John Pankert heads up strategy at Havas Montréal. In this candid Q&A, John provides some simple steps to create an effective strategy and shares some details about his personal passion project.
So, tell us how you got started.
I started while completing my Master’s degree at HEC Montréal when I was working with a small agency called French, doing some freelance work with them for a multidisciplinary art space called the Phi Centre in Montréal. Everyone should check it out. It’s a really interesting place.
I then started to work as the first employee of social media consulting firm, Substance stratégies. I was there for about a year before Havas Montréal’s current CEO, Jan-Nicolas Vanderveken, offered me a job as a strategist at TP1, which was acquired by Havas last year and has since been rebranded as Havas Montréal. I worked at TP1 for three years and led the strategy team for the last year or so. I then moved to creative services firm Sid Lee, where I worked as a strategist on digital and branding mandates for the last two years.
I joined Havas Montréal on July 31. I’m discovering a new agency with new, and some old, faces. It’s really a pleasure to be part of this exciting journey at Havas Montréal.
For me, it’s a mix of the people and the agency. When I was first approached for the role, I met with Stéphane Mailhiot, VP of strategy—and that’s when it really clicked. I knew a part of the team at the agency, and I knew that they were onto something really great. Also, I always had a huge respect for Havas on the world stage. Keep your eyes open for what’s to come in Montréal.
What do you hope to accomplish in this new role at Havas for your team and for yourself?
There’s a great group of people in Montréal’s strategy team, who have skills ranging from content and social to analytics performance and planning. I really want to create more cohesion that helps the agency, and its clients, to develop amazing and impactful work. We have the resources to support organizations on every level—from brand to digital—, and I think we can continue to develop into an even stronger agency strategically on every front.
Tell us about some of the work that you’re most proud of.
Well, I always try to be proud of everything that I do. What’s the point of doing it otherwise?
But I’m really proud of the work that we did at TP1 with La Roche-Posay, especially for their Anthelios line of sunscreens. We helped them market it to people with sensitive skin and explained the real benefits of sunscreen, something people sometimes don’t realize is so important because they don’t have consequences until many years later.
More recently, I worked with the Governor General of Canada to create the Innovation Award, which celebrates the greatest innovators in the nation. I also had the privilege of working with the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montréal on their rebranding.
It’s really good work if you ask me.
What personal successes are you most proud of?
I have a band called The Moonlight Club that released its first EP about two years ago. We recorded our first album in May at Breakglass Studios in Montréal. The band recorded “Plants and Animals,” “Suuns,” “The Arcade Fire,” and “Leif Volebeck.”
We’re going to release it in the fall, so keep an eye for that too. Seriously, I’m really proud of keeping that passion project alive while having an intense career.
Strategy is a buzzword these days. How would you define strategy?
You’re right. We are at a point where we use the word strategic everywhere just to make what we have to say sound intelligent. Strategy, for me, is the activity of uncovering the optimal manner to get us from a starting point to the desired place. That’s all.
Give us some basic steps to develop a strategy to accomplish a goal.
One: Understand, clarify, and challenge, when needed, the client’s problem. There’s no point in figuring out the best solution to the wrong problem. We sometimes fall into the trap of addressing the symptoms, not the cause.
Two: Define that desired outcome. Know what success looks like.
Three: Understand the consumer. What really drives them? Understand the category. Identify the movements, trends, and key drivers that are in play. Understand what the brand is really about. Pinpoint what it provides and brings to the table. Figure out what they need to change. It sounds easy, but these things challenge us every day.
Four: Have a vision and create a plan of attack.
Five: Measure, learn, optimize, and then repeat.
How do you inspire yourself?
I try to read as much as possible and live as much as possible. I think that for strategists—and for everyone working in a creative field—the trap is to be unidimensional and just work. I had the chance to attend an interesting talk in the CreativeMornings lecture series that was about Montréal. It was called the Integrated Rebel. That left me inspired.
What do you hope to do differently at Havas that you’ve never had a chance to do at other agencies?
I’ll have the chance to work closely with the management team by being part of our operations committee. I think I’ve always been able to identify pitfalls and areas that need improvement at agencies. And I bring solutions. I used to do those things through side projects with my managers, but now I have a direct channel to get things done. I also want to be a great mentor to my teammates and help them grow as much as I intend to grow at Havas.
What’s the coolest thing about working at Havas Montréal?
The Montréal office is really redefining itself and it’s amazing to be part of that journey. I’d add that Havas Montréal is a cool hub in the city that is connected with some amazing people. We are close to the CreativeMornings people and a lot of other great people too! Did I say that the newly renovated offices are really, really nice?