Q&A with Emer Howard, former CSO at Rothco Accenture Interactive

Here’s a few words of wisdom from Dublin’s most famous planner, Emer Howard, who helmed strategy in Rothco Accenture Interactive.

  • Put your boots on, ignite ambition even within self-limiting ambitions. In Ireland, we too often feel held back by perceptions based on society (‘notions’ anyone?), by what we learn in school, what others day to us etc. But in the USA, this is much less of a thing. Emer went to college in the US and believes we’d do ourselves a big favour stealing their ambition and attitude. Ambition is contagious. Wear yours on your sleeve.

  • Becoming a great planner means cultivating a ‘stretch philosophy’ - this is a the mind-set of elite athletes, who like everyone, get knocked back, but they keep going because they set clear goals that constantly tests them and drives them on. This also goes for mentors and managers who should adopt a coaching mentality, seeing the best in people and bringing that out instead of playing on the negative. For insight into this mind-set, check out the Crossfit documentaries on Netflix or read ‘Peak Performance - the new science of success’ by Stulberg and Magness.

  • Build resilience. A stretch philosophy also means becoming mentally tough. Using a sports analogy, Emer talked a lot the differences between ‘hard’ and ‘tough’ athletes: a hard athlete can shatter when things get too much, whereas a tough athlete can thrive over a long career if they build long-term resilience with the right mind-set … not unlike planning, whether a major pitch or driving a long-term brand strategy.

  • It may be tempting to get to the ‘right answer’ to any brief, but it can be more powerful to try to spot the “angle” on a brief. In other words, think and act like a journalist - get your facts in other and the task what’s the most powerful light to shine on a story and amplify that.

  • Confidence comes from preparation. Yup, you read that right and you know it’s true: Always ask “what else can we do” even when you think the job is done, find another angle.

  • In order to advance your career, remember it’s not years at planning, it’s experience. Your mind is filing cabinet, fill those files. You may not be able to compete with a planner in terms of years of experience but your mind can differentiate you at any level, so seek to fill your mental and emotional inventory with things that no one else has. That can come from anywhere.

  • Find your perfect fit. An agency is like a shoe, if you’re wearing the wrong size or style, soon you’ll get blisters and eventually won’t be able to walk at all. Some shoes look great on but they just don’t fit right and you can feel it. If an agency doesn’t feel right, consider your options. You can still do great work in not great environments, but we can only flex so much. Listen to your gut because your smarts mightn’t be good at telling you how much better your work could be in a different place.

  • There is no “right way” to strategy, everyone has their own process. Find yours, and respect how others do it too. An empowering message to end on … we’re all individuals at the end of the planning day.