Data Stories: Leaders at Work is a bi-weekly podcast hosted by Rahul Jerome, founder of insight-intelligence.com and The Insight Network, co-organised by Audiense. The series captures personal anecdotes and career highlights from some of the most talented and brightest minds in the research and insights industry.
Our guest on this episode of the Data Stories: Leaders at Work podcast is Allie Wassum, VP and Group Director for Social Strategy at Digitas North America in Boston. Allie studied journalism and political science at the University of North Carolina where she dabbled in graphic design and considered going into politics until one of her professors gave her some very wise advice that solidified her career path in the advertising field.
When she finished her bachelor’s degree, Allie knew that she wanted to do something having to do with strategy and insights in advertising because of her interest in why and how people do things. This interest paired with the growing popularity of social media in 2008, when she graduated, led her to Boston where she took the Option R course from Dave Register of Arnold Worldwide.
During this course, Allie and the other members of her cohort were mentored by Dave and were given hands-on experience with advertising projects and campaigns with incredibly helpful feedback. This was a very clarifying program for Allie as she tried to break into the advertising industry and she realized that her strength was in ambient media rather than in graphic design like she originally thought. Having already been established in Boston, she earned her Master’s in advertising from Boston University where she honed her social media muscles and dove deeper into insights.
Allie’s first work experience in insights came from DBNR, where she jumped right into the new media that she had already been familiar with. At the time, she realized that she was working in many different aspects of insights and strategy in regards to social media, but looking back Allie is really able to appreciate the wide-ranging methods that she had a chance to be a part of there. She encourages others to jump on board at a start-up or small agency early in their careers to get that exposure to tasks ranging from creative to reporting to strategy and insights because this will become invaluable in future positions at larger agencies.
For the past 5 ½ years, Allie has been working with Digitas, starting in the GroupConnect subsidiary. What started as a very lean team has grown during that time and now Allie is managing the Social Strategy department of 30 employees. She says she is honored to be a part of such a good organization and an impactful team and she is inspired every day by the creativity she sees in her feed and the connections she gets to be a part of online.
Her work is very diverse and challenging, which she finds exhilarating. Down the road, she would like to have the opportunity to be a Chief Marketing Officer at a start-up or a social media platform because she is interested in being in the drivers’ seat when it comes to decision-making, but she is pleased with where she is for now.
On a daily basis, she relies on the trends and conversations she observes and participates in on Twitter as well as the insights she gleans from Audiense, E-Marketer, Pew Research, Mintell, The New York Times, and The New Yorker to help her be effective at her work. If Allie were to advise her younger self, she would be more intentional about studying abroad or traveling to experience other cultures before rushing into the workforce because she now sees that time as a missed opportunity, especially considering the state of the economy in 2008 when she graduated.
Allie’s advice to people pursuing careers in advertising or strategy is to be brave and curious. Don’t count yourself out because of your lack of experience but also don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance from people who are further down the road you want to travel. It can never hurt to reach out to people you look up to because they might become an integral part of your journey. She also points out that while insights are data-driven, they are also an art, so allow yourself to think critically and creatively to create the art that you see within the numbers.
The full version of the podcast with Allie Wassum can be listened here: