Strategy Reading List and Resources for Beginner Strategists

 a strategy beginner. So, I went through my bookmarks and shared some links. To not keep this information in one message thread, I decided to share it with others:

– Strategy Starter pack by Jennifer M. Chang –
– Starter pack by Will Poskett –
– Another starter pack by John Simons –
– Interviews with strategists for juniors –
– Youngbloods –
– The Advertising guidebook by Renee Schilb –
– Strategy and Planning ScrapeBook by Alex Morris –
– How to find stuff –
– Ad Campaign boot camp created by Gabriel Sehringer –
– The best ads of all time –
– Canne Lions case studies –
– Course list for strategists created by Stephen Brooks –
– Ad Land mentors initiated by Zoe Scaman –
– A series of nice videos for beginners from Heidi Hackemer –
– Strategy books by women –
– What makes a great strategist? –
– Trend reports (2021-2022) –
– Deck of Brilliance –
– A couple of Slack groups worth joining –
– My own decks for beginners –

Strategy Resources for new strategists, people looking to get into strategy, and strategists who want a refresher

Credited by: John Simons, Olivia McGrath, Leslie Townsend, Kevin Nguyen, Baiba Matisone, …

Have questions about this doc? Hit me up on LinkedIn.

Forward | Strategy (or Planning) can be an ambiguous field filled with various titles. Here are a few examples… 

  • Planner: this is the traditional term for strategists.
  • Digital Media Strategist: the medium of your work will involve digital media i.e. social, websites, apps, blogs, etc.
  • Social Media Strategist: you’re responsible for how your brand(s) show up on social media on their various platforms, adapting ad campaigns to social, listening to what people are saying about your brand(s), etc.. You’ll likely work with a content strategist.
  • Brand Strategist: this is a jack of all trades strategist. You’ll touch on a lot of different aspects of strategy from building the brand’s architecture, competitive audits, social listening, campaign work, creative briefs, etc.
  • Creative Strategist: honestly, I think this title was made to attract people to the position. A creative strategist does seemingly everything a brand strategist would do, but maybe also helps build and design the deck, maybe.
  • Data Strategist: a cool way of saying that you’ll be digging through excel sheets, graphs, and turning numbers into observations and actions.
  • Context Strategist: this is new; it seems to basically be a brand strategist, but with a larger emphasis on understanding culture.
  • Content Strategist: you may or may not be helping make the content for social, but you will be responsible for customer journeys and turning the data you collect from social into reports.
  • Marketing Strategist: this is a tricky one. It’s whatever the company wants it to be, if I’m being honest. Really read the job description for these.

Basically, read the job description regardless of the title and ask the interviewer to define the role so you get a better idea as to if it’s the type of strategy you’re interested in.

If the above isn’t helpful, check out Youngbloods – It gives a breakdown of the different types of agencies and roles within them.

Here are three other starter packs that are brilliantly put together:

  • Strategy Starter pack by Jennifer M. Chang –
  • Starter pack by Will Poskett –
  • Strategy and Planning ScrapBook by Alex Morris –

To get you started off with strategy, here’s a few key frameworks and terms a strategist should know and will use throughout their career. They are…

  • 4 C’s: category, consumer, competition, and culture.
  • Qualitative Research: focus groups, 1:1 interviews, observing people interacting with your brand.
  • Quantitative Research: research tools like MRI Simmons or CUE, or social listening tools like Helixa, Brandwatch or TalkWalker.
  • Insight: two or more observations you made within your research that uncovers a new problem, opportunity or challenge. It must provide new information, unless otherwise it is not an insight. To note: “insight” is a dirty word in strategy. Use it, don’t use it, call it something else. Just make your work interesting.
  • Truths: human, brand, category, competitive; they’re basically one-liners of the 4 C’s. At most, they are a single line of information that cannot be contested because they’re true. Some agencies use this term and others don’t. Anyways, it’s helpful to have this skill.

To understand how strategy works and how to apply it, start here…

  • Life, In The Shoes of a Strategist Career Breakdown –
    • This will give you what books to read as a Junior and throughout your career. Pretty spot on.
  • J. Walter Thompson Planning Guide –
    • This is great for understanding the fundamentals of strategy/account planning and is fairly quick to get through.
  • Truth, Lies, and Advertising by Jon Steel — this book gives you real experiences of how 
  • Julian Cole Brand Strategy 101 Guide –
    • Helps understand the basics of building a brand, a look into what made iconic brands like UPS and Nike, and frameworks to make your own.

Now that you’re acclimated, here’s a handful of other resources to keep you going…

  • ‘Got Milk’ Case Study –
    • How Chiat Day came up with the infamous ‘Got Milk’ line (from Truth, Lies, and Advertising by Jon Steel). Not sure if I can be sued for this, so please don’t sue me.
  • Interviews with strategists for juniors –
  • How to find stuff –
    • This is literally incredible and so useful for when your manager gives you a task and your first thought is “how the hell am I going to find that?”
  • Brand building exercise –
  • Baiba Matison decks for beginners –
    • Unsure how to put your deck together or how to proactively contribute to an existing one? This is what you need.
  • Freakonomics Incentive Marketing Strategies –
  • First New Years after WW2, published in 1946 –
  • Deck of Brilliance –
    • For when you’re stuck building thought starters for your creative team, need to refresh your mind when building a brand’s architecture, or inspiration for writing a creative brief.

Cultural/Societal/Technological Tools — not something to get too deep into when you’re first trying to understand strategy, but great for giving context to the strategies you’ll eventually make.

  • TechCrunch — reports on emerging tech, new businesses, and updates on bitcoin, NFT, and the latest advances in auto and other tech-related markets.
  • NPR — reports on top stories in the U.S. and world news, politics, health, science, business, music, arts and culture. Nonprofit journalism with a mission.
  • NY Times or Harvard Business Journal — both great for knowing what’s going on in the world, how it will affect different businesses, and political schemes that will affect culture.
  • Crunchbase — reports the latest brands, what seed round their in, and is a great resource for understanding how markets can potentially change and how people are challenging different industries.
  • Mintel — provides consumer reports about their behaviors, trends, and economic outlook.
  • Brandwatch/Talkwalker — social listening tool to understand how people are talking about your brand/product.
  • MRI Simmons — detailed consumer behaviors, interests, lifestyles, and demographics.
  • (Free) Winning Cannes Work –
  • Consumer Behavior Report Outline –
  • Trend reports (2021-2022) –


  • OnStrategy Showcase — follow Fergus on LinkedIn
  • Sweathead — join the facebook page too, it’s such a helpful community
  • Strategy Sheroes — they don’t make new episodes, but great to hear womens perspective in strategy when it’s so clouded by men
  • The Overthinkers — two women who discuss the realities of marketing (they are brilliant)


  • Truth, Lies, and Advertising by Jon Steel — this book gives you real experiences of how Jon came up with strategies and gives an understanding of how advertising works
  • The Anatomy of a Humbug by Paul Feldwick — provides frameworks for strategy and how to appeal to people like a person and not like a marketer.
  • Caste (Oprah’s Book Club): The Origins of Our Discontents –
    • Not necessarily “strategic,” but it gives a lot of context to America’s problem with the lower-middle-higher class system and its implications.
  • Don’t Think Of An Elephant by George Lackoff — gives an understanding of political frameworks and how politicians manipulate and deploy them. Helpful for framing your strategies, whether political or not.
  • How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp — how advertising works for brands and how to dig up those most interesting insights.
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
  • Range by David Epstein
  • Strategy books by women –

Newsletters to subscribe to

  • DailySkimm — gives you highlights on what’s happening in the world/America that day. Good for keeping up with cultural tensions/insights.
  • Big Spaceship Newsletter — great for tracking trends and pop-culture.
  • Delightful — Strategist Steve Bryant puts together his thoughts on what’s happening in the world and shares with us because he’s a beautiful human.
  • Strands of Genius by Rosie and Faris — each letter is curated by either Rosie, Faris or a guest about what’s happening in the world.
  • Ad Campaign boot camp created by Gabriel Sehringer –
  • The best ads of all time –
  • Canne Lions case studies –
  • Ad Land mentors initiated by Zoe Scaman –

Higher Education — strategy can feel like a fortress; your trojan horse is having a portfolio school on your resume or knowing someone. For when you don’t know someone…

  • VCU Brandcenter — arguably the best advertising program that gives you a masters degree. You have to move to Richmond, VA. They are a strict 2-year program, so you will need to apply for the Fall.
  • Miami Ad School — you get what you put into it. You will have to move to Miami, FL. Their schedule is quarterly, so if you’re interested, you could hop in any time.
  • Denver Ad School — most affordable ad school, but had a not-so-tasteful moment on Twitter.

***If you don’t want to go to school, this is what I would’ve done, knowing what I know now…

  • Disclaimer: before doing the below, be sure to have at least read or are in the process of reading/practicing anything from the beginning of this doc.
  • Join the Make Ads With Me group on Facebook and ask junior creative teams if they’re looking for a strategist. Here you’ll fake it until you make it. You’re gonna make some shitty briefs, but eventually you’ll hit some gold.
  • Tell your LinkedIn network you’re looking for a mentor. Or, maybe there’s a strategist you know that could be a good mentor? Get 30min-1hr with them a week or biweekly.
  • Write creative briefs. Write brand briefs. Do cultural research studies. Write studies on things you find interesting. Begin showcasing how you think.
  • Look at portfolio school portfolio’s and breakdown how they got to where they are. Most portfolio’s are live, so you could probably even hit up some recent grads and ask them about how they got to the work they made.
  • A series of nice videos for beginners from Heidi Hackemer –
  • Course list for strategists created by Stephen Brooks –

Get your name out there

  • The One Club has a lot of affordable and free networking+portfolio review events.
  • If you’re a POC, get on this directory:
  • Cold email recruiters/strategists from agencies you’re interested in with your portfolio and a reason as to why you’d like to work for them.
  • Don’t have a book? That’s fine. Publish your thoughts on Medium and/or LinkedIn.

Agencies who kill it in campaign/creative strategy…

  • Forsman Bodenfors
  • VCCP
  • Words From The Woods
  • Translation
  • BBH (Bogle Bartle & Hegarty)
  • Big Spaceship
  • Mother
  • Sylvain
  • Martin Agency
  • The Many
  • Highdive
  • TBWA/Chiat Day

Other strategy shops that focus more on consumer insights

  • Egg Strategy
  • Good Run Research
  • McKinsey & Company

Preparing for an interview

  • First with the recruiter – they want to know the basics and if you’ll be a good fit
    • Have a POV on why you’re interested in the agency – do not feel the need to over explain
    • Have a POV on a campaign the agency has launched
    • Have a succinct story has to why you chose strategy
    • Be ready to discuss any point of your resume
  • With a strategist – they want to know if you have what it takes to do the job
    • Get to know the person you’re interviewing with – look them up on LinkedIn or find their portfolio (if they have one) and begin to build questions from that
      • Is there something about their career journey that interests you?
      • Is there a piece of work in their portfolio that interests you?
      • Is there something about them that you can relate to?
    • What’s a strategy they’re proud of that maybe didn’t lead to a great creative output or that a client turned down?
    • Is there a strategic process outside of the 4 C’s? How do they build their strategies?
      • Some are formal, which can be good for understanding frameworks before you break them
      • Some are informal, which can be good for finding your own way to do strategy and later applying it to frameworks or breaking them
    • How do they manage expectations?
    • How long have they been managing strategists and have those who’ve they’ve managed been promoted and what did it take for them to do so?
    • Ask what kind of strategist they’re looking for i.e. creative, communication, social, paid/earned media, etc. if it’s obvious from the application.
    • Have an idea of what skills you want to get better at i.e. writing creative briefs, writing a comm’s plan, digging up consumer insights, etc.
  • With a VP/Director of Strategy – at this point you’re smooth sailing, just breathe and talk to them casually
    • Get to know the person you’re interviewing with – look them up on LinkedIn or find their portfolio (if they have one) and begin to build questions from that
      • Is there something about their career journey that interests you?
      • Is there a piece of work in their portfolio that interests you?
      • Is there something about them that you can relate to?

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