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August, 2019 Gabriella Keski

How I learned to juggle oranges

Frankly, I am far from being an expert on brand strategy, but I do know a great deal more than I did when I first walked into Northbound (don’t forget: “intern!”). When I was interviewing, I thought I had a solid grasp on brand strategy. Segmentation, targeting, positioning – those have been drilled into my brain for the past three years as a marketing major. I knew that a dedicated strategy agency would dive much deeper than that, but I never expected to learn so much, so soon. Northbound embraced me as a part of the team, and I am so grateful for it. I could never have imagined working alongside some of the most driven, sharp, wildly funny, yet humble people I have ever met. These people, these experiences, and these lessons are things I will cherish and carry with me beyond the Northbound office.

Value through connection
I have seen the importance of real connection, both with clients and with the people I sit next to every day. Northbound is devoted to its clients, but just as importantly, they treat their own employees as their greatest assets. As a brand strategist, you must take time to learn everything there is to learn about a client with an open, investigative mindset. Genuine relationships are not built by trying to seem smart, to look good, or to be ‘right.’ This mentality radiates throughout Northbound. Following their lead, I go into each workday, each client meeting, and each interaction with an inquisitive and impartial frame of mind. Every moment is a learning experience for me. From what I have experienced, I think that focusing on people is the most rewarding thing. You make your client happy, your office happy, and yourself happy.

A team effort
Fortunately, I can say that since my first day at Northbound, I have not been treated nor felt like the clichéd intern. After a day or two of briefing on all things Northbound, I dove into research on everything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Microsoft Artificial Intelligence. By my second week, I was attending off-site workshops with clients. I won’t lie – at times I was overwhelmed by the breadth of necessary information I needed to grasp for each new client. But, with every new task, my team was there for me with attention, direction, and support. The independence and trust given to me by Northbound has made this internship experience unlike any other. I am constantly in awe of the entire Northbound team’s tenacity and am honored to have been a part of such a small but mighty team.

Getting to the point
Taking off my rose-colored glasses for a moment, my key takeaway from this three-month crash course in brand strategy is just that: the key takeaway is everything. I am someone who can often make work harder for myself than necessary; that’s probably the idealist in me. In all the discovery or strategy work I’ve done this summer, Northbound has taught me that being succinct and pointed is critical. However you are helping a brand – researching its competitive landscape, shaping its purpose, navigating its positioning, restructuring its architecture, you name it – you must uncover that single idea or insight that is most relevant and most impactful. Consequently, gone are my days of including numerous bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. As our Chief Brand Officer (the marvelous Samantha Temple Neukom) will gladly demonstrate by tossing a few oranges at you, you can’t catch more than one thing at once.

I came to Northbound with the hopes of learning more about brand strategy and to experience the culture of a fast-paced agency setting, and I came out the other side with so much more. I have learned to hone my focus and to tether my work to personal connection. I learned the value in taking one thing at a time and looking for that one core insight. Northbound balances many spinning plates by optimizing team member’s time and talent, while still making the work enjoyable. I am beyond fortunate to have spent my time alongside the Northbound team, in an office at the heart of the Pacific Northwest – which has a killer view, I might add.

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