She’s an evangelist of a strategy that’s rooted in research and leads to endless possibilities of execution. Anita Sedgwick, Havas Canada’s new Director of Strategy, brings to life the importance of collaboration, strategy, and design.
How did you get started, and what was your journey?
It’s a bit serendipitous, really. I started my career at McCann Erickson in Prague, working on accounts such as L’Oréal and GM. It was the mid-late ’90s. At the time, it was all about adapting creative for the local market and the media buys. Moving back to Toronto, I saw where things were really headed—the digital landscape. The worldwide web was moving fast, and I wanted to be a part of that. I joined a growing digital agency called ICE. My role, senior account director, was to help grow the business and manage the accounts. These were good times—we were able to bring in brands like BMW, almost all of the CIBC business, and OpenText, just to name a few.
It has been almost all agency-side experience for my entire career. I did, however, spend a couple of years helping Kraft Canada’s CRM team move away from traditional print to a more nimble digital and social media strategy that included the only social media asset that was really humming at the time: Facebook. The other pivotal event was moving from snail mail to email. That was huge. As you can see, digital has been intricately woven into my career.
Through my experience, I have worked on integrated content strategies applying always-on tactics, created go-to-market methodologies, and rewrote a development agency’s entire digital design methodology. This agency wasn’t applying tried-and-true UX methods through the discovery and design phases. I have worked closely with some of the smartest UX folks in Toronto and, through them, I developed a deeper understanding of the value of UX and co-creation. Experience design is a brilliant tool to ensure we have the needs of the user in our design thinking and in the solutions we design. Co-creation is a powerful tool to bring to life—providing innovation for stagnating brands, solving complex design challenges, and generating real-world solutions to make a service seamless.
Since then, I have become an evangelist on this topic. I would like to see more companies, large and small, embrace co-creation from everything to marketing strategies to redesigning their service ecosystem.
Recently, I have been speaking at conferences in New York and Toronto on the topic of UX and co-creation from a design perspective.
What do you hope to accomplish in this new role for Havas, your team, and yourself?
For me, it’s about the why. Havas is unique. We are here to change the way clients work with their agency partners. That’s our mission—our why, if you will. Sure, there’s a ton of functional benefits, but really, it’s that our actions speak louder than our words. Based on this, I want to help with growth. I want to help solve the client’s problems, whether they are big or small. How amazing is it that we can say we operate under one P&L? We’re here to serve our clients and get the best solution that hard-earned money can buy.
I haven’t been here long, but I can already see and feel the difference in the way this organization works. We all want to help one another.
What’s some of your work that you’re most proud of?
Most recently, taking a client that was struggling with how to extend their brand into mobile and, more specifically, how to become relevant in the shopper journey.
We were able to do primary and secondary research, which included a six-week mobile diary study. The client was completely bought in and on board. Through the process, we were able to have one of the most powerful co-creation sessions I’ve seen. The results were completely game-changing for this company.
Other examples include winning a massive project for two nationally recognized brands. Because it hasn’t launched, I can’t share too many details yet, but it’s a global app that will serve people all over the world.
My team and I were batting for the fences when we wrote that proposal, but we beat out some impressive companies. In part, because of the quality and thought that went into the proposal and our consistent message around our highly collaborative working style. I learned later that it was also because there was a woman at the table. They wanted to work with a team that had women in leadership roles and all the other digital agencies had only men. Pretty cool, huh?
What personal success are you most proud of?
That’s easy. My children. They are happy, they are fun to hang out with, and I love watching them grow up and question the world around them. Lucky me.
How would you define strategy, given what you are trying to solve for on behalf of clients?
It really is a buzzword, but a necessary one. A good strategy is grounded in research, and informed, in part, by stakeholders that need to own parts of the execution. Why underline? Bold? It also needs to be open to optimization, while still having that clear North Star. Although it’s important to have the right inputs, there needs to be a definitive owner of the vision, the strategy. Otherwise, it will flounder.
What makes us different, I believe, is that we combine strategy with design—strategic design, we call it. Design executions for their own sake should look great but should also be very clever. But you have to ask strategic questions: Do they advance the business? How do they deliver for users? What is great about the team in Toronto is that design is always rooted in research and strategic thinking. It ensures it’s both consistent with business goals and implementable within the real-world context that is our clients’ reality.
Give us some basic steps to develop a strategy to accomplish a goal.
Most of my strategy work is related to go-to-market, significant digital design, developing investments, and innovation.
I’m a massive fan of research. I like quantitative data points, but qualitative research is equally important. Often, we fall in love with the numbers, but without the qualitative narrative, we cannot understand the motivation. Let’s start with the research. Let’s understand the whole picture. Sometimes with tools like journey mapping and service design; we find incredible alternatives to solving pain points that have been plaguing the company for years.
Don’t develop a strategy in a bubble. It’s important to include the client—where it makes sense, of course. From my experience, if they feel like they’ve contributed and their insights have been baked in or noted, there will be a lot less trouble when it comes to the implementation of the strategy.
Another important layer is validating the strategy with the needs of the business and the user. It’s a tricky step, but an important one.
Last, but not least, ensuring the strategy is properly integrated with other activities the business is planning or has in play will show that we think at both a micro and a macro level. I like this because it allows you to have conversations with other business units. Next thing you know, you’re helping them, too.
How do you inspire yourself?
I’m inspired by problems. I’m constantly looking for ways to solve them. Sometimes, when I’m standing in an airport, waiting to use the self-check-in kiosk, I’m thinking: “How can we make this better? Why is it designed like this?”
Or, when I watch a brand position themselves in the marketplace—and their message is all wrong, the channels they’ve chosen don’t make sense, and it’s clearly a fail—I find I’m thinking of ways to help them redesign that strategy. Once that happens, I’m looking for a decision maker at said company on LinkedIn and, sometimes, the rest is history.
What ideas do you have to help bolster the Together Strategy at Havas Canada?
There’s no question in my mind that as we craft that singular voice, that singular message, we need everyone to be constantly looking for new ways to add value to their clients, and then loop in the right Village or group to help.
I’m also a fan of thought leadership. Printed and spoken. Long form and short form. I enjoy sharing with audiences what it means to solve complexity with design thinking methodologies, including how co-creation can help with innovation by adding a layer of pragmatism while solving for politics, thus bringing us together. I’m looking forward to sharing what makes Havas such a special company. Our work in AI and our Meaningful Brands research are just a couple of things that are very exciting. Especially in this time when clients really are struggling with a fragmented landscape and an ever-finicky consumer.
What’s the coolest thing about working at Havas Canada?
The coolest thing? I love that we punch above our weight, we beat some of the bigger players and sustain repeat business. We’ve been doing this for more than 15 years. I also like the energy the global team has to help one another and to share, as well as the ability to focus on tapping into great research such as Meaningful Brands.
What keeps you up at night?
My son, who is afraid of the zombies under his bed.
What advice do you have for those in their 20s and 30s who are at the beginning of their careers?
Show up, make an effort, speak up, listen, and be curious. Anticipate. Don’t be afraid to ask the dumb questions. Develop a voracious appetite for learning new things. Read.