Company: a&g (allen & gerritsen)
Interviewee: Tamsen Webster
Interviewer: AJ Marino
A few words from AJ Marino; a member of BUMKC
As I entered the a&g office, I was floored by the gorgeous, modern office space. The walls of windows overlooking Boston harbor filled the space with light, as a large screen played a reel of some of the agency’s recent work. The staff members at the front desk were more than welcoming, and were happy to show off the office as coworkers raced by on scooters discussing ideas, and the din of conversation and laughter flowed from a nearby team meeting room.
Tamsen, the Senior Vice President of Content Activation and Digital Strategy, came straight out of a meeting to talk with me, full of energy and excited to share her experiences with BUMKC. I had the chance to talk to her about finding your way after graduation, the different spheres of marketing, and how technology is keeping marketing in constant evolution.
A: First off, how did you get involved in advertising?
T: Quite by accident. I went to BU, way back when, and I graduated both from SMG and CAS with a Marketing/Market Research degree as well as a degree in American Studies, with a minor in Art History. I was pretty sure I wanted to do marketing, for museums, so I went to grad school and after finishing I worked for the Peabody Essex Museums in Salem for 3 years. After that I went to working as the Marketing head for Boston Conservatory, and then for Harvard Medical School for 3 years. While at Harvard I hired a brand strategy firm, Sametz Blackstone Associates, and when I left the medical school they offered me a job. There, among other things, I started a content marketing program, started a blog, got them on twitter, those kinds of things, and that involvement brought me in contact with a former employee of a&g. When I decided I wanted to leave Sametz Blackstone, he had a position open here, so here I am!
A: Did you ever have any interest in working in advertising?
T: No, I never thought I’d be in advertising. I thought I was going to run a museum someday! But actually, it’s by far the best job I’ve ever had. Absolutely well suited to my brain, it just took a while for me to figure it out.
A: Well that’s encouraging for those of us who are still confused about what we want to do after graduation.
T: Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t go straight into advertising. There are some people who study it in school and go straight to working for an agency, and that’s great too. But doing what I do, and the perspective that I have from being on the client side for 15 years, means that I, in ways that are good and bad, approach things here very differently. I don’t look at things from the standpoint of “What’s a great campaign?” I’m looking for what is going to work and how someone is going to actually put that into place. If I had only ever studied advertising, those kinds of things wouldn’t have even entered my consideration.
A: So tell me more about what you do here at a&g. What does content activation and digital strategy involve?
T: My role, and this team, are new as of this past August. We are responsible for telling the day-to-day story of a brand across all media, as we like to say. We strategize what content, placed where, will drive business results for our clients with their customers, and build lasting relationships that perpetuate those results into the future. That’s the theoretical answer at least, the practical answer is that we are all about how do you take the brand strategy, the wording and the look and feel, and what does that look like on the day to day in social spaces.
A: What is a typical day or project like for you? Although I’m sure nothing is ever typical.
T: Well that is right, there is no typical day here for us! There are several different kinds of projects. We can focus with a B2C (Business to Customer) company on what specific content they are putting out every day and how they are engaging their customers. Or, on the other side, with B2B (Business to Business) clients we do ongoing social media consulting, but also create a single product line that they can hand off to sales. A lot of times the focus of social media for businesses is to just get a lot of numbers, but here at a&g, we want to get numbers to actually do something for you. We want to help them tie all their content together. B2B companies understand the long view, and they want to get it right, long term. There is no typical day, but it is very, very fun!
A: What would you say is the difference between working in marketing on the client side, and now working in advertising?
T: When you work for a company, in marketing, you have essentially one big problem that you are being asked to solve, and everything you do in the course of a day, or a year, or the course of your career there is to do that one thing. You are bringing as many tools as you can find to solve that one problem. When you are in an agency, it is almost the reverse. You have a bunch of different problems to solve and you are figuring out which tools, or what new tools you can develop, to solve those problems. One is not better than the other, but they are different.
A: How would you describe the culture at a&g?
T: I think Andrew, the CEO, says it best when he calls us a “fiercely independent agency.” I think that describes our culture and the people in it fairly well. We are not beholden to a holding agency or their bottom lines, we are beholden to what is the best thing for us and our clients. What I think you find about every person who works here is that they are a section of fully realized personalities, and fiercely so. Each person has this variety of background of experiences and perspective that we truly value. We try to learn from the differences we have from each other. It is a culture that, because of its focus on people as a whole, we value ideas as a whole. It doesn’t matter where the idea comes from, as long as it is a good one. If it is a good one, we all try to offer whatever we can and get on board with it.
A: What advice would you give to students who are interested in marketing and advertising?
T: Whatever path you end up following is the right one for you. I would urge people to resist what they are told they “should” do. I came to advertising at the right time to come to it for me. I had a grand plan, I wanted to run a museum, and I totally didn’t do that, but I’m also totally happy that I didn’t. Be willing to change what you think your plan is. Have a plan, that’s important because it keeps you going, but do not be afraid to change that plan. Where you are going to be successful is where you are doing the things you love to do, in a place that you love to do it. You are not going to get it right the first time out, either. Over time, with each of your career choices, you settle in with what is the right balance for you. You may get a job that you think will be perfect, and it ends up being a nightmare. But those are the jobs that are going to teach you the most, the terrible ones.
A: Is there anything else you would like to add?
T: Another point of advice I would give is to remember that there is a separation between your personal and your professional life. You are not your job and your job is not you. Sometimes, at the end of the day, you need to leave work at work. When you work, you are having two souls share the same body. The key thing is to not let one side overwhelm the other. In life you need to act as a sort of chameleon, where you can adapt and succeed in all of your settings, but at the same time always stay true to yourself.