Major Tom works to help you find a strategy that fits your brand, connects you to your audience, and helps your business thrive.
But what, exactly, does strategy mean at Major Tom? To shine a light on our approach — and how it affects both our team and our clients — we sat down with our SVP of Strategy, Parker Mason.
Keep reading for a chat about his role at Major Tom, his career, and the strategic value of the Proust Questionnaire.
Parker: We’ve got a great team of Account Strategists, Social Media Strategists, Media Strategists and Analysts, but they’re not grouped together in a formal strategy department. Instead, we bring strategy into everything we do.
That means that we want our entire team to understand the basics of strategy.
I oversee our services group. That includes those different strategists, along with specialists and support roles. My role is to work closely with that group’s talented leaders and their teams.
I work with them go beyond simply planning campaigns. Together, we also come up with unique and new ways to win.
In other words, I work with our divisions and our clients to look at things differently. When we consider an angle or framework they haven’t used before, they can unlock new possibilities for their projects.
Parker: Strategy means having an opinion. It’s an opinion based on what you know, what you think will work, and what might be interesting.
Here’s the catch: it might not always be right, but the only way to find out is to test it in real life.
That can be hard work. And the work of strategy, particularly at an agency, is a beautiful combination of art and science. It’s making sense of data and research, then using it to tell a story with your words. And if you’ve ever given a big presentation, building slides is art, right?
I always think that Strategists are some of the luckiest people in the world due to the work we get to do. We spend our days learning and thinking, and our work influences what millions of people can see, feel, and experience.
Parker: I started a blog with a friend way back before blogging was cool, and that led me to a community manager role in Toronto. That gave way to a social strategy role, which became a digital strategy role, that ultimately led to a bigger network agency — where I was transferred overseas to Auckland, New Zealand, and Sydney, Australia.
After a while, I decided to move back to Canada to be a bit closer to family and to also spend time exploring the mountains here in BC.
Over the past eight years, I’ve spent my time alternating between building and leading strategy teams for agencies, and then consulting with agencies in Toronto and Vancouver.
The time freelancing was hugely valuable. It’s given me a really great look at what works and what doesn’t in other places. On top of that perspective, I’ve had the chance to learn from some really great people — and have applied the frameworks and planning tools that they use. Major Tom has brought a few of their own to the table.
Parker: I started working with Major Tom on a few projects about four years ago. We developed some content planning workshops, then kept in touch based on my availability and their needs. But I didn’t jump on board right away.
Parker: It’s true, I did say that. But with Major Tom, it comes down to the people, the work, and the potential.
First, it’s the people. Major Tom has an incredible set of values that are reinforced by our teams, who practice them every day. We have a company-wide meeting every Wednesday that reminds me of that. I get to see the people I work with, how they’re doing, and how they live those values.
But it’s not just business. Our teams are also super tight with each other, and it shows in how they work together and with our clients.
It’s also the work. I really enjoy the projects we’re building for our clients right now. I get to work with brands in a great mix of industries, all with different needs. I think that all of our clients have such interesting challenges, and I’m always incredibly grateful that they trust us to help solve those problems alongside them.
And lastly, it’s the potential. We’re building an awesome team. We’ve got great momentum with our clients. We’re doing things differently. All together, it means that I’m super stoked about what the next few months and years look like for Major Tom. I can’t wait to see what we’ll put out into the world.
Parker: I think that in our industry, we get stuck in doing things a certain way, or using tools and processes that feel right because they’ve always been used, or seem ‘professional.’ But when we do that, we miss out on the fun and humanity. The ‘art’ parts of strategy.
I started working the Proust Questionairre into projects after reading a copy of Vanity Fair on a flight a few years ago. At first, it was an add-on to a project. A “let’s just try this and see how it goes” type of thing.
Now, I use parts of the questionnaire pretty regularly with clients when we’re doing workshop activities to build out consumer journeys. Going through a few of the questions, and answering them in the voice of the target audience, helps everyone get in the right mindset. We can more clearly identify what their audience is looking for — and how we can deliver it to them.
I also sometimes use the questions in our brand workshops. They’re a fun way to get clients to talk about their brand — or how they want their brand to be seen — as if it were a person. Sometimes, they uncover insights that you didn’t expect.
Parker: Sure — go ahead.
Parker: I wish I was better at design. I try and I try and I try, but my best attempts at great-looking slides always look like garbage compared to what our design team turns out.
Every time we do a new project that involves design — like a logo for a client or just some social templates — I’m always wowed by their work. But also a little envious.
Parker: I’m a huge fan of science fiction, and pretty much always have a sci-fi book on the go.
I love it as an escape, but also because of the way the genre asks us “What If?”. It gets us to imagine a future or scenario based on a set of givens, and much like a good workshop, it can take you to some fascinating, unexpected places.
One of the people who does this best is Ursula K. LeGuin. Over the past year, I’ve gotten really deep into her back catalogue. Her Hainish cycle of books is absolutely beautiful, and I know I’ll keep going back to them.
Sticking to sci-fi, Peter Watts’ book “Blindsight” is the best book about why advertising works — that isn’t actually about advertising. I always recommend it to people. If you’re not in marketing, don’t worry. It’s also just a great work of sci-fi.
Coming back down to earth, I’m also obsessed with “Everything I Know About Life I Learned From Powerpoint” by Russell Davies. It will absolutely make you a better communicator and presenter.
Rounding out the list, I regularly recommend “How Not To Plan” by Les Binet and Sara Carter. It’s a really accessible book that will help almost anyone at an agency be better at their job.
Parker: It’s easily the Strategy Propulsion Lab, which is a sort of internal training program we’ve launched here at Major Tom.
A little while ago, my colleague Mitchell suggested that it would be great to put some training sessions in place for the team, based on an idea he saw elsewhere. Ways to get everyone thinking and learning outside of their specific areas of expertise.
After a few weeks of discussion, we hit on the idea of packaging these sessions into something a little more formal, and SPL was born.
We’ve run a bunch of different workshops and training sessions under the Strategy Propulsion Lab banner over the past six months, and have even built aspects of it into our internal employee feedback system.
It’s been a great way to make sure that strategic thinking is part of the culture at Major Tom.
Since then, I’ve noticed a huge difference in the quality of work we’re doing for clients. We’re asking better questions, telling better stories, and selling in more interesting work.
Parker: We’re in the process of building some great sites for a few clients, and I’ve really enjoyed the journey we’ve been on with them.
That doesn’t always start with the sites themselves. In a few cases, we worked closely with clients on their goals as a business before even touching any site-specific work like wireframes.
I’m also immensely proud of the great work that our media team has done with Seneca College. They’ve been great partners to us over the years, and we’ve really driven great results for them. Our most recent work with Seneca just had a phenomenal results.
I also always reference the award-winning work that Major Tom did for Teck during the pandemic to educate people about the health benefits of copper. It’s a great example of helping a brand show a different side of themselves to their audience.
Parker: Big, integrated projects. We’re doing more of these for our clients, where they’ll ask us to take on more than one channel, then add in a new site or even creative. And it’s really great to see our different teams work together on these projects and bring them to life.
I also want to see us win some Effectiveness awards. We’re already getting amazing results for clients, and I think it’s just a matter of putting the right awards submissions together so that we can prove it to the world.
I’m really excited to see what we’re capable of as an agency in 2023.
Parker: I’m a big fan of connecting with people, either to help them get into advertising or strategy, or just to talk about new projects.
If you want to chat feel free to book sometime with me here.
A big thank you to Parker for his time and insights! You can follow Parker Mason on LinkedIn, or get the latest thoughts from the full Major Tom team by subscribing to our Mercury blog at the bottom of this page.
What I have is a malevolent curiosity - I do tend to take a different perspective.
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