Mark Jenson

A conversation with Mark Jenson, VP-Account Director at Preston Kelly

Throughout my career and volunteer work with industry organizations I’ve had the privilege of speaking with and learning from some great thought leaders. Mark is one of those leaders. To this day some of the lessons he has shared with me still influence the way I approach developing digital strategies. I recently reconnected with Mark for this series, below you’ll find his answers to the interview questions.

Garrio Harrison: Lets start at the beginning. How did your career get started?

Mark Jenson: My first dream job was to be a sportscaster because I loved sports.  But at the same time I was also very curious about business since I came from a family of small business entrepreneurs. So I pursued two undergraduate degree paths in Communication (TV + Radio) and Journalism (Advertising).

A key point that really steered me towards advertising was a conference that I attended as a senior in college – I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of 25 students to attend the International Radio and Television Society conference in New York. At this conference, I had the chance to speak with people from some of the big Madison Avenue agencies at that time like Young & Rubicam, JWT and Grey. And they all encouraged me to get a graduate degree in advertising – so I applied to several graduate schools and ended up attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern where I received my Master’s in Advertising.

I’ve had a great career and I’ve been lucky to work in Chicago and Minneapolis – a couple of terrific advertising communities.  And at some great agencies like Campbell-Mithun, Martin/Williams, Leo Burnett, Foote Cone and Belding. And I just celebrated my 11th year at Preston Kelly in early February – it’s been a wonderful journey, and I’ve been fortunate to work on some great brands and more importantly with some terrific clients and teammates.

Garrio: What is your current role and day to day responsibilities?

Mark: I’d summarize this in four key areas: 1) client relationships; 2) strategy and Insights; 3) agency training: and 4) agency social media.

1) For client relationships – I’m a VP – Account Director and my current client assignments include HealthPartners and Medtronic.

2) My key focus on a day-to-day basis is to help develop insights and strategies to drive our clients businesses forward.  We use a variety of tools from user personas to user experience maps to message matrixes to help develop Iconic Ideas for our clients.  And importantly to measure the results of the communication programs.

3) I’m in charge of helping keeping our internal teams up-to-speed across a variety of industry topics – and to do that, we use a series of brown bag lunches and invest a lot of time and resources into webinars and video resources to keep our teams up to speed on all the latest communication trends and tools.

4) And finally social media is another area that I help lead.  I helped launch our efforts on Facebook and Twitter – and it is so much fun to help shape and curate information about the agency and share it in this space.  I’m still the voice of the Preston Kelly’s Twitter account. And we would love to have more people follow us at  @prestonkelly and Facebook.

It’s such an exciting time to be in the business because of all the communication tools that we can use today to reach consumers and customers.  On the same day you can be working on everything from  television storyboards to websites to social media content to developing iPad games – it’s truly a blast and it gets more exciting every day.

Garrio: How can both agencies and individuals stay on top of industry trends?

Mark:  It’s like the old real estate adage of “location, location, location only it is “read, read and read some more.”

Some of my friends call me an “Information Inhaler” – and I think to be successful in this business you need to have a curious soul.  You have to want to learn how things work and why they work.  I think you’ve probably heard of the great book by Simon Sinek called “Start with Why.” What a great mantra to live by.

Great questions truly create clarity around a subject and this is a critical path for marketers to develop a strong strategy to work in the market. You just need to dig a little bit deeper for that nugget of insight that will lead to an even better strategic solution. Truly great questions will help people think critically and often will prompt them to see things in a fresh and unexpected way.

In addition, personally I try to keep up with the steady stream of eNewsletters and blogs to stay up-to-date and current. Some of my favorites are: 1. Creativity Unbound 2. Daily newsletter from PSFK 3. Smart Brief on Social Media. And here are some of my favorite advertising/marketing books and ones that I often go back to time and time again for inspiration.

    Building Strong Brands by David Aaker

    Take a Stand for Your Brand by Tim Williams

    Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts

    Juicing the Orange by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn

    The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy by Tom Monahan

Garrio: What does a great advertising strategy look like, and what does it take to develop such a strategy?

Mark: Developing a great advertising strategy is simply hard work.  You really have to dig deep to uncover the nuggets that will lead to a clear and differentiating strategy.

The exercise has to always start with a tightly defined business problem. What are you trying to solve/address?

From that you need to uncover insights that can help direct the team into a rich strategic  territory. And next you need to carefully craft a creative brief that the creative teams can quickly understand and see the possibilities of where it can go.

It sounds rather easy when you just talk about it, but it is a difficult task to write an inspiring creative brief.

There is a great quote from Steve Jobs that summarizes the importance of developing a great strategy:

“It’s a complicated and noisy world.  So it’s hard to get people to remember things about brands. Therefore, our chance is to make a memory. And making memories is the essence of brand marketing.”

And all great brand marketing starts with an inspiring creative strategy.

Garrio: What in your opinion makes a good account person?

Mark: I’ll refer to a list I’ve put together over time of what I think are the top seven skills for that a good account person should have.

1. Business acumen – You need to be both book smart and street smart. It is a winning combination.

2. Curious mind – People need to always being asking why?  Why does it work that way? Why would someone buy this? – just keep asking why.

3. Creative fire – You need to have insatiable passion for the creative process and ideas.

4. Communication skills – The ability to write and speak well is critical.

5. Relentless energy – It’s a tough business some days and you need the ability to stay with projects on the tough days and bounce back to go at it again the next day.

6. Leadership – This is mission-critical to get a team working together.

7. Relationships – You have to learn to work well with a wide range of people – both with your clients and internal team members.

And one other thing that I refer to often is “LAMSTAIH” – what this means is that you need “Look at more stuff. Think about it harder”. That’s a pretty good operating principle to live by for any good account person.

Garrio: What are some of the lessons you have learned throughout your career?

Mark: During my career, I’ve worked with a bunch of wonderfully smart people.  But I always remember one lesson that I received in one of my early years in the business.

One of the first people I met in this business was Mildred Norling who at that time was a sprightly 75-year-old administrative assistant at Campbell-Mithun. And I was a 22-year-old newly minted college graduate.  She taught me many valuable lessons – but none more important than the counsel  to “never stop learning”.

Late one afternoon, I asked Mildred what she was up to that evening, and she chatted about her plans to venture over to the University of Minnesota campus, where she was taking a class in sociology –  that’s when she passed along her unforgettable wisdom to always stoke the fire of intellectual curiosity.

I truly believe the best advice that I can pass along to others is to be curious – have a relentless drive to seek out how things work and you will be well-served both professionally and personally.  Bill Gates, for example, attributes his success to his ambition to be a constant information seeker: “There’s a certain sharpness, an ability to absorb new facts; to ask an insightful question; to relate two domains that may not seem connected at first.” – that’s a pretty good mantra to follow.