in certain industries, it’s very reactive because you’re following competitive pricings in the market, but you really have to react on the spot, and maybe sometimes with 24 hours. Evidently, your objective changed. Starting a long planning process, usually consists of having the right information from the get go. Sometimes you have different stakeholders coming in giving different objectives, or a different vision of what you thought was the actual campaign alignment. I think just being clear from the start with your clients, and being transparent and saying, “We won’t be able to deliver on time,” or, “Your objectives don’t make sense, just compared to last year’s results. Let’s try to find a win-win and make our solution come to life in a better form.”

The third thing, just as a strategist, and sometimes working long hours on a specific media strategy, you can tend to over think or think of another alignment that’s being presented. Maybe just trust your instinct.  Once you have a good alignment, just stick to it and go all in. If not, you’re going to get lost in your thoughts.

AT: That’s one of the number one reasons that Harvard Business Review found that strategic plans don’t get implemented is because there’s not enough decision making rules. Nobody knows who’s responsible for what. If you’re creating a strategy and a strategic plan, your whole team needs to know what’s going on because they’re making their decisions on that plan. If you just start changing directions like the wind, then you’re going to go all over the place.

Not where you are right now, but in the past you’ve probably ran into the odd manager that might change their mind a few times per day, and it throws off the whole day.

JC: Yeah definitely. Sometimes it can be one information coming from a specific stakeholder. Sometimes it can even be on the client side, and then someone will be working on the specific alignment, and then finally that’s not even accurate anymore. You have to derail and go in another direction, which is fine. It’s also part of the planning process.

AT: You’ve got to make sure that everybody on your management team is on the same page with your strategy. If they hear one thing from one person, and one thing from another person, they’re not going to know who to believe, and they’re not going to do any work. Worse than doing something wrong, they’re going to do what hurts the least. They’re not going to do anything. If they don’t do anything, they’re not going to get in trouble versus doing one thing or the other. You’ve got to leave that strategy session aligned and clear on how you’re leading. How do you align strategy and performance?

JC: In media performance, it’s execution but it’s also for our clients, everything that’s conversion base: making that sale or direct sale for a lot of our retail clients. In our case, strategy and performance is almost always hand in hand. There’s a lot of knowledge sharing between the teams, despite different kinds of client structures or even different accounts. We really try to make it so that strategy and performance work well together. At the end of the day the results will dictate if you had the proper solution in place, or what you could have optimized better, that strategic alignment.

From a media perspective, from an advertising perspective, we also have actual tools, actual dashboards to work with, especially on the digital side: a whole data infrastructure that we’re able to use for our learnings and to make sure that each campaign was properly thought out. The strategy team works with the performance team and we analyze all those learnings from an ongoing basis for our clients.

I would say how we align them is they’re already aligned in a sense. Usually, a lot of the times internally, some of our teams work in strategy, but they also execute. It makes it even more seamless for the execution to be flawless in the sense that they know exactly what was planned, what was worked on with different media partners, and how it’s being executed. Then to come up with the learnings is ever more insightful, because you were there from the start. You’re able to present it properly to a client. It’s just really enriching.

For all of our clients, usually the people who are actually executing are present in most of the discussions. I find it’s better for everyone, and even for our media partners, to be briefed afterwards. They come down pretty much at the end of the funnel, so being clear on everything, on objectives and our alignment, and what it takes to make the strategy work, we have to also brief our vendors on that as well.

AT: Is there anything else that you would recommend to a CEO or manager who is responsible for leading strategy with their teams?

JC: Just continue to challenge yourself and continue to challenge the industry that you’re in, because there is so much going on right now. At a certain level, it’s our due diligence for everyone to keep challenging the way we’re working, the way we’re doing things, the way we can better service our clients, and in their own industries how they can better, or how they can be a change maker in that industry, and how we can help them do that. Just not getting comfortable, just continuing challenging everything.

AT: Keep pushing and don’t get comfortable with status quo.

JC: It takes long before something can actually change, so just realizing that there’s a change that needs to be made is the first step, but sometimes we only see it once it’s been disrupted unfortunately.

AT: How can people get a hold of you at OMD Montreal?

JC: Our website is OMD.com. If ever they want any more information on me, they can check my website, which is juliecarbone.com

Topics: Strategic planning, alignment, podcast

Anthony Taylor

Written by Anthony Taylor

Anthony Taylor is thought leader on strategy and leadership. He's a published author on the subject of entrepreneurship and strategy, Anthony can be found doing keynotes in both French and English. You can connect with him on Twitter @anthonyctaylor and have him work with your team on your strategy and organizational development.

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